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How Great Salespeople Cope With Losing Business

Let’s face it: Nobody likes to lose. That is not why we got into sales.

The best days are when we win business. But very few, if any, companies can claim better than 50% hit rates, making it inevitable that all sales professionals will lose at some point. We lose more opportunities than we win, and that’s just life.

So the question then becomes: How should we behave when we don’t win the business? Here are a few thoughts:

  • Be gracious—There is absolutely nothing to be gained by lambasting, guilt-tripping or venting at a lost client. As hard as losing can be at times, it is important to never drop your professionalism. Express your appreciation for having been given the opportunity, and if appropriate, let the client know that you would have enjoyed working with him or her.
  • Send a note—We encourage you to send the client something in writing, either via email or letter. Give yourself a 24-hour “cooloff” window first so your emotions don’t affect your intended demeanor. Then, once you’re in the right mindset, thank the client for having given you the opportunity. Let them know that you appreciated their candor and assure them that you will be available when future opportunities arise. You can even offer to provide perspective, if requested, once the project is underway. Clients often like to consult a third party when they work with other suppliers, and this is a golden opportunity for you to volunteer yourself.
  • Learn why you lost—There are some important questions we encourage you to ask whenever you lose business. One of the most important, of course, is Why? It is a perfectly appropriate question. If you put in effort and got nothing in return, you deserve to know why. The feedback can be very valuable, as long as you commit to genuinely “hearing” the client and integrating your learning into future opportunities.
  • Get some personal feedback—If appropriate, ask the client what you could have done differently. This is different than asking why. This question focuses on you and how you performed as you solicited the business. In a non-threatening way, see if you can learn from your client what you could have done that might have yielded better results. Keep in mind as you do this that not everyone is comfortable giving constructive criticism, so if the client is reluctant, respect their feelings and don’t push them.
  • Ask for a referral—This is a surprising one. Let’s assume that the client likes you and feels uncomfortable telling you that you didn’t win the business – after all, the decision to say “no” may have been out of their hands. Their conscience may be pushing them to give you something, as a token of appreciation, of sorts. So it is perfectly acceptable to ask for a referral, perhaps along the lines of:

            “I am sorry that this didn’t work out. But perhaps you can refer us to someone else in the organization (or outside) who might be interested in hearing what we have to offer?”

  • Find out how to move forward—We often say that the “dead file” isn’t really dead. Ask the client what would be the best way to stay in touch. Ask them how often you should check in. Get some guidance as to how you can maintain the relationship. You lost one job; the relationship continues.
  • Think long-term—Relatedly, let them know you want to be considered for future work. Be clear in expressing your desire to work with them. You missed this opportunity but there will be others. Assure them that you want to collaborate and that you will learn from the experience.

Nobody likes to lose. It’s in our DNA. But when we lose (and we inevitably will sometimes), it’s essential to behave in a way that assures the client that we are professionals and they should consider us as a viable resource in the future.

What’s YOUR secret to handling rejection in the sales process? Leave a comment and share your tips with other readers.