Anyone involved in sales has experienced the near miss. That’s when you’re in what you think is the home stretch of a big sale, with your contact at the company assuring you that only one or two big shots have to sign off on the deal. As you’re icing the champagne, you get a call: the deal’s gone to your competitor.
Most of the time, in that moment, sales reps are too shocked to ask what happened -- and if they do, the response is always somewhat evasive.
There are a couple of ways to deal with this. You could curse out the contact, then rip the phone off the wall and hurl it through the window. Or you could be smart about what’s happened and use some forensic investigation to figure out what went wrong.
It's One of Those 'Learning Experiences'
It’s not easy to muster the energy to do a post-mortem under these disappointing circumstances, but it’s a worthwhile activity. Not only can it point out areas where your sales activities can be improved but it can present an opportunity to figure out what your competition is doing to beat you.
The first step is to talk to your contact at your lost prospect. This should come after all hope at salvaging the sale are gone, because you need to be clear that you’re trying to learn in order to win the next sale, not calling to drag your contact back into a battle that’s already over. If you’ve built the right relationship with that contact, he or she should be able to explain what considerations led to the loss.
If you can’t get a call with that contact, there are other ways to investigate what may have happened. LinkedIn can help you spot changes in senior management – it may have been that just before the deal was to close, new leadership came to power and with it came a set of prejudices and preferences that leaned toward your competition, or was charged with cost-cutting and one of the costs he or she cut was the deal you were counting on.
Establishing Context with an Eye for Future Sales
Check the customer record in your CRM system to understand the rhythm and sequence of your interactions with the lost prospect. Did they start interacting with you through an employee who turned out to be extremely junior, followed by repeated demos with increasingly more senior people? That might suggest that the development of the lead targeted the wrong person within the company and that you need to sharpen your aim.
The record also should include data about what the prospect said about your competitors. Did they like you for the advantage you had for them in price, reputation, product mix or quality, features or service and support? If so, revisit your competitive analysis against the eventual winner. Have they changed what they’re doing to blunt one of your strengths?
Was there a marketing effort you were pursuing that changed or ended that may correspond to the end of your chances with the prospect? For example, if you’ve been sending them informational and educational white papers on a regular basis as part of a nurturing campaign, and you stopped because you thought nurturing was soon not going to be necessary, did it signal the prospect that, once a deal was done, this kind of support would soon be forgotten?
The objective here is not to point out the failings of your sales team (although it may reveal things they could have done better). The objective is to understand the lost sale in context. You probably didn’t lose the deal for a single reason; you lost for a set of interrelated reasons, and until you start identifying those reasons you can’t start to fix them.
One of the more unfortunate aspects of this activity is that you get better at it -- and develop more effective fixes to it -- with the more deals you lose at the bottom end of the funnel. You’ll have more examples and thus more data to draw on and the conclusions you can draw will be more accurate. It’s not much of a silver lining, but look at it this way: the more careful analysis you can do of deals that you lose now, the more you can do to win those deals in the future.