This last weekend, my son's football team, The Roswell Hornets, experienced a really tough loss in the 6A High School State Playoffs. If you've ever watched the series or movies Friday Night Lights, you understand what the magnitude of a State Championship means to not just a team, but an entire community. I wrote an open letter to my football family in Roswell, GA to help us process the loss, and honestly to find some catharsis for myself. I've been overwhelmed by all the shares on Facebook and even the notes of encouragement from fans of the opposing team. Our community is moving forward united.
The idea of moving on past failure has become a cliche' in business. We love drawing examples to Abraham Lincoln, Henry Ford, Bill Gates and Walt Disney. What the inspiration fails to provide are the practical ways to deal with the immediate feelings that come with a hard loss or failure. If you read my blogs, you know I love the way that Taylor Swift runs her business. However, to simply "Shake It off" is not really very helpful business advice.
I've known hard losses and failure, and I've known great success. In my capacity as a musician, I've lost far more Grammys than I've won. The band's press kit touts touring accomplishments, but I've lived out whole touring seasons that were unprofitable. 3 months traveling, leaving our families, with no financial reward. It hurts.
To just discount the pain of failure does not prepare you to succeed.
In my new role with Syrup Marketing, my job is business development (aka sales). I am charged with being the tip of the spear for our company to the marketplace, and creating the opportunity for our team to serve our clients. Like a lot of us in sales' roles, I operate with a sales funnel. It's a numbers game. If you make enough connections, you'll get a predictable amount of meetings, then 2nd meetings, then a proportional amount of those will result in new business, aka wins. I know that's discounting the specifics of your sales process as well as the real skills we bring to the table; listening, being a consultive challenger, having a product or service that is a real solution for our prospects, etc. However, just as our skills are discounted in just summarizing our sales processes as a numbers game, the hurt and the loss of the ones that get away shouldn't be ignored. We all want to ring the bell, or bang the gong or cue 'All I Do Is Win' when we walk into the office. But, the fact is, we don't just win. We lose too, and it stinks.
I recently had a prospect I really wanted to win for our company. I really felt like we could serve them better than anybody else. I thought that we had really understood their challenges and communicated our value. I listened more than I talked. It was a long process. In the end, I didn't win their business. I was disappointed. I felt like I had let my team down as well as the prospect I was hoping to convert to a client. It stung.
Here are some practical steps you can take to move forward from a tough loss.
1. Recognize that the loss is real. If possible, have a trusted friend, outside of your colleagues, to whom you can vent. Speak openly. Share your frustration. Curse if you need to. Blow off steam. Feel the loss. I find jogging or exercise also really helps. It's a real loss, not to be dismissed. You care about your team and your clients. Don't just brush it off. There's tangible grief, and you will need to work all 5 stages.
2. Analyze the loss. Try, if possible, to figure out where you lost the client. Although a lot of time, it might have just been an issue of timing or maybe the case of a bad fit. Let's be honest, prospects don't always choose the best solution for their company. Maybe you just didn't connect with the person. At my company, we have a regularly scheduled sales meetings where there is time to discuss the losses as well as the wins and learn how we can get better. If your company doesn't have that process in place, you should. I love bouncing ideas off my team on ways I can get better.
3. Ask the prospect for input. At the appropriate time, ask your prospect for feedback, but realize that they might not tell you the truth. This is where a quick online survey that gives them a safe place to share might come in handy. Communicate that you want to learn, and receive the information non-defensively. Be teachable.
4. Flush it. Sorry for the graphic metaphor. But, after you've learned as much as you can from the process, you have to remove it from your mind or you will be ineffective. You are not a loser just because you had a loss. I see how my company is serving our clients. I try to get to the point where I see it as their loss if they don't choose us. The point is. Don't jump to this stage. Don't get here defensively. Feel the sadness. Learn from your mistakes. Then, continue to work your process.(Here's an update that shares how I brought this metaphor to life for a youth football team.)
5. Move forward with joy. Joy is one of your greatest assets in sales. So much of the process is how your prospect connects with you. Be joyful. If you're a person of faith, trust that God has a plan for your financial future, your family's, and your colleagues on your team. Also, know that God has in mind just the right people for your company to serve. Get back out there with joy knowing that there is more work to be done. No one wants to buy from a mopey salesman.
By the way, the same process should be applied to wins as well as losses: celebrate the win, analyze the process, get the client's input, flush it, and move forward with joy, but never arrogance. Just as no one wants to buy from a mopey salesman, no one wants to do business with an arrogant one either.
My son's football team will move forward from the tough loss better for the experience. You can move forward from your tough losses if you work through the steps above.