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Sales Solutions
How Do You Handle Lost Deals? vol 7, issue #5
May, 2010

No self-respecting sales person accepts losing a deal.  On the contrary, we're really perturbed when we do - our natural competitiveness won't let us feel otherwise.  But losing deals is a fact of life in selling.  In fact, it's a fact of life in any business transaction.  But how we deal with losing goes a long way to determining how much future success we have.



Most sales people tend to react to losing in one of two ways - they get angry as hell, or they get down on themselves. The ones who get angry can't believe the prospect they bent over backwards to service could be so ungrateful as to award the business to someone else.  Or worse, to award it to no one at all, and instead stick with the status quo. Those who get down on themselves tend to blame not the prospect, but rather themselves.  "How could I have blown this deal?" "What did I do wrong?"  I'll never make president's club if I keep this up!"  Both of these responses are, of course, illogical and counterproductive.   Is there a better, more constructive way to deal with lost deals?


Of course there is.



To begin, it's important to properly calibrate our expectations of what percentage of deals we can expect to close.  Pretty good professional sales people are like pretty good professional baseball players: their success rate is about 1 in 3. A ballplayer is considered very good if he gets just 1 hit in 3 at-bats (.333). Good sales people operating in competitive environments will close 1 out of 3 deals.   So if you're closing 1 out of 3 deals, don't get bent out of shape for not winning one or both of the other two.  No one bats 1.000 - so why should you expect to?



Sure, that's easy enough to say, but we can't help reacting the way we do.  Or can we?  International motivational speaker Tom Krause says, "There are no failures - just experiences and your reactions to them." I agree 95% with Tom - and would agree 100% if I could modify his quote to say, ""There are no failures - just experiences and your responses to them."  Because while our reaction is instinctive, our response - how we handle the loss - is not.  On the contrary, it is very much within our control.


And therein lies the lesson in this month's Tip: there is a better way to channel the negative energy - be it anger or self-flagellation - you're naturally feeling, so that it can, in fact, do you some good.  And that way has two components: your attitude, and your willingness to learn, respond to, and build on what you learned.



Let's start with attitude, which we discussed a couple of years ago in a previous issue.   Attitude is one of the few things in the sales game over which we have control.  "Success builds character; failure reveals it," says Dave Checketts, one-time president of the New York Knicks basketball team.  Because our profession contains so much "negativity" (unresponsiveness, rejection, lost deals), success in ours - more than in any other profession - depends on our attitude.  Therefore, you must make every effort you can not to respond with the self-defeating notion that because you invested a good chunk of time in the deal and have nothing to show for it in your bank account, that time was completely wasted.  Instead, have the healthy, constructive attitude recommended in this Tip.  it will go a long way to helping you achieve greater success.


And now let's move on to what you do with failure.


British scholar CS Lewis said, "Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement."   For failure to work in your favor, you need to be willing to learn, to take something away, from your lost deals. We call these post-deal debriefs.  What you discover in these debriefs is of tremendous value; taken to heart and acted upon, they will make you a better salesperson, enabling you to close a higher percentage of deals in the future (by the way, knowing what we did right when we win is equally important.  Just as you should be asking prospects you lost why they chose someone else, so too should you be asking new customers why they decided to choose you over the competition).



It should be clear now that a healthy attitude towards and proactive response to lost deals are a much more profitable way of dealing with lost deals than ranting  and raving, or wallowing and whining.  Change your attitude, adjust your response, and over time you'll begin to experience fewer lost deals, and more closed ones.  I'd say that's a pretty good formula for an improved sales batting average.  Wouldn't you?




Print out and highlight what you feel to be the most important points in this Tip, then put it somewhere around your working area where you can easily see it.  Next time you lose a deal, reread the Tip before you fly off the handle or berate yourself.   Block out fifteen minutes to replay the deal, and try to ascertain where you could have done something different, or better.  Then sit down with your manager and get his or her input.  Lastly, call the prospect after a few days, wish him well, and request some frank and honest feedback (but be prepared to not like what you hear).   With input now from 3 separate sources, write yourself 1-2 paragraphs that summarize what you learned from this deal, and then write an Action Item of your own that states what you're going to do differently going forward.  Then replace this Tip with the one you just created.  I bet whatever is you did in that last deal, you won't repeat ever again

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