Lost a Big Sale Recently?

Don Linder

What happens when you lose a big sale? There are always early signs of trouble such as customer contacts not returning your phone calls or emails, and your contacts not doing anything they were supposed to do between meetings with you.

Finally, you get an apologetic message, “We’ve decided on another supplier. Thank you for all your effort.” When pressed for reasons why you lost, the customer makes statements such as:

  • Your price was too high. (Interestingly, 64% of the time they’re lying to you)
  • We needed feature XYZ that you couldn’t provide.
  • Our top executives preferred another supplier.

While there are many reasons sales teams lose big sales, decades of experience helping sales teams survive in a complex selling environment have confirmed that the top three reasons for losing big sales are:

1. The sales team doesn’t understand the customer’s decision making process

Most sales teams involved in large complex sales have learned that they must identify the classic buying influences: both the buyers (user, technical, economic) and a coach.

What almost all sales teams don’t do, however, is understand those buying influences in sufficient depth to effectively monitor and influence the decision-making process. For each of the buying influences, the sales team should know what are that person’s top three buying criteria. In addition, they should have identified:

  • The threshold (minimum acceptable standard) for each criteria
  • The sales team’s competitive status for each criteria for that person (remember, the customer’s opinion is the only reality that counts)
  • What emphasis that person has for each criteria (i.e. is the threshold level acceptable? Is superior performance on that criteria valuable?)

2. The customer hasn’t built a business case, or the business case isn’t tailored to your distinctive value.

What percentage of your big sales is lost to the “mystery competitor” aka no decision? Industry sources estimate the “no decision” rate is now over 40%. What happens in these “no decision” cases is that no one, no supplier, not even the customer has built a realistic business case for the purchase before going through the procurement process.

Without a compelling business case, the purchase always gets turned down by the customer executives who must give final approval.

In the other 60% of cases where the customer makes a decision to buy, my experience tells me that in ALL the sales that you lost, your sales team didn’t help the customer build a business case that was tailored to your distinctive value.

Without help from your sales team, the customer builds their business case based on their present knowledge and experience or they build the case with the help of one of your competitors.

As a result, your distinctive value isn’t viewed as valuable and you’re reduced to trying to compete on price with a major impact on your profitability.

3. The sales team is afraid to confront reality.

People involved in sales have to be optimistic. They can’t do their job unless they are. Their optimism, however, can cause “selective listening”. It can also cause them to believe that continual hoping to win will result in a win.

Painful as it might be, confronting the reality of your competitive status gives you the opportunity to change your strategy in time to win the contract.

Remember, Bad news early is good news!, in that you have time to adjust your strategy and win the contract.

A real life example

In helping a client (an enterprise application software provider) pursue a significant potential contract, we conducted an initial strategy review (also known as Confronting Reality). The initial review determined that the contract could not be won by our client given the customer’s present decision making process. Our recommendation was that the contract pursuit should be abandoned unless a better strategy could be developed.

We took the next step of drilling down into the details of each buying influence’s buying criteria which indicated that there was a potential opportunity to win the contract if the customer’s decision making process could be altered. A new strategy was created (tailored around our client’s distinctive value) that would greatly benefit the customer.

However, the customer’s initial decision making criteria had to be significantly altered to accommodate the new strategy. After our client helped the customer refocus on the positive results needed from the project, the customer recognized the increased value of the new approach and was able to develop a much more compelling business case for going ahead with the project. As a result, our client won a significant contract and their customer was delighted with the results they obtained.


About the author

Don Linder, the founder of Major Client Selling, uses structured tools and creative strategies to solve the complex puzzle of selling to big customers. He's the author of "The Seven Deadly Mistakes that Cause You to Lose Large Sales." You can reach Don at don_linder@majorclients.com.


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The Seven Deadly Mistakes That
Cause You To Lose Large Sales

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