The big deal, the sure thing, the sale that’s going to take your company to the next level… doesn’t happen after all. Eventually, it happens to everyone in business. Even for seasoned sales professionals who have become adept at riding the waves in a sea of rejection in our hunt for the big fish, we still get emotional about the one that got away.

With 20 years selling experience, 14 of those spent shepherding other companies to greener pastures through sales consulting, I’m no exception to the rule. A sobering reminder of this fact was presented recently, having learnt that I had lost a significant deal. After the expected, thankfully momentary hit to the ego, I decided that instead of letting the bad news ruin my day (or my week) this was an opportunity to reflect and learn. So I asked myself: how did it happen?

It certainly had seemed promising. I’d ticked all the boxes that I would recommend for any company with a big proposal in the works:

  • I met with ALL the key stakeholders (and decision maker) – CEO, Business Owners etc.
  • I was referred and highly recommended by a current client who is on their board.
  • The potential client confirmed that I had understood their issues correctly and had hit the nail on the head.
  • The cost / benefit / ROI proposed was very clear.
  • I placed my fees at risk based on results.
  • The timing was perfect. The client was hurting and wanted a solution ASAP.

So who did I lose this business to? There was no other competition – or was there?

Where does your real competition lie? Internal vs. external

I realized that I had not asked the one critical question that I always insist my delegates ask as part of the sales process: Is there a way for you to address this without incurring external costs? – i.e. can you address this internally?

The client decided to address their problem through an internal solution.  In fact, they took one of my proposed recommendations and executed it.

Am I sorry I provided such a comprehensive proposal with my approach and roadmap clearly outlined? This gave them part of their solution so was I shooting myself in the foot?

My answer, even having lost this deal is an unequivocal no.  I would propose exactly the same solution.

This prospect got free consulting from my company — and I am okay with that.  It gave me the opportunity to display my expertise but my real gift lies in execution.  Nine times out of 10, the client needs me to drive the execution of the solution.  Like most clients, they suffer from the same issues of too busy working in the business to work on the business.

So, why did I lose the deal?  The client wanted to try this solution himself. They have spent a fortune on “external consultants and coaches” to no avail. No surprise then that they are a little gun shy.

That having been said, while I knew that they had wasted heaps of money in this way, I assumed that they thought this was the only solution and that they just needed to find the right consultant.  This was complacency on my part – A cardinal sin in sales.  I have forgiven but not forgotten as I am reminded that, regardless of how long we have been in this game, we are always learning and there will always be setbacks along the way.

Lesson learned – and moving on to the next big deals

Losing a deal is one thing but not knowing why is unforgivable.  Knowing why I lost this one means that I am sharper for the next big opportunity.

So, after a great discussion with my client (telling me I had lost this piece of business and why), we agreed to reconnect (as per his request) in 6 months. Actually, I expect to hear from them sooner.  I know that I have left them with a sense of confidence, integrity and feeling like they want to deal with my firm.

Indeed, just two days after the deal foundered, I forwarded a resume of a potential sales person for their organization.  I have since received two referrals from my “lost” client that I have yet to do any business with – potentially leading to some significant business deals all on their own.

It still hurts to lose when you’re so close. But win or lose, we always need to learn from the game.  The better we get at it, the better our chance of a longer winning streak!