Three things customers learn about you… when you lose

No doubt you’ve heard the saying, “You learn more from your failures than your successes.” I’ve certainly found this to be true in business, sports and music. Failures and mistakes have been great lessons for me and I’m sure you’ve found the same. However, the best learning and perhaps the part that you should pay the most attention to is what the customer learns about you when you don’t win.

In B2B selling there will always be another opportunity to win business with your customer. You never want to hope for or help a competitor fail, which I’ll talk about more, but the reality is that customers don’t always get what they thought they bought and you want to be there in good standing if they decide they need to change directions. How do you do that?

Respect the customer’s decisions – When you fail to win a piece of business this is the best time to employ the sales axiom “The customer is always right.” Acknowledging the loss and internalizing the feedback is the way to ensure you improve the next time. Especially when you’re competing with a long-time incumbent, it takes a few proposal processes for the customer to get to know you well enough to feel comfortable replacing the tried and true.

I recall a big win we got at Seattle Trust & Savings, in the 1980’s, where we lost two times before logging our first win, which was bigger than the other two combined. The Division’s Senior Vice-President told me years later that she knew we would win, because all the senior executives knew me but didn’t know the sales people from the incumbent. She said, “It should have been a sign when we gave you the code to the executive restrooms.” They learned about American Bank Stationery and me, in regards to CapABILITY and ReliABILITY, by evaluating how we responded after we lost the first two times.

Stay connected as a trusted advisor – In B2B selling, decision makers almost always have to make the call without all the information. By continuing to offer useful advice, even after you lose business, you prove to the customer that you’re not in it just to win the big pay day but that you’ve got their interest at heart. Continuing the trusted advisor dialogue also helps you stay informed so that when the next opportunity arises, you know more.

In these cases, if you have some business with the customer it’s easier to find a reason to stay connected. However, even if you have no business, smart decision makers are always looking for advice and they know that important information rarely resides with one source. So use the relationships you’ve developed during the proposal cycle to continue growing your CapABILITY and ReliABILITY.

Never bash the competition – This is a certain way of losing CredABILITY with decision makers because you’re telling them they made a bad decision. There are two issues here:

Co-opetition and frenemies: In today’s business world it’s highly likely that you’ll have to partner with your competition and you want the customer to know you can handle that. Don’t get me wrong, you should always aggressively sell why your offering is better but trying to make your competitor look bad as a means to make you look good, almost always backfires. Either the customer decides you can’t be collaborative or the competitor refuses to work with you.

The customer is always right: If you bash the competitor you are, in effect, telling the customer they are wrong. Overtime, there will be proper times to tell a customer they’re wrong but right after they’ve decided against you is generally not the time. That will stick in their memory and will be remembered when you return to fight anther day.

So when you lose business don’t miss the opportunity for the customer to learn the right things about you. You will advance your cause in the long-term if the customer knows you respect their decision, are still willing to help after you’ve lost and are able to co-exist with competition should the opportunity arise.

Learning how to enhance CapABILITY and ReliABILITY even after your competition has been selected, is part of The Five Abilities™ methodology. We’d welcome the opportunity to help your team with these skills.

©2013 Rick Wong – The Five Abilities™ LLC


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