How to Avoid the Agony of Defeat

Growing up, I remember watching the long-running TV series, “The Wide World of Sports.” The opening preamble was legendary: “Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport… the thrill of victory… and the agony of defeat… the human drama of athletic competition… This is ABC’s Wide World of Sports!” The imagery—ski jumper Vinko Bogataj in an epic crash, tumbling down the mountainside—is etched in my mind forever.

And just like competitive athletes, I have never met a top performing sales rep who isn’t very clear on one thing – hating to lose! Competitiveness is an innate trait of a good salesperson. That said, I have also never met a salesperson who hasn’t experienced a lost opportunity at some point in their career. Those losses, while extremely painful, can be lessons for improvement in the future.

Negotiate and talk to the right decision maker

There are many reasons we lose opportunities. Maybe we have a great solution to problems that aren’t worth solving from the prospect’s perspective. Maybe we have a million-dollar solution for a hundred-thousand-dollar issue. Maybe we are selling to someone who can’t buy.

Recently, I met with a team of sales reps to conduct current opportunity assessments as well as a post-mortem on a lost deal. In both cases, identifying power was missing. A current opportunity was stalled at a no-decision and the root cause of the heartbreaking loss was the fact that they hadn’t had a meeting with the ultimate decision-maker.

We have all been there. We have a great champion. He loves our product or service. He is vested in our relationship. He trusts us and shares a ton of insights and valuable information with us. Based on everything we know from him, we are the best solution. Not only are we on the short list, we are at the top of it.

We are confident. We have forecasted it. We only have the last hurdle—a dog and pony show to the “decision team,” which includes the executive sponsor of the initiative—THE decision maker.

The meeting goes well.
The initial feedback from our champion is very positive.
We got this, right?

Wrong. The phone rings and the email comes through. The decision has been made to go in a different direction. What happened?

There is always a risk of not closing a deal without having access and a relationship with the ultimate decision maker. At ValueSelling, we refer to this as access to power, the person with the final authority to spend money. Sure, there are times when our champion is right and we win without that access. But that is not always the case.

Why is access to power so critical? One thing we all know for sure, there is never just one way to define or solve a problem. We understood the problem that was the impetus for this purchase from our champion’s perspective and did not really understand the problem as defined by the executive sponsor. Without multilevel agreement on the issues and problems, it will always be difficult to get agreement on the solution.

How can we learn from this and mitigate the same scenario in the future? Here are a few techniques to consider and add to your sales skill execution:

Validating the ultimate decision maker or decision makers: At ValueSelling Associates, we use the concept of triangulation to help validate the person with power. Triangulation in sales is powerful and quite simple. Mitigate the risk of only having one person’s point of view by asking the same set of questions to multiple people. When we triangulate around power, we minimize the risk of not knowing who that executive is.

Negotiating for access BEFORE there is a dog and pony show: Relationship is key to success in any complex sale. Not only are they buying products, they are buying us. Without that relationship, we are at risk. To best prepare for the beauty pageant, ensure you have the chance to meet and discuss the initiative with the ultimate decision maker. Seek to understand how he or she articulates the problems, why those problems are worth solving and, just as important, what that individual’s ideal solution looks like. Presenting your capabilities without that insight will always put you at risk to pitch solutions out of context.

Unless you are selling in a monopoly, you will likely lose some business to the competition. A good friend of mine very eloquently reminds me that every pro was first an amateur. Embrace the lesson. Evaluate the cause. Put the strategy in place to avoid repeating. And ultimately, avoid the agony of defeat!

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