You don’t learn from successes; you don’t learn from awards; you don’t learn from celebrity; you only learn from wounds and scars and mistakes and failures. And that’s the truth.
– Jane Fonda.
I have a jagged scar running up the inside of my left foot courtesy of a rusty nail, a relic from my days climbing walls as a youngster. The nurse who stitched me up told me the stitches would melt away on their own and my foot would look good as new. She lied! Now almost 30 years later my wall climbing days are probably behind me, but that jagged scar remains. When I’m putting on my sock and catch a glimpse of the scar, it takes me straight back to that day as a nine year old boy … the blood, the tears and mostly important the critical life lesson I learned that day: ‘human skin is no match for rusty metal’.
Not all scars, in life or in business, should be seen as badges of honour. Most of my business battle-scars (with the possible exception of my grey hair) I wear on the inside. Many were earned through hard fought deals lost at the 11th hour or sales skirmishes over before a single PowerPoint slide had been fired in anger. Take it from me these scars hurt just as much as the ones we all pick up as children. Injuries to your personal pride, your back-pocket or your career aspirations tend to smart quite a bit I’ve found!
The thing about scars, be they from life or business, is we should always learn from them. It’s one thing to take a hammering in a sales cycle or miss out on a promotion at work, but before the scar has even begun to form, you need to be asking yourself “what can I take away from this experience, how do I learn from it and ensure I’m better, smarter and more prepared next time around?”
In his fascinating and insightful book Win/Loss Reviews Rick Marcet explains that “Fewer than 5% of companies apply any formal win/loss review discipline to their sales outcome. Those that do inevitably focus on the losses, the wins lack any real scrutiny or proper review”.
This statistic amazed me when I read it first, so I decided to test it further. In the research for my new book Rebirth of the Salesman surveyed thousands of customers and procurement people and asked them a very simple question … ”why would you agree to provide feedback to a vendor at the end of a sales process, particularly a losing vendor?”. I found their responses fascinating:
- They explained that if the sales rep has done a good job, added value and been professional throughout the sales engagement, they had earned the right to receive feedback
- They told me that if a vendor, especially a losing vendor, requests feedback, they know that their feedback will help that organisation to improve their business practices and potentially innovate their product or service. That was seen as a very positive step by customers and a way for them to ensure the market stays competitive and doesn’t become a monopoly
- I also learned that customers applaud the initiative taken by vendors to really understand what they did and where they have room for improvement.
Unfortunately the vast majority of professional sales organisations, I’m talking big companies spending inordinate amounts of time and money prospecting for new business, actually spend very little time or money trying to understand why they won or lost a deal in the first place.
It seems crazy when you think about it. We all know the frequently misquoted line attributed to but almost certainly never said by Einstein “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome”. Well whoever actually said it, you can guarantee he or she didn’t work in the B2B sales world.
The amount of wastage, duplication and chasing of lost causes that occurs across the B2B sales world is borderline criminal. I wouldn’t even hazard a guess at the real and opportunity costs associated with sales organisations (be they technology, professional services, engineering & construction, utilities, oil & gas companies) responding to numerous tenders, conducting lengthy cycles with would-be customers or undertaking hugely expensive proof of concepts, only to lose the deal and walk away with nothing.
My personal opinion (and I’ll be the first to admit I’m biased) is that win, lose or draw if you’ve conducted a professional sales process, you’ve earned the right to extract some value from the experience and the vast majority of B2B customers out there agree with me. So, the next time you’re conducting a major deal, whether you’re in the box seat or staring down the barrel of defeat, pause for a moment and ask yourself the following questions. Win, lose or draw …
- What insights could this client give me to improve or refine my sales skills and do an even better job next time?
- Could their feedback help me to distance myself from my competition in some small but important way?
- Am I winning this deal on product, price or my ability to present a compelling, credible and believable story?
- Am I losing on product, price or my inability to engage, inspire or educate my prospective client?
I suppose the real question you should be asking is what lesson has this new scar taught me?