Six ways to make sure you learn as much as you can from lost sales
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Six ways to make sure you learn as much as you can from lost sales

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of closing a sale. Whether it’s large or small, salespeople celebrate first and then try to understand why they won so they can replicate their success.

There is much more to be learned from losing, says sales coach Richard Schroder. Yet most salespeople don’t know how to gather accurate and meaningful information from prospects to learn from their losses.

60% of customers won’t tell the complete truth
Salespeople often ask prospects why they lost a deal, but typically don’t get a straight answer. In fact, recent sales research says salespeople get the complete truth only about 40% of the time.

The rest of the time, the answers you get not only are unenlightening, but can actually lead you to incorrect conclusions about why you lost. Here are the key reasons prospects aren’t forthcoming:

  • They do not want to hurt your feelings.
  • They fear confrontation and/or criticism from sales reps.
  • They often have issues with the sales rep or sales process that impact candor.

Salespeople may inhibit the feedback process just as easily. Here’s how:

  • Salespeople are often caught off guard by the bad news and unprepared to conduct a debrief.
  • Salespeople usually do not know the right post-sale questions to ask (and how to ask them).

How to improve feedback
Here are six ways you can improve your post-sales process and get more candid feedback from prospects after they’ve decided to go with someone else’s offer:

1. Give early notification that you will conduct a debrief, regardless of the outcome of the sale. To make the prospect comfortable and elicit honest – and even more important, actionable – feedback, let them know early in the sales process that no matter what the outcome, you will be conducting a post-decision debrief call. Use language something like this: “We are always looking for ways we can improve our sales process, and do the best job we can. So after you have made your decision, I’d like to conduct a 15-20 minute debriefing call to get your candid feedback.”

2. Schedule a separate debrief call. Do not debrief on the same call as when you hear about a loss. When they’re telling you that you’ve lost the sale, prospects have one goal in mind: to get you off the phone as quickly as possible. Plus, your own emotions may get in the way. Under those circumstances, getting good feedback is both challenging and unlikely. Instead, schedule a separate debrief call after you have accepted the loss and let the prospect know that you will not try to change their decision.

3. Use a debrief guide. Using a questionnaire maximizes feedback and keeps the conversation focused. Consider opening language like this:

  • “Ms. Prospect, thank you very much for speaking with me today. These feedback calls help ensure that we are working on the right issues, rather than guessing what needs improvement in our sales process and to our products and services.
  • “I want to let you know up front that your feedback isn’t going to get anyone in trouble. Our company is committed to improving on everything we do and we view these calls as a critical opportunity to help us achieve that goal.
  • “So please be as candid as possible. I am totally open to any constructive feedback you may have (including feedback directly related to my personal performance) because it will ultimately help me do my job better and be more successful.”

Then ask questions that compare your approach to that of the supplier chosen, how the decision was made, and how you could improve. For example:

  • “When you look back at our/my sales process, proposal and presentation, what were our strong points? Where could we improve?”
  • “Compared to the chosen supplier, what did our team do well/not as well?”

4. Take responsibility. Make sure that you really want candid feedback. Prospects will be able to tell if you don’t. Don’t get defensive or angry, don’t debate with the prospect and don’t try to resell the prospect.

5. Probe for specifics. Ask “How do you mean?” or “Say more.” Other great ways of getting candid feedback include asking, “How can I improve on this?” “How can I make it better?” or “Can I get your advice?”

6. Consider having someone else conduct your debriefs. Once you develop a debrief questionnaire, you could have someone else within your company conduct the debrief. You could also find someone outside your company to do this work for you. If you are running a sales team, consider hiring an outside party to conduct interviews on behalf of your team.

By implementing a process for conducting better debrief calls, you will unlock a vast source of prospect information which will allow for continuous sales improvement. This process will ultimately increase your close rate for years to come.

Source: Based on “From a Good Sales Call to a Great Sales Call” by Richard M. Schroder. ISBN 0071718117. To learn more visit

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