It happens to the best of us – we put time and effort into calls, proposals created and sent, and follow ups to discuss the project and move them towards a close.
But then we hear that they’ve gone with someone else. It hurts. You wanted (maybe needed) that business and it didn’t close.
So what do you do? How do you respond and what’s next?
Over the last few years I’ve seen more projects than I’d like not close with the company I thought they were best matched with. It never gets easier and always renews the fire to do better, but I’ve also developed a strategy for how to turn that bad into insights you can use for the future.
This post is specifically covering when you’ve made it to the end and they ultimately decide to go with someone else. If you receive a “No thanks” reply after sending your proposal without any additional information or you/they decided that it was not a good fit on your discovery call, then there are likely some other issues within your sales process that need to be solved.
So what do you do? Here are the actions I take when a lead has gone with another provider.
Take a breath
This may be an emotionally charged moment for you, especially if you really needed that client to make your business survive. I am empathetic to this, but the worst thing you can do right now is say something out of anger. Take it from someone who has been known in the past to respond out of anger only to instantly regret that response.
Take a step back and ask yourself why you think they did not sign with you. Remind yourself that there are more potential clients out there and while it may be frustrating that this one did not go with you, you hopefully have others in the queue that you can close by applying what you learn through losing this lead.
This is a learning opportunity.
Don’t try to negotiate
At this point the client has made their decision and any attempt to negotiate with them on their decision will not only be futile, but it will also probably cement in their head that not going with you was probably the right choice.
Trying to negotiate with them or convince them that they made a wrong choice goes directly at their sense of self and their ability to make good decisions. If you do this then you have lost that client forever.
In my career I have seen (and been a part of) layoffs at a company. I remember one particular person who was laid off (fired may be the better word here) relatively unexpectedly because of clashes with the management team at the company. This person then tried to negotiate it, get on a call with the company’s CEO, and more. They ended up looking desperate and burned any bridges they may have still had at the company, because no one wanted to put their neck on the line for someone who was just fired and was making such a show about it.
Ask them for feedback
Now that you’ve calmed down and accepted that they are not going to go with you (right now!), you have the opportunity to learn from the experience.
Reply to their email (because that is probably how it was delivered) and ask them what you could have done to win their business. Ask them what wasn’t clear, what they were looking for that you didn’t provide, and see if you can get to the bottom of why they chose the provider that they did.
You will probably hear back one of these common answers:
- The other provider was cheaper (and you will usually hear that they are going to “try it out”);
- The CEO/someone at the company knew someone higher up at the provider they ultimately went with, which means it was a relational and political decision (and your POC may have wanted to go with you!);
- They realized that they needed the other kind of provider (e.g. you are a consultant and they realized they need an agency).
Each one of these, and any others you may hear, is an opportunity to take action.
If the company they decided to go with was cheaper and they’re “trying it out”, then this means they’re not convinced that the other company will be able to get them the results they need and they may come back. That said, you didn’t do a good job of convincing them that your cost was worth it to them and because of that they went with the lower cost one.
If the CEO/someone at the company knew someone at the agency and thus the POC was overruled, this means that relationships won and you could have done a better job of getting the decision makers in the room and presenting to them why you are the right choice.
If they realized that they need the other kind of provider than what you are, then one of two things happened. Either they are right and you didn’t do a good job of vetting them out before sending a proposal to them, or they made the wrong decision and you didn’t do a good job of showing them why they actually need what you have to offer.
Every bit of feedback in this business is to be valued and added as a data point so that you can get better over time and improve your close rates from proposals sent.
Annotate their feedback in your CRM
Now go to your CRM where you manage your leads and annotate that feedback after you move it in a Closed/Lost column or status. To get better over time you need to get feedback and take it into account in context with everything else going on.
By tracking the feedback you receive (or if you don’t get feedback your thoughts on why you think you lost the deal), you can cement in your mind the reason why and begin identifying trends that can teach you things.
Over time I’ve seen trends across different agencies like:
- they are pitching more deals than they should (which means their vetting process is off),
- they are attracting deals that are maybe better suited for a solo consultant (if they are an agency) or vice versa, which means either their lead gen system or sales process is off;
An additional reason for adding the feedback or reasoning to your CRM is so that other people at your company doing sales can go back through and learn why leads don’t close into clients at your company. This knowledge base will serve you well into the future.
Set a 3 month reminder to follow up
I am of the firm opinion that if you receive a “No”, it is rarely a “Not now, not ever” sort of “no”. Rather, it may just not be the right time for them to engage with you. Sometimes this will manifest itself as not signing with anyone, but sometimes it will be some of the reasons I’ve already noted such as “So and so was cheaper and so we’re going to try them out.”
Set yourself a reminder to follow up in three months to see how things are going for them. When that reminder comes around, shoot them a quick email just to see how things are going and use the Subject Line of “Follow up” or “Checking in”.
The reason I recommend waiting three months instead of one or two is because it is long enough for them to know if the engagement with the other company has been successful so far, but it is not so long that they either forget about you, have the chance to hire someone else if the first provider can’t provide results, or for the point of contact to move on to another gig (which happens more often than you might think).
If you did a good job of establishing rapport with the client, then you will probably get a reply. If you don’t, then set yourself another reminder to follow up in another month. I like to follow up 2-3 times, once a month, following that initial after-three-months follow up before I consider it completely lost.
Losing a pitch is hard, but it should not be the end of your consulting story. There are always more clients out there to get in front of and sign, using the feedback you’ve received and lessons learned through lost pitches.
If you’re struggling to get enough leads in the door, then I have two resources that you should read as well:
Optimizing before you have something of substance to optimize is a fool’s errand. Concentrate first on getting more leads in the door by building a robust scalable lead generation process before you start optimizing more for closes. Once you’re spending a lot of your time on sales, then you can optimize for closing and will see your business grow.