Hall of Fame baseball players are called out nearly two-thirds of the time they step to the plate. There is a common belief in sales that the same rule applies. You won’t win every sales opportunity, so when one of your reps moves one to Closed-Lost, it’s OK to give them a “get ‘em next time!” and move along to the next call.
I think this is wrong. While you can’t win every sales opportunity (trust me, I’ve tried), you can still win from every sales opportunity.
Your lost sales opps present you with the chance to learn how to get better. If you’re launching a new product or trying to achieve hyper-growth with your startup, these learnings are a key ingredient to your success. As a Sales Leader, it’s your job to personally dive into these Closed Lost opportunities and find the wins within. This is where you discover what even your best rep needs to do to get better, where you have key holes in your product, where your sales process is at odds with the buying process, and where your company is underperforming in the market.
Many sales leaders just talk to the customers their team won and welcome them aboard. Not me. If I only have one call, give me a lost customer. That’s where I’m going to find the real wins.
Here are my tips for reaching out to those lost sales opportunities and finding some wins.
1. Call First, then Send an Immediate Email
Don’t take the easy way out and just send an email to a lost opp. Pick up the phone. This may sound obvious, but sales leaders who under-value this activity will often take the path of least resistance. Nothing tells a company that you don’t want to talk to them by sending an email without calling. Sophisticated buyers might view you as spammy, thinking the note is just some fancy marketing automation. If you want to get real feedback from this account, you need to show genuine interest. You can start by showing that you’re not too important to make the call direct.
2. Don’t Let the Rep Lead the Investigation
The FBI exists for a reason. It’s because you can’t let the accused lead the investigation against themselves. Similarly, you can’t let your reps lead this process. The energy they spent on the sales process will affect their ability to get honest feedback. They will hear what they want to hear. They will be cautious in sharing feedback with you that is condemning of their work. And that all assumes the customer is willing to be honest with the rep (whom they may not want to offend, or may think has ulterior motives). To do a proper post mortem, you need to have the Manager lead the process. Let them start fresh, ask basic questions, and give the customer a clean slate to explain why they didn’t buy.
3. Absolutely No Selling, Under Any Circumstances
The purpose of this call is to get feedback. To assess the situation so you can diagnose the problem and set a course of action toward improvement. Make it clear to the customer that this is NOT a thinly-veiled attempt to win them back. And stay true to that path. When they say “We went somewhere else because your product didn’t do X”, you need to fight the urge to shout “Oh no! Give us another chance! We do X really well!” This is not the time. Your team had your chance and lost it, and if the customer thinks this call is just about changing their mind, they will shut you down. If you act like a seller, they will act like a buyer. And buyers like to hold back information. Act like a therapist, and get them to talk. When you get the urge to sell, simply say “I’m sorry you got that impression, because we actually do X. But that’s not why I’m calling you today. If you’re interested, we can setup a call at a different time to talk about X.”
4. Step Back, Start from the Begining with Open-Ended Questions
Now that you have the customer on the phone, start from the begining. Start by stepping back, and ask them how they heard about you, what started their evaluation process, and why they were considering a purchase in the first place. Ask them what they wanted to accomplish with your product. Use open-ended questions. For example: What were you hoping we could have done for you? Why is that a problem for your company? How are you addressing that today? What other challenges are you facing in this area? From there, you can move forward to their plans to addressing these issues. Pay attention to whether their needs changed during the evaluation. Exercise active listening, and frequently ask them to “tell me more about that.” Once you’ve exhausted the background, the underlying drivers, and the process, now you can ask about the decision. Why did they pass on buying from you? With the proper context, you’re now in a position to get value from the answers.
5. Probe on the Sales Process, the Product, and the Competition
Your first step is to ask them open-ended questions and see where they take you. Now, close the loop by going back on anything they haven’t touched on. Ask specifically how the product solved their pain points. Did they think it could work for them? Bring up the sales process and get their perspective on what it was like buying from you. Did they feel like they were buying a used car? Did it map well to their buying process? Were there too many (or not enough) hoops to jump through? And finally, the competition. Ask who they looked at and why. What is the competition saying that is different? What are they saying about your company? Why did you choose to go with them over us?
6. Seriously, No Selling Allowed
See point 3. You’re going to be tempted. Let this be your reminder: don’t do it. If you think they are interested, tell them you can setup a different call to discuss. You’re a sales rep…you don’t need to remind your prospective customers that they can call you if they want to talk. I’m pretty sure they already know. So set yourself apart by genuinely seeking feedback to get better, and nothing more.
Have other tactics that you use for post mortem calls? I’d love to hear them in the comments! I will follow up in my next post with the voicemail and email that has been successful for me in getting these calls on the calendar.