No one likes to lose. Nor does anyone want to be faced with the reality that they caused the loss, that what they did resulted in an L instead of a W. But sales success, even when played by a team, is individual. The following is a list of the things that might cause you to lose a deal.
Playing the Wrong Game
- Poor Targeting: If you go all the way through the sales process with someone who can’t or won’t benefit from what you sell, you lost because of your poor targeting. You find this cause of a loss when a salesperson doesn’t do enough prospecting. The lack of better targets results in desperation.
The following factors I am calling sales approach problems. They lead to losing deals very early in the sales conversation.
- Starting with Why Us: Your approach can cause you to lose before you even create an opportunity by starting with “why us.” When you begin by sharing why your client should choose you and move directly into your products and services, your method is one that projects your intention to have your prospect buy from you, and sooner rather than later. Because you are self-oriented and not other-oriented, not focused on helping your prospect with the outcomes they want, you lose the game before it begins.
- Poor Questions: While I have never asked the question, “What’s keeping you up at night,” I have asked questions about what a prospective client was struggling with during discovery, mostly to good effect. There is still a great need for traditional discovery, the type of discovery where you learn from your clients their challenges, opportunities, as well as their beliefs, opinions, and preferences. However, you now also need to help your clients discover something about themselves. Asking the same questions as every other salesperson allows your dream client to put you in the same category as them, commoditizing you and your offering. Your approach does nothing to create a preference if it isn’t valuable to your client.
- Lacking a Theory of Why Change: An inability to help your client understand the world in which they find themselves, and a lack of ability to help them recognize why they struggle to produce the results they want often results in a loss. Without a theory of why they should change, you also lack a theory of the implications of not changing. If there is a trend worth noting over the last ten years in sales, the need to teach your client why and how they should change tops that list. You can’t occupy the role of a trusted advisor without knowing about your client, their vertical, the trends that are impacting their business, and a dozen other factors that would allow for you to offer your advice. Your lack of depth in understanding something more than your products opens the opportunity for you to lose for someone with a more professional approach.
- Too Little Value Created: If you have ever had a prospect meet with you, only to go dark after that meeting, it might be because they are busy. A more likely scenario is that they disengaged because they didn’t leave the meeting with the confidence they would benefit from continuing to work on their challenges or opportunities with you. In short, they disqualified you. Some will disqualify you without telling you by asking you to email them your proposal and pricing by email, politely letting you down easy, and without conflict. Most salespeople lose deals in the discovery stage, not later in the process.
A Little Later in the Nonlinear Conversation
The sales conversations we have don’t fit neatly into the categories we use in our documented sales processes, which is not to suggest you don’t need a map for the conversations and outcomes that lead to successfully creating and winning a deal. Your sales process can help you know where you are in space, and it can slow the game for you.
You can lose the middle game when you lose control of the process by avoiding specific outcomes, even if you don’t discover you lost until much later.
- No Executive Sponsor: You would be hard-pressed to define a single person as the decision-maker today. Instead, there are decision-makers, since we live in a world where the clients we call on mostly seek consensus (another reason you may lose, and one that we will cover here shortly). Many deals are lost because they lack an executive sponsor, or what you might call the “business owner,” the person who is willing to sponsor and shepherd your deal, protecting it and defending it from threats. What you are likely to hear when your loss is announced to you sounds like, “They decided to go a different direction.”
- No Collaboration: Especially in more substantial, complex deals, clients want to collaborate on the solution, ensuring that it is going to work for them. They often have preferences about what they believe to be right for them. You lose deals when your solution doesn’t match the answer that they see in their mind’s eye. This is true even if you have the better solution—and even if they are eventually going to have to later do what you recommend. By skipping past collaboration or not making the adjustments that would allow your client to say yes, you ensured they said no.
- No Consensus: Single-threaded. Going with one single, solitary stakeholder. When many people are impacted by the change you are helping your client make, many people will have the opportunity to weigh in on the decision. The more complex the sale (low-frequency decision, high significance or consequences), the more you can expect multiple stakeholders. You lose when you ignore the reality of how organizations make decisions. You need consensus.
- No Investment Conversation: I’ve never understood why people wait to surprise their prospective clients with their pricing at the end of the sales conversation by providing them a proposal. The theory that I hear most often is that the salesperson is trying to build value throughout the process. When they lose to a competitor with a lower price, they suggest it was the price instead of their failure to create the additional value worth paying more to obtain them and their solution. More often, you lose because you didn’t disclose your higher price earlier, using it to differentiate your better solution from the alternatives throughout the process, and providing your prospective client with an understanding of how investing more benefits them.
- Unresolved Concerns: You don’t want to bring up any concerns your prospective client might have out of fear of creating one where it didn’t exist. Without ensuring your potential client (and the stakeholders helping them make a decision) doesn’t have any concerns that would prevent them from moving forward, you leave their concerns unaddressed and unanswered. When a person isn’t sure about the right course of action, they often do nothing. If they are not confident that they can say yes, they say no. You lose because you didn’t help create the confidence they needed to move forward with you.
There are more reasons you lose deals, which means you will see another list like this or an update here. The factors that would cause you to lose as listed above are all within your control at best, or subject to your influence at worst. I am more aware of how your clients lose when you lose, accepting something less than the best solution because they weren’t given what they needed to be able to say yes to your proposal. We have to better in helping them come to the right decision, and that starts with you.