In baseball, even Hall of Famers get a hit just a third of the time. Few teams have ever had undefeated seasons in the NFL. And as bad as my hometown 76ers were this year, 10 teams still managed to lose to them. Ask anyone who plays sports and they'll tell you about losing. It's just part of the game.
In business, are you a loser? Of course you're not. But you can't win 'em all. And if you're in sales, and if you've been running a business long enough, you soon realize that even the best get beaten. So how do you handle defeat? What do you do when you lose that big deal? You must do these 5 things.
You are gracious and keep the door open.
When you lose that big deal it hurts a lot. You spent a lot of time and effort on the proposal. You know in your heart that you're the better company for the job. But for whatever reason, your competitor was chosen. Do not bash, gripe, whine or moan. Don't ask for another chance or if the prospect would "reconsider." Unless you have a different gut feeling you can bet that your prospect put an equal amount of time and thought into the decision. Be gracious. Say that you're disappointed but that you respect their decision. Stay neutral on your competition. But specifically ask if it's OK to stay in touch and check in once a while just to make sure things are going OK. No prospect is going to deny you that.
You check back in two months.
Of course you have a customer relationship management (CRM) system, right? Or at least a good way to track future tasks. Your goal is to make sure this prospect never falls through the cracks. And you start with a specific email or phone call about two months later just "checking in" to make sure that things are going OK. You'd be surprised at how many projects start with the best of intentions and quickly turn south. And every company, regardless of the vendor they choose, wants a backup plan in case things go bad. If things are going well, then say you're happy for them (I know...you're not). If things are bumpy check ask if it's OK to follow-up again in a few weeks. If things are going poorly...you're baaaaack!
You never fall out of touch.
Assuming things are OK and the prospect is moving along with your competitor resolve to never lose touch with this company. They are a future prospect! Schedule a personal check-in for every 6-9 months. If you have a newsletter (and you should have a newsletter) make sure they're on the list (with their permission of course). Make them part of other mailings, event invitations, announcements and educational materials. Even though they're not a customer they should be hearing from you 4-5 times a year through a combination of emails, calls and mailings. Connect with them on LinkedIn, follow them on Twitter and make it a point to send them links to interesting articles and thought pieces. These people were once interested in your products and services. They will be back again, believe me. People change jobs. New faces appear. Your competition will slip. And when that happens your job is to make sure that they think of you again...first...because you've been doing such a good job staying in touch with them.
You track and analyze your losses.
Good CRM systems have good reports. And a very popular report among smart business owners I know is a Lost Sales Report. In your CRM system you have been tracking opportunities or forecasts. And when those opportunities are resolved, positively or negatively, you are closing them out. And most importantly if you lost the deal you're noting in that closing activity the reason why you lost the deal and to who. Every 2-3 months you are reviewing your lost deals and looking for trends. Is one specific competitor whomping you? Is there a competitive product that seems to be more popular than the rest? Is it price? Is it something else? A Lost Sales Report is a tough one to read, so you have my permission to pour yourself a stiff one before undertaking your review. But you'll learn a lot from your defeats. And you'll adjust.
You move on.
Yes, life goes on. You will feel horrible for the first 24-48 hours and that's OK. Wallow in your misery. But then you'll go to my favorite site: Shorpy. Look at all those restored digital photographs from a hundred years ago! Look at all those shop owners and business people and office workers and pedestrians on the street! And remember what they all have in common. They're all dead! And so will you be in a hundred years. So shake it off, learn from the experience and move on. Your goal is to have so many potential deals in the pipeline that you can focus on others where you can win. There will always be plenty of deals in the future. And you're going to lose some. Hopefully you'll win more than you lose. Such is life.