When we win a sale, we usually think we know why: The chemistry was good. The need was urgent. We were faster, smarter, better than the competition. All these things may in fact be true. But they may not be the reasons the customer actually said yes.
Chances are, just one or two things tipped the balance for the buyer – and they may or may not be the things we assume were the driving factors behind the sale.
Wins and losses
Asking, “Why did I win?” is often a more fruitful question than “Why did I lose?”
Knowing why you lost can tell you what doesn’t work. Knowing why you won shows what does work – and how you can win again in the future. For example, you may think you won because of your presentation, only to find out that another customer’s referral really tipped the scales. If so, the lesson becomes clear: Use more referrals.
When to ask
There’s only one person who can really tell you why you won a sale: the customer who made the decision. Most will be happy to tell you if you ask. But timing is critical.
If you ask for feedback immediately after the decision is made, you could risk reopening the decision-making process. At the time of the sale, the focus should be on moving forward, not revisiting the decision. But if you wait too long, your customers’ perceptions will be colored – for better or for worse – by what happened after the sale.
Ask about the full process
Keep in mind that the sale isn’t just about the presentation, or the close, or the final negotiations.
A sale often begins before your very first contact with prospects – when the buyer first became aware of the problem that you eventually helped solve, for example.
So try to understand the entire buying process, not just the final decision. For example, ask:
- What were you looking for when you first began this buying process?
- How did your buying criteria change during the process? What prompted these changes?
- What were the critical factors you considered when you made your final decision? How would you rank these in order of importance?
- How did each potential choice rank on these critical factors?
- What were the strengths and weaknesses of our key competitors?
- What were our strengths and weaknesses?
Don’t just focus on your direct interactions with the buyer. Issues and decision makers that were invisible to you may have played a decisive role in the sale. If you understand those hidden forces, you may be able to create your next opportunity.
Example: Your buyer tells you that your competitor’s service declined when they were acquired by another company. That’s important to know, too, because their other customers may be feeling the same way.
Using the feedback
It’s good to use a standard set of questions for each interview, so you can compare responses over time. But leave the questions open-ended.
Share the debriefs with others on the team. Pool feedback from your colleagues.
Especially useful: Find out what competitors emphasized. By knowing their favorite sales strategies, you can anticipate them next time.
Feedback from any one sale can be misleading. The next customer may have different buying reasons. So keep feedback on file and periodically review it for recurring themes and patterns.
Even when you find no surprises, this review may remind you of key selling points. What’s old hat to you is likely to be fresh to prospects.
Based on “The Rainmaker’s Toolkit,” published by AMACOM Books. Author Harry Mills is CEO of The Mills Group, whose clients include Ernst & Young, IBM and Oracle. Info: www.millsonline.com
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