No salesperson wants to lose a deal, especially a large enterprise-level deal. No matter how good you are in sales, losses are part of selling. You may believe you should move on without looking back, but that would be a mistake. If you want to acquire the client in the future, there is no reason to give up, especially if you are already responsible for displacing a competitor to win a client’s business.
There is no reason to stop pursuing the client’s business. There is no value to disengaging when you can take a patient, professional, pursuit plan to stay connected, respecting the client’s decision while keeping in mind that nothing is forever. Over time, things change, providing an opportunity to try again.
Apologize That You Didn’t You Didn’t Do Better
It’s important that you know how you lost so you can avoid losing again in the future. You can keep making mistakes that cause you to lose clients. If you don’t know how or why you lost, speak with your sales manager or a good rep that can help you identify what might be the root cause of your loss.
Your contacts made what they believed was the best decision for their company. Give up the idea that your contacts made the wrong decision. Also don’t make any excuse about your competitor’s lower price or their underhanded tactics, or anything that might excuse your loss. Instead, take responsibility for the loss and own it. This is important for your development as a salesperson.
Instead of feeling bad over a loss, send a note to your main contact apologizing that you didn’t do enough to win their business and wish them well with their new provider. There are two things here worth noticing about this approach. First you are a professional, who avoids any suggestion that your contact made a poor decision, even if it is true. Second, you have accepted that they have a new provider.
You don’t have to like any of this, but it does allow you to communicate after a loss. If you are going to communicate, send a letter using snail mail and include your business card. Make the note professional, and avoid anything that might put you in a bad light or make the contact feel awkward.
Communicate You Are Ready to Help if Needed
You don’t have any idea about how your competitor is going to do for your contact or their company. Sometimes, your competitor fails the client early, causing them to lose faith in your competitor. Without writing anything negative about your competitor, mention that should your lost client need anything, you are waiting in the wings.
Three times in my life in sales, I lost a deal to a larger competitor only to have them fail within six months. I didn’t expect them to fail, but I made a practice of communicating with the decision-makers every 30 days by phone.
The good thing about a contract is that there is an expiration date. At some point, you will have another opportunity. You also have good odds that, over time, your competitor will become apathetic or start to take their client for granted. Over time, things can change.
Continue to Create Value Even Though Your Competitor Won
A lot of salespeople will communicate with contacts even though they have a supplier. This is even true after you’ve won a deal and your competitors keep in touch with your client. There is no reason for you to stop communicating. Depending on what you learned in discovery, you may have an advantage over other salespeople who have never had a conversation with your contacts. You have some idea about what your contacts care about.
Like the conversation during the sales process, your communications can create value for your lost client. This is how you play the long game. Nurture the relationship you have with your contacts, even after losing the deal this time. At the same time, you should be communicating to other companies that already have a provider for what you sell. You want to stay in the pole position, lined up to try to win again later.
The Year-One Strategy
Eventually, you will have an opportunity to start a new conversation driven by the question “Why change?” This won’t happen if you give up. The Year-One strategy is that you start your pursuit during the first year of your competitor’s contract. There is no reason to wait two or three years before you start communicating with the contact that chose your competitor.
As long as you have the ability to create value for your contacts, you should keep communicating, even if it will take time. You might make a list of clients you didn’t win—your future clients—and spend some time each week, reaching out and sharing something helpful for them.
Your Commitment to Your Client
After a loss, your continuing communication proves you still desire to create value by sharing insights and market conditions. You want your contacts to recognize you are a thought leader. You might use newsletters, emails, or webinars and conferences to stay connected. Work to maintain visibility, credibility, and integrity.
Make every communication positive. Never say anything negative about your competitor or complain about your loss. Your professional attitude reflects well on you. Success in sales requires resilience and optimism. These are excellent character traits for a salesperson.
Learn From Your Loss
Start by believing you lost the deal and that you would win if you were able to do it over. To do this, you need to take an objective view of your loss. If you can, ask your contact to give you candid feedback, and tell them that you are most interested in improving your ability to create value for them and your other clients.
What you learn from a hard loss can provide you with the ability to win other deals by making changes that will cause your prospective client to choose to buy from you. Don’t believe that a lost deal ends your relationship. Oftentimes, it is the beginning of a better relationship, one that has you putting your client’s needs and preferences front and center in the next contest, which will have you winning the client’s business.