Make Lost Deals Work for You: 5 Steps to an Effective Postmortem

When a long sales cycle ends in defeat, it can feel like you’ve lost more than just the deal. But there’s a lot to be gained from a miss. Make sure your salespeople can brush themselves off quickly and capitalize on the experience with an effective post-sale analysis.

In 19 hyper-focused minutes, we’ll cover:
  • How to find out what’s really under the surface when you hear “Your price was too high”
  • Strategies for getting useful and honest feedback from opportunities after a rejection
  • The mindset your salespeople must adopt to turn a loss into a profitable lesson
  • How a defeat can set you up for future business opportunities with the same organization

Read the Full Transcript of the Briefinar Below: 

Will Brooks:    Welcome to our April 2017 installment of The Brooks Group’s Briefinars for Sales Leaders. Our Briefinar series is made up of hyper-targeted webinars designed to give sales leaders the tools, strategies, and tactics they need to help their reps find more success in an increasingly competitive marketplace. Our Briefinar tagline is brief, bright, brought to you in 19 minutes and is our commitment to give you actionable ideas you can use today in less than 20 minutes. I’m Will Brooks, COO of The Brooks Group.
Steve Hackett:    And I’m Steve Hackett, Regional VP of Sales.
Will Brooks:    In this month’s Briefinar, Steve Hackett will give you, our listeners, some very tangible ways to make something that’s very painful, lost deals, into a positive learning experience that can help your reps sell more business. Without further ado, let’s dive into the content.
Steve Hackett:    Well, losing deals hurts. Losing big deals really hurts. In today’s complex selling environment, utilizing personnel and resources from your company will be required to win deals. When you lose an opportunity, it doesn’t just impact the sales person. It can impact the entire organization.
Will Brooks:    It’s interesting, Steve. You mention complex selling environment. Why don’t we kind of level set. Tell us what you mean by that.
Steve Hackett:    Well, it’s more complicated than it’s ever been. You’ve got multiple people, multiple departments, multiple departments that have different agendas on what they want to accomplish. It isn’t the traditional, “I talk to one person, I can make a deal.” It’s a stepped approach to completing sales. I may have to interact with anywhere, I think recently we’ve seen anywhere from 10-12 different people on any deal that I’m working on in some organization, so just the fact that we’ve had so many more people, it adds to the dimension of complexity just because of the number of people in departments.
Will Brooks:    Absolutely. Well, the big question, and I think really the one that brought all of our listeners to us today, Steve, is how can sales people learn from failures, i.e., lost deals, and set themselves up for future success? Talk to us.
Steve Hackett:    Now, well, we certainly have learned lessons from the thousands of sales people we have worked with worldwide over the past 40 years. The lessons and experiences provided insight and a perspective. We won’t win them all, but I would like to share a story I heard from a great golf couch, Butch Harmon, which I think is very relevant to the world of sales today.
Steve Hackett:    I had the privilege of hearing Butch Harmon talk about the great world-class golfers he’s worked with, and he said something that really stuck with me. “Bad shots. Bad holes. That’s golf. You control what you think. Don’t get stuck in your own head. There’s always another shot or another hole waiting for you.” Now just think about that for a second as it applies to sales. Learn from, adjust, and evolve from our failures. There’s always another opportunity to pursue.
Will Brooks:    We live to fight another day, Steve.
Steve Hackett:    Let’s just talk about the five steps to set yourself up for future success.
Will Brooks:    Steve, so, very fundamental, very foundational, but I think something that frankly a lot of reps overlook because this is a difficult thing to do, but looks like your first tip here is to seek direct, honest feedback from decision makers. Tell us a little bit about that.
Steve Hackett:    After we get frustrated, throw our pens and papers on the floor, toss our phones down, after we let the initial emotion go out, how do we learn from this? This is, you mentioned, it could be a very difficult thing for people to do, and they may be very uncomfortable, but it doesn’t have to be that way. 
Steve Hackett:    I found just having a conversation with decision makers after losing a deal to be extremely beneficial. Here’s an example of how you would approach it, and certainly be sincere. As a professional courtesy, what could our company have done differently in order to be more successful with the next opportunity? Just like in golf, we don’t let the previous bad shot impact the next one. In the world of sales, we don’t want to let the previous failure impact the next opportunity.
Steve Hackett:    Now, when you ask that question, be prepared for the universal sales blow-off. Here’s what they’re going to tell you. “Your price was too high. You just weren’t competitive.” People don’t want to necessarily tell you the real truth on why they didn’t select you or your organization, so price is the easy way out. You need to respond with something like this. “Hey, let’s take price off the table. What can we do to be successful with the next opportunity?”
Steve Hackett:    Now, this is very important. No matter what their response, you need to be professional and take to heart any feedback that they provide you.
Will Brooks:    Absolutely. Talked about getting past that first hurdle, willing to have that conversation. Now, tip two it looks like, Steve, is go back and look at your proposal.
Steve Hackett:    Well, in this complex selling environment, which we mentioned earlier, it will involve multiple people in the decision-making process, so you need to have a strategy to navigate this buying unit. If there’s one area that we hear consistently from our clients, it’s this complex selling environment that’s directly impacted their world. Transactional being more strategic, strategic being more transactional. I think back at 2008, 2009 and the experiences that we had all the way across the board with the economy going south. It impacted all of us.
Steve Hackett:    How do we do this effectively? Number one, did we truly understand and appreciate the internal organizational dynamic, spheres of influence, and the culture of the company? Did we recognize the different approaches and competing agendas of decision makers? It’s not always easy to understand the stated and the unstated goals of the people involved in the decision. This is an important point. If we’re going to go back and look at the proposal, did we have solid internal advocates or coaches to help guide us through the process?
Will Brooks:    Right.
Will Brooks:    The information you were getting, I mean, was that on target? Did that really match the reality?
Steve Hackett:    Yeah, and Will, I mean, there’s … We have clients that they may have five or six hurdles that they have to go over successfully before they even get to a contract. We call that the sale within the sale. How do I negotiate that sale within the sale, and what’s my strategy for those individual people that I’m going to have to get their approval buy-in in order to move forward?
Will Brooks:    When I look at this, two things come to mind. Number one, I think back to tip number one. If you’re going to take a look at your proposal, you need to have the information to compare it against. During that initial conversation, you got to ask questions, Steve, that play these factors here.
Steve Hackett:    We talk about the questions that we ask and the level of depth in the questions that we have to get to. It’s getting to the emotion of all decision. If I have multiple people, they all have multiple agendas, so what is their agenda and what is the emotion of their decision in order to bring that all home?
Will Brooks:    You got it. Number three. This is one of my favorite concepts, actually. Evaluate the perceived emotional cost. I think that there’s two ways of looking at that. I’d love to hear your perspective, and then …
Steve Hackett:    The role of perceived emotional cost in decision-making process is absolutely essential for all sales people to understand. As a sales person, we always tend to think in terms of its price or it’s the potential investment of the solution. That’s the big hurdle for us. Prospects or buyers don’t think that way. They think in terms of what is the perceived emotional cost of this decision.
Steve Hackett:    Now, let me give you some examples of perceived emotional cost. “Is this the right solution for us?” “Do I really trust this sales person or this organization?” “If I change vendors, how will it impact my organization?” I really like this one, and we’ve seen this more and more, Will, is, “Is this a good career move for me?” Whether you’re a large organization or a small organization, careers are made or broken by the decisions that we make, so they have a significant impact. Don’t ever underestimate how important that is to the individual.
Steve Hackett:    An example of other examples of perceived emotional cost is time, energy, risk, change. Maybe I’m going to have to forfeit a relationship with someone who I’ve been doing business with for a period of time. These are all perceived emotional cost. When we do exercises with sales people in our program, we’ll have some that actually kind of do a post-mortem on a deal. The sales people are really honest with themselves. Most opportunities are lost to some perceived emotional cost that was never recognized, or they discounted its importance. They failed to realize how significant that was, and they didn’t address it early on in the process.
Will Brooks:    Let’s step away from the lost deal analysis concept for a second, Steve, and while we’re on this topic, why don’t you tell us a little bit about maybe some questions the rep can ask during the sales process to get to some of this information so that we can avoid the deal lost analysis to begin with?
Steve Hackett:    Well, let’s just talk about change. Let’s talk about relationship. Let’s talk about a few of those. What we’re talking about here is early on in the sales process when you’re qualifying the opportunity, you’re probing and asking your questions, you need to ask questions like this: How do you feel about change? How do you feel about changing vendors? How will that impact you? How will that impact your organization? If you decided to potentially change, what is going to be required to make this a good decision for you and your organization? Because if we fail to ask those questions early on, it comes back to that price was too high. Well, we’ve actually made a recommendation. We failed to realize the importance of those decisions.
Steve Hackett:    If you know, and there’s a perceived emotional cost in every decision, you need to address those right up front. Better to know it up front and deal with it in your recommendation than to underappreciate it and lose a deal because you didn’t appreciate it.
Will Brooks:    Excellent. All right, number four, nail down the definition of a qualified lead. Bring us alive, Steve.
Steve Hackett:    When we talk about most organizations, many organizations have not really clearly defined what a qualified lead or a qualified opportunity looks like. Many of our clients will look at it a little bit differently, or they go with the approach that if somebody’s just asking me for a price or they provide us an RFP or an RFQ, then they must be qualified. You need to clearly identify what is a qualified lead or an opportunity for you. One of the characteristics of a fully-qualified opportunity for us is they have a need and that they’re aware of it.
Steve Hackett:    Now, one of the things that we know today is that most prospects have a lot of information, and some of that information may be correct or it may not be correct. Our job as professional consultant and sales people is to educate. The more quality information we can provide and the more competence people have, the better our opportunities are for making decisions.
Steve Hackett:    Nowhere does it state that they have a need to change from their current provider. Never assume. Verify. Are they really interested in potentially changing vendors or looking at new products and new services from different vendors? Saying it and mean it is not always easy to determine.
Will Brooks:    What I hear you saying here is without an objective set of criteria against which to determine whether an opportunity is qualified or not, you really can’t conduct a solid deal lost analysis. While we’re on this concept, you referenced that we teach five characteristics. Why don’t you just go ahead and lay those out there for us.
Steve Hackett:    Some people may think it’s six, seven, or eight, but for us, these are the core five. Number one, they have a need, and they’re aware of it. We can raise the awareness of the need. Do they recognize that they have a need for whatever the products or services you represent or potentially changing vendors? Number two, and I think this is a hard target, that the person you’re talking to has a legitimate authority and the ability to say yes. This has changed dramatically. More often than not, decisions are made by committees. There’s multiple people involved. Do we understand the dynamic of the organization? Who are the people that have authority? Who are the people that can say yes, and who are the people that can block us? We need to understand the dynamic of the decision-making process within the organization.
Steve Hackett:    Number three, they have a sense of urgency about the decision. We’re talking about a defined timeframe. If somebody’s just requesting a quote for you for pricing purposes or for budgetary purposes, that’s not a qualified opportunity because there’s no defined timeframe with the decision. Number four, they trust you and the organization. Notice I said “you” first. You are the face of the organization with the opportunity. Number five, they’re willing to listen to you. Unfortunately, Will, too many sales people think that number five is the be-all, end-all, and that’s all I need to have in order to have a legitimate opportunity.
Will Brooks:    Yeah, I think you hit on something too that number two, for us, the authority and the ability to buy in today’s complex marketplace can be absolutely mysterious, so without some sort of strategy of methodology to map that out and really understand that, I think you’re operating rather blindly.
Steve Hackett:    It goes even further than that, Will. It has to be a strategy for each individual person within the organizational dynamic and the spheres of influence within the organization. We need to have a strategy around that, and that’s why we need those coaches.
Will Brooks:    Absolutely. All right, so tip number five and what I would call more of a mindset tip, self-awareness and analysis. Steve, tell us about this one.
Steve Hackett:    Well, we need to be able to honestly look at ourselves in our organization. Sales people can be optimistic to a fault. We all believe that no matter what we’re working on, we can win this opportunity. That’s why we love working with sales people because of that of enthusiasm, but we really need to have a little bit of self-awareness and maybe some objective analysis to see if, in fact, it was a legitimate opportunity.
Steve Hackett:    Here’s a little checklist. Did I do my best? Can I honestly say I did my best? Was this even a realistic opportunity that we could win as an organization? How well were we positioned for this opportunity, especially against the competition? If you or your organization were not the right fit, the deal was a long shot to begin with. 
Steve Hackett:    If it’s a long shot, but we took a shot at it, we should be able to take pride in that we did our best to earn that opportunity. The lesson is, learn how to better qualify and evaluate opportunities up front. We don’t want to do post-mortems. We want to win more opportunities right up front, and that starts with being able to prioritize and spend time with the right opportunities because of the criteria that we used to qualify them up front.
Will Brooks:    Absolutely. Again, this is a mindset thing here, tip five. I mean, if I’m … If the sales rep is so, let’s say, stung by defeat or they just can’t see clearly what’s happened, I think this is going to be a tough one. I think back to tip number one as well, the whole notion of reaching out to someone who has unfortunately rejected you or your organization and have that conversation. That’s a mindset thing too. Hopefully, we’ve shared some good tactical tips here, but one and five are especially sometimes difficult I think to execute on.
Steve Hackett:    Those are really the bookends, Will. One is going to the client, and the second one is looking internally, so we have both.
Steve Hackett:    You know, Will, these are just five lessons that we’ve learned over time. I hope these will provide the sales leaders on our call today some insights and maybe some opportunities to coach and develop their sales team. We appreciate their time today.
Will Brooks:    Yeah, absolutely. Before we sign off, Steve, I think you were telling me about a client visit you had. You’ve referenced this complex marketplace thing several times. Talk to me.
Steve Hackett:    Yeah, Will, it’s really interesting. I was visiting with a large organization, industrial organization that we work with, and I had all the senior leaders in the group. It was funny. The first time that I asked them about their 2017 sales environment, here’s the first comment that they made to me. “Man, this is really complex, and it’s really different.” I thought it was very telling.
Will Brooks:    Absolutely. I don’t think they’re alone in that. If reps today are going to succeed in a complex sales environment, they need to shift their mindset and their approach from tactical to strategic. That’s why we developed our newest program IMPACT for the Complex Marketplace. That program allows sales people to effectively navigate larger decision-making units, become a resource capable of driving change, and present high-level proposals that bring real value to the buyer.
Will Brooks:    Part of the skills sales people will master in this program is a post-sale analysis, how to analyze a loss or a win to build relationships and learn from stumbles, and of course, that’s done on a much, much deeper level than we’ve touched on here.
Will Brooks:    Folks, that’s about it. We committed to get this thing done in 19 minutes, and we are right now at 18 minutes and 50 seconds. Again, this is Will Brooks joined by Steve Hackett. If you’d like to learn more about IMPACT Selling for the Complex Marketplace, please jump on our website, Of course, you can reach out to Steve directly. His email address is [email protected]. He’ll be happy to answer any questions. Until next time, thank you so much.

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