Prospects say ‘no’ all the time – it’s an inevitable part of the game of marketing and selling. Leading up to this decision, you may spend a lot of time and effort with them: meeting them and other decision makers within the organisation sometimes multiple times, providing demonstrations, revising proposals, and so on.
All that goodwill has already been built up and has positioned your company in the mind of the prospect in a certain way. But for some reason, they have said ‘no’ this time. For many sellers, you are not presented with a choice, and it determines whether everything you did up to that point would have been in vain.
• Find out why
Spending some time to do a review of what went wrong in the sales experience gives you great insight into how you could do things better. Schedule some time with the prospect or, even better, have someone else that’s independent from the sales team do it for you. Your attitude should be completely objective – this process must be done with an open mind. Always remember that this company could provide more business for you later down the line. Your questions should be focused on understanding why you didn’t get the deal. You’ll be in a much better position to improve the way you sell – which can sometimes be worth more than what was at stake to win with the prospect with the first place.
• Take this opportunity to find out what the competition did better in their bid
Did they have strengths that you didn’t demonstrate? Were any weaknesses in your bid obvious? What can you learn from that? What weaknesses did the competition have that the prospect highlighted and didn’t like? If you have strengths in these areas, would it help to focus on them the next time around? Going through this process sends a clear message to the client organisation that you are here to build the relationship. You are saying ‘We are disappointed that we lost, but we’re here for the long term’.
• Keep in touch
You may not be serving the company this time, but that doesn’t mean you never will. Don’t immediately move on and forget them – remember, you have invested a lot of time and energy already, so you might as well capitalise on it. Keeping in touch is the best strategy to do this. Revisit your plans to build the relationship again. Here is where you can use the same bid review meeting to agree on how that will be done. What information do you need from your prospect that you have not been able to get? How are you going to get it?
Pick up the phone and call them every month or two to see how they are and how their business has evolved. Take them out to lunch. Do they seem happy with the decision they made? Are there other opportunities coming up soon? You could also do something as simple as adding them to your regular newsletter or social media. Invite them to your events and send them greeting cards during the year. This keeps you top of mind – prospects won’t forget you because you’ll always be present.
I once bid for a project for a national firm. I spent a tremendous amount of time (probably too much) understanding needs, tailoring the bid, and following up. Unfortunately I didn’t win. I really wanted to work with this particular client, so I did a loss review. In the meeting I asked for the reasons as to why my bid was not the winner, and what the successful bidder did better that I could learn from. It came to my attention that the bidder offered a second option of greater value (and extra fees) that I didn’t. I learnt from this and implement it now in every proposal I do.
A year later I received a call from the same buyer, who had moved on to a global company. He needed the same work done, but in multiple markets, and was asking for my help. I offered more than one option this time and he’s been a client of mine for some time now.
Losing a deal can be a wonderful opportunity if you look at it that way. Find out why and keep in touch – it’s a good way to leverage the hard work that you have already invested.
Ahmed Al Akber is the author of Smart Marketing and the managing director of Ack Solutions, a revenue growth firm based in Dubai