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Read This Next Time You Lose a Deal

March 25, 2009


Sales rocks. You get to drive hire cars, cash in free air miles and dine at the Outback Steakhouse once a month. If more kids knew about these secret perks there might be more budding salesmen in America than aspiring firemen and astronauts.

Still some aspects of the job suck – and perhaps top of the list is taking calls to hear that you have just lost a really big deal. Rejected.  Do not pass go!  No soup for you….

For some reason, we still manage to find the rationale to thank the messenger of doom… “Well Brad, I appreciate you keeping us all in the loop on your decision.” It’s really scraping the barrel when it comes down to complementing someone on how expediently they’ve crushed our dreams.

Still losing deals is an inevitable part of business. Period. In sales we just have more direct exposure to the triumphs and shortfalls of the capitalist marketplace. There is an optimum win rate: too low and you’re bidding on unqualified business; too high and you’re leaving those speculative opportunities on the table that drives growth. We rarely win business out the blue but all too often we lose deals unexpectedly. In the field it pays to be a daily optimist, in management balanced pessimism delivers growth.

When the bad news call comes we need to make a split decision, sometimes during the deal squashing phone conversation itself. Are we 100% out or do we have one last hand to play?

1) In some limited instances the deal is not gone and there is a final chance to claw back the order due to more advantageous pricing or perhaps personal leverage. I have seen this done once during a heroic effort when five US customers agreed to make references calls to a UK prospect on Thanks Giving day. Some moment are just special and validate faith in humanity, many are not…

2) In the second and much more likely scenario the deal is genuinely gone and we need to quickly switch into damage control mode and focus on keeping the relationship open. The last thing we want is to leave the prospect feeling awkward and embarrassed to get in touch on their next opportunity…. guilt can do funny things to Catholics and prospects alike. Delivering bad news can also be unique opportunity to get a commitment to look at a new product or service in the near future. This proposition shows we’re serious about doing business and thinking beyond a deal-to-deal mindset (even if it’s cold consolation when we’re just kissed goodbye to a kitchen-remodeling-sized paycheck). The goal is to move as quickly as possible from being labeled “the company that lost that deal” to long-term potential supplier. No one wants to hang out with a loser… not even your mother.

Managing this tricky situation take genuine emotional detachment from the decision to competently handle it and maximize the likelihood of future business. Early on in my career I was advised never to take business too personally. While it was cliché, it was sound counsel that I have stuck to. Don’t take your losses too badly – the flip side is don’t go too crazy when you close the big one – they’re two sides of the same coin.

This emotional detachment is a lot easier to parade if the household’s financial solvency and next car payment aren’t dependent on the deal. One sales manager at a major IT supplier was notorious in the 1990’s for recruiting sales reps with bad credit ratings, once they were in debt he had them by the balls; loan sharks have run their business on more compassionate terms.

At the end of the day some deals just aren’t worth winning, every prospect can be walked away from; no contract is worth more than our emotional well being. In sales, we’re probably not dealing in life and death, unless we work for Halliburton in which case they have special classified training for dealing with this kind of crap.

The Closer is personally available for consolatory phone calls when even your sales manager won’t return your crushed voicemails of despair.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Michael LeJeune permalink
    March 29, 2009 12:16 am

    Great post! So many sales people are only focused on the numbers game. They lose the deal, they move on to the next guy. While I see the point in that, I like your approach of working the relationship. As much as the “you didn’t get the deal” call sucks, it’s still easier to work that relationship than start one from scratch.

    I personally appreciate getting notice that we didn’t get a deal. It beats the guys that hide and lead you on for months only to find out they selected someone else.

    • The Closer permalink
      March 29, 2009 2:57 pm

      Thank you bro – rejection in sales is both philosophical and very tied up with how we keep the money flowing through the door.

      Keep in touch

  2. March 30, 2009 3:40 am

    “Never take your business too personally.” Great reminder. You’re not a loser just because you lost the sale. It just feels that way at the time. Emotional detachment is a tough skill to master.

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