You might think that a sales professional is very different than an Olympic athlete. I think we have a lot to learn from these exceptional athletes, especially when we lose a deal. Do you think Mikaela Shiffrin was prepared for the Olympics? I think so. Yet she came in fourth for the slalom which was considered her best event. I know being fourth in the world isn’t exactly the disaster the sports commentators make it out to be. I’ll bet to Shiffren it was a catastrophe. Her loss was just like losing a major sale that you worked very hard to win. What can you do when you lose a sale? You should lose like Mikaela Shiffrin.
Preparation doesn’t necessarily mean you will win.
Mikaela Shiffrin was born in Colorado yet moved to New Hampshire to practice skiing. Why? It has the worst ski conditions. She believed that if she could excel on the worst conditions then the more desirable, powdery slopes would be easier. She was right. Shiffrin has won every world-championship slalom race since 2013. She won the Olympic slalom race in 2014 for her first gold medal. She won so many slalom events last season that she won her sport’s overall World Cup title. But at the Olympics on February 16, 2018 it was not her day. She came in fourth.
Do you work your hardest to prepare for your important sales? Of course you do. But, preparation does not guarantee success. Success is certainly more likely, but preparation is no guarantee. Just ask Shiffrin.
Shiffrin’s post race loss is instructive for sales professionals. She gets defeat right. She faced the reporters after her defeat in an extensive interview instead of brief comments and a run for cover. She discussed how she was more disappointed in how she felt on her skis rather than coming in fourth. She noted how she skied so conservatively.
What was so poignant was how she explained her loss to herself. She said, “Every single loss that I’ve ever had, I remember that feeling so thoroughly, it’s like a piece of my heart breaks off and I can never get it back. Today is no different than that. But someday I’ll be able to understand that it’s part of life.”
What do you do after you learn you lost a big sale? Do you call your customer and complain? Do you rail that he made a bad decision? Do you tell him why his purchasing decision won’t work? I certainly hope not. Just as winning a sale is part of selling, so is losing a sale. As Shiffrin says, “It’s part of life.”
A gracious loser has a chance going forward. After all, not all buying decisions work out for customers. Some customers just might have to go with the number 2 candidate. You will never be considered if you question your customer’s decision making after he picks someone other than you.
What are your post-loss options?
Shiffrin told the reporters that she would meet with her family and team to review what had happened. Then they would make a plan. She will compete in another event at the Olympics.
You should review what happened with your sales loss. You might not have a team, but you could talk with the people you worked with to develop your proposal. Most important is to first speak with your customer. This is where your sincerity is most important. You do want to learn what made another company’s proposal more attractive than yours.
You must be clear in this conversation that your intent is to learn, not to change anyone’s mind. A question like, “What can I do better next time to win your business?” is more likely to get a response than a question like, “Why did I lose the bid?” You do not want to put anyone on the defensive.
I want you to remember Mikaela Shiffrin when you lose a sale. It’s unlikely that you will have almost 20 million people watching your defeat. She did and I predict she will continue to win races. You will win sales, too.