5 Things Your Buyers Won’t Tell You When You Lose

Many top salespeople are unconsciously competent in that selling is intuitive for them. So calls flow without giving thought to the skills being applied. If and when top sellers accept management positions, they often struggle because they can’t teach things that come naturally to them.

Business-to-business (B2B) selling is a challenging endeavor. I believe it is the business discipline most resistant to technology, largely because selling skills and approaches vary so greatly.

In my experience, many top salespeople are unconsciously competent. By that I mean selling is intuitive for them so that calls flow without giving thought to the skills being applied. If and when top sellers accept management positions, they often struggle because they can’t teach things that come naturally to them. A recent survey done by Miller Heiman found that only 8.5 percent of sellers are “world class.”

That statistic means buyers work mostly with B and C players. For large opportunities, it isn’t unusual to bring in three or more vendors and have “bake-offs.” In most opportunities, the most skilled seller will become “Column A” (the vendor of choice).

When delivering the bad news to Columns B, C, etc., buyers want to make it clear the decision has been made to go with Column A. The safest choices are to blame price or product. This allows them to minimize unpleasant conversations. In my mind, if a seller decides to compete, he or she should qualify within 45 days. If his or her offering isn’t a good fit, he or she should withdraw from the opportunity. After 45 days, product should not be the reason for a loss.

There are at least five things buyers won’t tell sellers when they lose:

  1. “You were outsold.” This, in my mind, is the most common reason for losses. The fact is another seller got access to higher levels and helped develop the buyers’ needs and establish the requirements so that his or her offering seemed to be the best fit.
  2. “We had you compete so we could gain leverage in negotiating with Column A.” The buyer asked the seller for a “best and final bid” but never came back with where price needed to be. Unless the buyer asked for a pricing the vendor couldn’t/wouldn’t get to, the loss wasn’t due to price. If price was the issue, why didn’t the buyer ask the seller to sharpen the pencil? Sales managers should take the seller to task if price is blamed for losses.
  3. “You didn’t ask enough relevant questions. It was all about you and not enough about me and my company.” You never understood the business outcomes the buyers were trying to achieve. Instead, you were more in presentation mode and focused far too heavily on your offerings rather than on your buyer’s needs.
  4. “You never provided a compelling cost vs. benefit, so I didn’t see any value in why we should choose your offering over your competitor’s.” The buyer was more sensitive to value rather than cost. You never got access to line-of-business executives who are going to benefit as a result of the decision made so you could provide an “enterprise view” for all stakeholders in this buying decision.
  5. “Your PowerPoint presentation was generic and failed to address our needs and our industry.” Many canned presentations are primarily about offerings and the vendor. Sellers often take “spray-and-pray” approaches about all the capabilities that are available in vendor offerings but run the danger of showing features that aren’t important to buyers. Product pitches done before understanding the buyer’s current environment and needs are not compelling.

Selling is a challenging job. If four vendors compete, it is an all-or-nothing proposition. Buyers have no qualms about bringing in sellers that have little or no chance of winning the business. Sellers should strive to disqualify opportunities that aren’t qualified because they can take time, effort, and resources and likely result in losses. Ironically, after Column A is awarded the business, it is likely Columns B, C, and D will be told they came in second.

In my mind, if sellers can gain access to key players, they should stay in opportunities. If not, it’s time to move on and find opportunities where you can gain access to the levels needed to determine value and become Column A.

John Holland is co-founder, co-author, and chief content officer of CustomerCentric Selling. In coauthoring and helping launch CustomerCentric Selling in 2002, Holland leveraged more than 20 years’ experience in sales, sales management, and consulting. As a sales consultant, he helped many diverse organizations design and implement sales process. He has worked with technology, overnight delivery, language localization, leasing, temporary housing, corporate relocation, and financial services companies in tailoring CustomerCentric Selling to address their requirements.


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