Selling for Entrepreneurs

Losing a Sale Gracefully

Written by Andrew Goldman for Gaebler Ventures

After putting in time and effort, losing a big sale can be disheartening. Make sure your sales staff is trained to lose a sale professionally and learn from their mistakes.

One of the most heartbreaking things a small business faces is losing a bid on a sale.

Sometimes a lot of legwork goes into the process. Pricing models are generated, prototypes are made, and multiple documents are created and transferred. In addition, your sales representatives may have made multiple visits to the potential customer.

After all that hard work, finding out that you did not land the sale can be extremely disheartening. There is a natural tendency to feel aggravation that all your efforts and dollars were for nothing. After losing the sale, it's time for some internal discussion, but don't show these emotions to the lost client.

After losing out on a sale, all parties involved with the process should be brought together for an internal meeting. During this meeting the entire process should be reviewed. Each step along the way needs to be analyzed for issues, problems and strengths.

You need to find out where you went wrong so you can avoid the same issues in the future. You can actually get stronger internally from losing a sale than you can from winning a sale.

Try and follow-up with the lost customer and learn why you lost out on the sale. You want to do this as soon as you find out that you were not the winning bid. Calling back weeks later, you're not as likely to get as good of information.

Come off gracefully and not pushy. You want them to be honest, even if it requires them being brutally honest. If you can, find out what the order-winner was for the competitors. Did they choose the competition due to price? Quality? An additional feature? Delivery speed? By finding out the answers to these questions, you can better understand where you need to improve and what the customer is looking for in a potential supplier.

You may not get all of the information you need from the customer. If your sales representative was unprofessional and this was part of this reason for losing the sale, the customer may not tell you this on the phone. This may be brought up during the internal meeting, or it may go unchecked. For this reason, you want to make sure your sales staff is trained properly and that you are able to monitor their performance in one way or another.

Just because you lost out on an opportunity with the customer, does not mean you can't obtain their business in the future. This further illustrates the need to act professionally when finding out that you did not win the customer's business.

Make sure your sales team checks back with the customer when they anticipate new business may become available. If the lost customer provided feedback on why you lost out the first time, be sure to include your improvements the next time you speak with them.

By showing marked improvement based on the customer's feedback, you may come off looking flexible and responsive -- two excellent characteristics of a potential supplier.

Andrew Goldman is an Isenberg School of Management MBA student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He has extensive experience working with small businesses on a consulting basis.

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Have you lost a sale and then later gotten a sale from the same customer? If so, how do you explain that positive result.

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