Lemonade from Lemons: How to Turn a Lost Sale into a Positive Experience

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In a recent article, I described how you can unstick a stalled deal. But what if the outcome of getting unstuck means moving from that hopeful “maybe” to a definite “no deal?” We’ve all experienced this disappointment, no matter how strong our efforts or how polished our sales process. So, when the sale is undeniably lost, what can you do? How can you turn no-deal “lemons” into positive-experience “lemonade?” Here are some tips:

The Deal is Dead (Deal with It)

When a deal falls through, it’s tempting to want to find someone – someone other than yourself, that is – to blame. Don’t go there. If you start the blame game and make excuses as to why you lost the deal, the sting of the loss will linger and you’ll never correct the behavior that caused you to miss out on that opportunity.

Ask yourself, “What could I have done better?”

Once you’ve accepted responsibility, look for ways to improve your own sales performance. Examine what transpired during the sales process of the lost deal, including what went right, as well as what should have been done differently. Seeking to improve what you can control will make you a better salesperson; and you will be better prepared the next time you face a similar sales scenario.

Learn to turn a loss into a gain

How can you find out what you did wrong, or what led to the failure to close the deal? Looking inward is only part of the analysis process. You should also ask the prospect for insights.

While salespeople often ask (and sometimes badger) prospects about why the prospect chose another alternative, they seldom approach this fact-finding mission correctly. Too often, salespeople simply do not know how to gather meaningful information from prospects for a complete and accurate understanding of why the sale slipped away. Here’s the key: Ask the right questions at the right time and in the right way.

Gain insightful feedback from the prospect:

It’s natural to want all the answers during the same call in which the prospect tells you that you have lost the deal. Nonetheless, it is unlikely that you will gain meaningful feedback at that time. During that rejection call, the prospect’s primary objective is to tell you the decision and move on. No one likes to share bad news; therefore, prospects feel uncomfortable during these conversations and simply want to end the call as quickly as possible.

Just as the prospect might not be in the right frame of mind to provide meaningful insights during the initial call, it’s also true that you – as the salesperson – will likely feel rejected, defeated, deflated and defensive. That’s a lot of emotion to handle at once. To gain a better perspective, you need time to reflect and gain composure after defeat. What’s more, it is virtually impossible for you to have all the right questions to ask at the moment you learn of the lost sale.

It’s nearly always better, then, to seek the prospect’s insights during a follow-up call dedicated to the debriefing. Here’s how to get the best, actionable information during that call:

  • Beforehand, draft a post-loss debriefing questionnaire to use as a guide during your conversation. Keep it simple – just a few questions – and keep it positive and forward looking.
  • As you begin the call, tell the prospect that you are not going to try to change his mind. By letting the prospect know you have accepted the loss, you’ll put him at ease and, as a result, he will be more willing to talk.
  • Be sure to make the prospect feel totally comfortable giving you constructive feedback. (In fact, most people are happy to help others learn.) To do this, however, you must first convince yourself that you really want this type of information. You must be ready and willing to hear the whole truth: the good, the bad and the ugly. While many salespeople do not seek this type of criticism, the best ones – those who want to learn and improve – always do.
  • Don’t get defensive or angry. Don’t debate with the prospect.
  • Probe (respectfully) for specifics. Ask “Sorry, I don’t understand. Could you help by giving an example?” or “Tell me more about that.”
  • Listen more than you speak.
  • Above all, don’t try to resell the prospect.

The Bottom Line:

Some deals simply cannot be won. But if you dwell on the loss, it will consume you and steal your valuable emotional energy resources from attention to other sales. But take heart: lost deals can be beneficial if you learn from the experience and apply your learning to future sales opportunities. Approaching sales with this mindset, you can turn lemons into lemonade.

Need help improving your sales processes? Contact a Sales Xceleration Advisor today. They’ll be glad to help you identify areas for improvement and implement your best sales programs.