Why Did You Lose? How to Perform an Autopsy on a Lost Sales Opportunity

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling® – The Sales Training Company

When someone wants to end a relationship they try to make it clear it’s over so that they can minimize any discussions. When breaking up with someone a friend of mine invoked the phrase:  “I’m just not good enough. You deserve better.

When prospects consider four vendors and ultimately make buying decisions, three will receive bad news after spending time and resources on opportunities and having forecasted them to close. While I hesitate to accuse buyers of lying, similar to my friend they want to let sellers down as easily as possible while making it clear the time for selling has come and gone. One of my partners shared the observation that in all his years in selling he had never met “Column C.” By that he meant that all losing salespeople seem to be told they came in second while being told they didn’t get the business.

So Why Did We Lose?

The most commonly cited reasons on loss reports are price and product. How often are they the real reasons? My rule of thumb is that unless buyers ask for a price that the seller/vendor can’t or won’t meet, price probably wasn’t the real reason for the loss. When buyers say, “If only you were a little cheaper we could have gone with you,” sellers should be thinking: Why didn’t you ask me for better pricing?

As for blaming losses on offerings, if sellers have an adequate chance to develop buyer needs they should have disqualified opportunities where offerings weren’t a good fit.

Probably the biggest single factor in buying decisions is the salespersonWhoever provides a superior buying experience will usually be awarded the business. That said, it’s unlikely buyers (who aren’t a seller’s manager) are going to tell anyone they got outsold. Awkward interactions can be avoided by blaming losses on price or product.

In most cases, I don’t believe sellers learn exactly why they didn’t get the business. Failing to get to the root causes are missed opportunities to learn from your mistakes and make changes to address any shortcomings. In trying to uncover the truth, it’s more difficult if sellers are the people trying to uncover reasons for losses. They have baggage by virtue of their involvement.

What You Should Do After a Loss

As an alternative, consider letting a few months pass and have someone from within the company that isn’t in sales or an outside consultant contact the person that was thought to have been the decision maker.

The person you choose should start by explaining to the buyer that the company waited because they wanted to avoid the appearance of trying to change the buyer’s mind. In competing for the business, a significant amount of time and resources were spent. The company is trying to learn from losses and improve their approaches. It would be very helpful to find out:

  • Which vendor was chosen
  • The major reasons for choosing the vendor
  • The reasons you weren’t the vendor of choice related to:
    • Your company
    • Your offering
    • Your support
    • Your sales approach/salesperson
    • Terms and conditions
    • Other areas the buyer wants to discuss
  • Things you could have done differently that would have improved your chances of winning the business

You may want to consider doing interviews like these for significant wins as well as painful losses. Learning from both your successes and failures should enable you to be a more formidable competitor in the future.