Lee Salz

Article Summary:

A process to investigate lost sales to learn from the experience, benefiting the company, the sales person, and the sales manager.

Learning from the Lost Sale

Early in my career as a sales manager, I learned the importance of the education from lost sales. Some go wrong using a lost sale as an opportunity to beat up a sales person. The sales person walks away defeated and angry. I never made losing a deal a habit, but it does happen... and it can happen to you, too.

Three entities can learn important lessons from lost deals: the company, the sales manager, and the sales person (in no particular order.) We created a process to investigate the sale that went awry.

The process begins with the sales person completing a report which provides an overview of the sales process, captures key data elements, and includes a narrative from the sales person's perspective. That report is then shared with a team. This team, which is comprised of fellow sales people and other executives in the company, review the report and then participate in an conference call. During the call, the sales person presents the situation and fields questions from the team. The spirit of the call is to create a learning environment for the aforementioned three entities. This is not a forum to criticize the sales person. If a critique necessary, the sales manager handles that privately with their sales person.

Some of the information included in the report:

  • How the lead was developed - Companies can learn by lead source where they are most and least effective. Sales managers can learn which sales people are best at handling particular types of leads.
  • Length of the buying process - Companies can learn the length of the cycle. Does the length of the process correspond to winning or losing the business? There is an old expression about time killing deals.
  • Contact people with title - Sales managers can see if the sales person was able to meet with the right level of contact for the sale.
  • Description of the relationship with each contact person - While knowing who the sales person contacted is important, even more important is the relationship established with each. Sales managers can analyze the relationship aspects of the process. The two areas to measure for each contact person is their level of influence in making the buying decision and their level of commitment to your solution being adopted. Heavily influential buyers that are not heavily committed to your solution being adopted and the converse scenario are two of the main reasons deals are lost.
  • To whom the sale was lost - Companies, sales managers, and sales people are always looking for competitive intelligence. It is important to know who is eating your lunch. Is there a trend? What are they doing that you are not? If you don't know a particular competitor is kicking sand in your face, you can't develop a strategy to defeat them.
  • Reason why the sale was lost - Does your message need tweaking? Is your price consistent with the market? Is the offering compelling? Did they elect to do nothing?

Many don't necessarily think of electing to do nothing as a lost sale. However, losing to "status quo" is ubiquitous in sales. Everyone can relate to losing a sale to this powerhouse of a competitor. Much can be learned from this loss, but few delve into the reasons for it. Is the solution off the mark? Is price the issue? Or is it positioning? If every sales person could find a way to defeat status quo, every company would enjoy record revenues.

Getting to the real reason for the lost sale is not always easy to do. First, buyers don't always tell sales people the reason for their decision. Second, sales people don't necessarily volunteer that they didn't do everything they could have in the process.

One effective way to get the real scoop is for the sales manager to contact the person who was most influential in the decision process. This is not a sales call, nor is it an attempt to reverse the decision. This call is positioned as the company's desire to always improve itself. As such, the sales manager asks for a five minute phone call to best understand where his company fell short. You will be surprised how many buyers are willing to have that conversation under those circumstances. Keep in mind, their company doesn't always win the business either. The call also leaves a favorable impression on the buyer so that the next time they are looking for a provider, you may have a leg up.

Scientists fail countless times in their quest to develop the next great thing for the world. It is the process of learning from the failures that leads to the greatest of inventions. Companies, sales managers, and sales people have much to learn from theirs.

Lee B. Salz is President of Sales Dodo, author of Soar Despite Your Dodo Sales Manager, and an online columnist for Sales & Marketing Management Magazine. He specializes in helping companies and their sales organizations adapt and thrive in the ever-changing world of business. Lee is available for keynote speaking, business consulting, and sales training. He can be reached via email at lsalz@salesdodo.com, his website at www.SalesDodo.com or by phone at 763.416.4321.

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