Avoiding the Pain

Stu Perlmeter

Why It Hurts So Much to Lose a New Business Opportunity and how Win-Loss Analysis May Help

When you work hard at winning a contract and lose to a competitor, it hurts. It doesn’t matter whether you lose to a fierce competitor, or a mystery provider who was previously unknown to you. Doesn’t matter whether the cycle was weeks or months, or even the dollar volume – it just hurts.

Most sales leaders and reps have gotten to the point in their careers that they’ve learned to take losses in stride. They get over it quickly – and need to, because there are other deals and priorities waiting. No time to dwell on the past, or the clues you hadn’t detected earlier.

That’s not entirely wrong but consider this: the loss hurts for a reason – actually, several.

The primary one is that you’re a competitor; competitors don’t like to lose. If you’re not, you don’t belong in the sales organization. Another less obvious source of pain is that you care about the people and organizations you sell into. In the process, you may become close to the prospects as people, as you engage with their challenges and opportunities. You genuinely want to help, and in most cases your team has put together the most elegant and cogent solution for providing that help.

Perhaps the most vexing, is the pain that comes from the perception that you’ve missed something that was very important. That piece of discovery, understanding of the situation or interplay between influencers that you glossed over in our pursuit of the deal, often comes back to haunt you, usually about 2am.

In fact, there is always something important that you miss; probably “several somethings”. That doesn’t make you bad, or wrong. You have several deals you are nurturing at once; and clients have many devices for keeping you at bay, such as the ever-popular RFP process.

In our Win-Loss practice, which we call Action Insights to Win, we take a positive, constructive view of situations in the past that can’t be changed. In this “high-road” view, if a sales opportunity is lost to a competitor, all you can change at that point is yourself. That implies a “learning” process, which re-introduces a bit more pain into the situation. Change is always painful – you get to double-down on the hurt.

Broadly, that means changing your sales approach and infusing more rigor and discipline in the process. That might imply a better execution of your familiar approach. What I’m suggesting is a more dynamic tactic, which starts with asking a simple question: “What can we learn from this situation that, if handled in the best possible way in the future, would substantially increase our chance for success?

That single question, and the wisdom that comes from the inquiry that follows, is the single most impactful thing that can come from the inevitable stinging losses that occur for every selling organization.

You may have been looking for a more upbeat view of processing sales losses. Here’s an upbeat thought – think about the celebrations in store when your sales closing-rate starts to climb. I see cocktails in your future.

About the Author

Stu Perlmeter

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Stu brings 30 years of marketing and research experience to 1st Resource, which he founded in 1996. Stu’s primary expertise is in understanding the market insights that tie to success formulas for companies seeking to grow their business in strategic ways.