Whose Fault Is It?


While helping clients select new salespeople, we like to say “Tell me about the last time you lost an order and why you lost it.” We hear a variety of answers: “Price.” “The customer wasn’t interested in our value-add.” “It was all politics.” The answer we look for and seldom hear is “Honestly, I was just outsold.” It would be so refreshing to hear that more often.

Certainly it’s not your fault every single time you lose an order. But more often than not, it is your fault.

Frequently, during the postmortem of a sales loss, we realize we never should have quoted the project in the first place. We readily acknowledge that we are not the low-cost provider; we know a specific competitor is always under our price; and we know the decision will be made on price alone. Yet we quote it anyway. We quote knowing that we have a one-in-10 chance of winning. Not only were we outsold – heck, we were never in it!

Two other frequent excuses are “It was all politics” or “Our competitor offered (fill in the blank) and we don’t have it.” Well, if that isn’t being outsold, what is? The competition knew how the buying decision would be made and capitalized on it; we didn’t. The competition made the buyer believe one of his features was the most important, and we couldn’t combat it. In the end, the competition capitalized on our weaknesses. In other words, we were outsold.

Finally, there is the excuse that “The project died.” At what point should we have realized the customer was falling into that indecision vortex? If we had stayed close to the project and the customer, we would have recognized the project was slipping. Or maybe it wasn’t a real project from the outset, and we just didn’t want to admit it. Either way, we were outsold.

As sales pros, we should do our homework. We have to ask the tough questions from the beginning. We must qualify the projects, assess our chances of winning, know our customer, and, in the final assessment, admit that sometimes we are outsold.

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