Late at night in the bar, you may have heard one sales rep say to another, “Hey, if they can fog a mirror with their breath, they’re a prospect!”. Although said in jest, many sales reps focus on filling and not flushing their sales funnel. Although “working” a large number of prospects may look good during sales forecasting meetings, “working” each of these prospects requires time and effort. Although a constant flow of prospects needs to enter the sales process, the primary emphasis needs to be moving them through the process. Perhaps, a better quote at the bar would have been, “I focus on working on finishers, not starters.” Generally, sales opportunities are not like fine wine that gets better with age. As sales opportunities linger, prospect interest may diminish, or direct alternatives may appear, or alternate uses of funds may occur resulting in the proverbial excuse, “We no longer have a budget for the purchase.” Using a quality axiom related to cycle time; elapsed time provides more opportunities for failure to enter into the system.
Of course, more effort is required to determine who the finishers will be than merely looking at a crystal ball. Any efforts spent on opportunities that do not make it through the process are often viewed as wasted effort. The article in this series, “Getting to NO Before Getting to KNOW”, was written about potential investors’ efforts to eliminate from investment consideration as many companies as possible as soon as possible. This same practice should be followed when considering sales opportunities that appear in the sales funnel. This practice is often directly at odds with a sales rep’s attributes, such as optimism, a strong will, tenacity, and confidence that can lead them to believe that they can turn every suspect into a prospect and then into a life-long customer. Clearly, those traits are not only admirable, but are required. However, they need to be tempered with a dose of reality regarding the required time investment vis-à-vis the alternative use of that time and effort.
Expanding on the notion that all time spent on a prospect that falls out of the process is not wasted is the concept that often small nuggets of wisdom can be extracted. There is quite a bit of truth in the standard locker room quote delivered after a team has lost: “We learn more from our losses than we do from our victories”. This quote, however, is only true if we take the time to think about why we lost; sports team do this regularly by reviewing game films. Most sales reps simply move on to the next opportunity. Some reps may rationalize the loss while others simply put it out of their minds and move forward.
Reviewing a sales loss does not mean that one must dwell on the loss and try to place blame. Instead, only six issues need to be considered:
- Candidly, why do we think we lost?
- What could we have done to better understand the situation before the loss occurred?
- Should we have even pursued this opportunity in the first place?
- Could we have stopped pursuing this opportunity earlier to avoid wasted efforts?
- Did we take the time to consider the risk/reward of this opportunity compared to others and was it a prudent use of our limited resources?
- In the future, what will we do when facing similar circumstances?
These are tough questions to objectively answer. It is easy to rationalize losses with statements such as, “Our price was too high”, “We didn’t have enough features”, “The competition had an inside track”. or, “It wouldn’t have been good business for us anyway.”. Once in a while, some of these statements might be true. However, the underlying, unspoken message in most cases is that “I lost and I don’t want to think about, I’ll do better next time.”. An effective method of avoiding the natural rationalization of a loss is to require that the six-question exercise be applied to every opportunity before it can be removed from the funnel.
Instead of rationalizing the loss, think about it, learn from it, and do things differently next time. A loss report is far more valuable than a win report.