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How to Learn from Lost Sales and Win More Business

Win / Loss analysis article

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of closing a sale.  Whether it’s a large sale or a small one, sales people celebrate first and then try to understand why they won so they can replicate their success.  There is much more to be learned from losing, however, yet most sales people do not know how to gather accurate and meaningful information from prospects to learn from their losses.  Sales people often ask prospects why they lost a deal, but they typically don’t get a straight answer.  In fact, according to proprietary sales Win / Loss research data, prospects share the complete truth less than forty percent of the time.  This means that in the majority of failed new business situations, sales people do not have a complete and accurate understanding of why they lost.

Every year, sales people and companies across America spend significant time and money on sales training.  However, most sales people do not align their sales training to actual Win / Loss analysis data and feedback from their prospects, and this is a huge lost opportunity for sales people to improve their selling efforts.  This situation begs the question:  If sales people don’t understand why they lose, how are they expected to improve their performance and ultimately win more business?

In this article, you will learn three techniques for initiating and conducting successful post loss debriefs.  These techniques will help you better understand the reasons why you lose which will ultimately help you increase your close rate.

1)    Get approval for the post-decision Win / Loss debrief early in the sales process.

Knowing how to correctly ask the prospect for a Win / Loss debrief is critical.  The first step is to let the prospect know early on in the sales process that you will be conducting a Win / Loss debrief no matter how the sales process plays out.  While most sales people are inclined to wait until the end of the process to request a debrief, this is a less than optimal approach.  It is better to let the prospect know early on in the sales process so that you plant a seed in the prospect’s mind.  By taking this proactive step, you are setting a foundation for the debrief call that will create an implied agreement with the prospect for an interview.  The best time to do this is after you have built rapport with the buyer and you have identified the needs of the prospect. Then, when you are beginning your process of presenting solutions, you can mention it to the prospect.

Asking for the post decision Win / Loss debrief early in the sales process also builds credibility for you and your company.  This “win or lose, I’d like your perspective” approach reinforces the concept of a consultative sales process while also providing reciprocity for the efforts you as the sales professional are about to invest.  In fact, the very act of asking for this information creates a kind of counterbalance within the sales process.  By taking this approach you are letting the prospect know that you are going to put in a lot of time and effort during the sales process and you would like feedback in return for this effort.

2)    Do not debrief on the same call where the prospect tells you that you have lost the deal.

This is a major mistake and in most cases, you will not get any meaningful feedback from prospects during this discussion.  Why are prospects not forthcoming when they call to tell you that you lost the business?  One reason for this is that when a prospect calls to tell you that you lost the deal, his primary concern is to tell you the decision and get you off the phone as quickly as possible.  No one likes to give someone bad news; therefore, prospects feel uncomfortable during these conversations and are looking to get the call over with as quickly as possible.

Another problem with trying to conduct a Win / Loss debrief interview at this time is that as the sales rep, you will typically feel, rejected, defeated, deflated and defensive.  That’s a lot of emotions to handle all at once, and no one enjoys going through rejection.  Whatever emotions you have at this point will prohibit your ability to successfully debrief with a prospect.  You need time to reflect and allow yourself to gain composure after defeat.  It is virtually impossible for you to have all the right questions to ask at this particular moment and to ask them in the right frame of mind.

Here is an example of how to ask for a Win / Loss debrief interview:

“Mr. Prospect, I understand your decision and I respect it.  I’m disappointed, because I really wanted to work with you and your company but I’m not going to try to change your mind.   I wish you all the best in the future.  If you recall, I had mentioned to you that my company conducts debriefs at the end of every sales cycle and you agreed to debrief with me.   We do this so that we can continually improve our sales process and product and service offering.  Can we set up a time in the next week or so to speak for 15 minutes?  It would really be helpful to me.  Do you have your calendar handy?”

There are many key points to be aware of in the above example.  For one, it is important to let the prospect know that you are not going to try to change his mind.  By letting the prospect know that you have accepted the loss and that you will not try to change his decision, you are putting the prospect at ease and as a result, he will be more willing to talk to you.  Also, you have let them achieve their main objective for the call and they will be calmed by this.  Make sure to let them know that you don’t like to lose but that you do like to learn as much as possible from every loss.

3)    How to act during a Win / Loss debrief call.

The beginning of the post loss call is very important because you need to set and control the tone of the discussion.  You must make the prospect feel totally comfortable giving you constructive feedback.  In order to do this, you must first convince yourself that you really want this type of feedback.  You must be ready and willing to hear the whole truth: The good, the bad and the ugly.  While many sales people do not seek out this type of criticism, the best ones always do.

Also, when you get on the call, make sure the prospect knows that no one will lose their job because of anything that is said.  Instruct them that your organization encourages this type of dialogue to promote learning and excellence.

By properly framing the discussion, you are making the prospect feel comfortable to share their honest opinions.  You are also letting them know that you are expecting to get some constructive criticism.  This is very different from how most conversations go.  It is very rare that people seek out constructive feedback on themselves, so you must frame the discussion so that the prospect understands that you are not simply looking to identify things that you did well, but that you are very interested in the areas where you and your company can improve.

There are many other ways to promote prospect candor during a loss debrief, including:

•    Take full responsibility for everything that occurred during the sales process.

•    Don’t get defensive or angry, don’t debate with the prospect and don’t try to resell the prospect.

•    Probe for specifics. Ask “How do you mean?” or “Say more.”

•    Draft a post loss debrief questionnaire to use as a guide for your conversations.

By implementing a process for correctly setting up Win / Loss debrief calls and by learning how to act on these calls, you will unlock a vast source of prospect information which will allow for continuous sales improvement.  This process will ultimately increase your new business win rate for years to come.