Everybody loses sales. Believe me, I’ve been there.

But good sales organizations don’t chalk up losses to simple bad luck. They’ll try to understand why they lost, and what they might do differently next time.

I’ve participated in many such postmortems. But I can’t recall anyone ever suggesting that the reason for the loss was lack of training. Often the analysis goes no deeper than “we got beat on price” or “the other guy’s product was a better fit” or “the buyer had a buddy in the business.”

Better sales organizations will dig deeper, calling the buyer for feedback. Out of politeness or a fear that you’ll try to get a do-over, buyers usually respond with vague, nonaccusatory reasons like “you got beat on price” or “the other product was a better fit” or “we had a relationship with the other vendor.”

Which leaves you right back where you started.

Funny thing, though. When a third party calls — someone who wasn’t one of the suitors — buyers sing a different song. When the research firm AskForensics asked what vendors might have done differently to seal the deal, here’s what buyers said:

  • Add more innovation and technology to offered solutions.
  • Do better at understanding the prospect’s needs.
  • Incorporate value-added programs.
  • Make presentations more effective.
  • Serve up proactive ideas.
  • Respond to questions and requests in a timely manner.

 

Notice a trend here?

Here’s what I see. With the possible exception of the first item, none have anything to do with price, product or who knows who. They have to do with the salesperson. These are things you can teach your sales force: How to dig deeper to identify needs, understand what a customer truly values, communicate that value effectively and creatively, and respond quickly to buyers’ requests.

Is it tough to teach these skills? You bet. Will every salesperson master them? Of course not. But to me this is still good news for sales organizations. If the problem really were price, product features and politics, there wouldn’t be much sales managers could do to increase the win rate. But they can help their people improve their sales skills.

This list also raises some interesting questions about what skills to focus on. A useful place to start might be with an honest assessment of how your sales organization stacks up in each of these areas.

Get your salespeople involved in the conversation. Yes, salespeople have a lot of pride, and they’ll all insist they’re good at everything. But ask them where they think they could be even better.
When you can show them why deals are lost, they themselves might start demanding more training in these areas. Pride is one thing, but winning is better.

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