The art of losing the sale: Successful Selling - Jun 2016

By Sandy Smith

In his bestselling book Power Questions: Build Relationships, Win New Business and Influence Others, Andrew Sobel tells the story about an up-and-coming young salesman who was eager to succeed. His boss selected him to be the lead presenter to a major telecommunications company that his firm wanted to do business with. He was excited to prove himself by winning a major new client and establishing his reputation as a highly skilled salesman.

The salesman and his two colleagues arrived 30 minutes early at the 82nd floor of the John Hancock Center in downtown Chicago with thick packets of slick promotional material and a 35-minute PowerPoint presentation. When the appointed hour arrived, five senior executives entered the spacious and elegant conference room and took their seats. After introducing themselves, one of the executives said, “Tell us a little about yourselves.”

Like a racehorse bolting from the gate at the Kentucky Derby, the salesman rose to his feet, passed out flashy marketing brochures and launched into his PowerPoint presentation. He covered in some detail his company’s history, mission, client base and a series of testimonials from their current customers. When he was finished, he sat down. The room was deafeningly quiet. Everyone stared at one another.

Finally one of the VPs reached into a pile of folders. The salesman hoped it was a copy of their marketing material that she wanted to discuss. But no. She was grabbing her appointment book. “Thank you for coming,” she said. “I really do have to run to another meeting.” 

The company president said, “We will let you know if we have questions.” The entire meeting—and the opportunity—was over. Needless to say, the sales team lost the business.

So what can be gleaned from this story? The salesman and his colleagues spent an enormous amount of time and energy preparing for this high level meeting. Unfortunately, the sole focus of their presentation was on their own company and not on their potential new client. In all likelihood, these five senior executives had researched the sales firm. Otherwise they would not have been invited to offer their services. As a result, this 45-minute presentation likely rehashed what they already knew and, as a result, was a waste of their valuable time.

A savvy professional sales team would also spend a great deal of time preparing for their meeting. But their time would have been spent on understanding their potential new customer’s circumstances: their history, their organizational culture, their core values, their competitors and their challenges. As motivational author and speaker, Dr. Stephen Covey was fond of saying, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” 

A second factor that derailed this sales presentation was the fact that during the entire 45 minutes, this sales team never took a breath long enough to ask a question. Rather, they spent their time telling, explaining, demonstrating, pointing out and matter-of-facting. Evidently they never heard the advice of Will Rogers: “Never miss a good chance to shut up.”

Selling has to be less telling and more listening. There is an art to asking questions in a way that invites and allows potential clients to tell you what they perceive to be their problems and what they are looking for. Years ago, I learned a valuable lesson from psychologist and Rabbi Edwin Freedman, who said, “Questions can be more important than answers, in part because they are eternal, while answers resemble fashions that come with age.”

Just imagine how the outcome of this opportunity could have been different if the sales team had asked questions and listened to the answers. If they had learned what challenges the company faced, they could have offered solutions that resonated with them. That’s what it’s all about, after all—offering a potential client something they need to solve real-world problems and make them more successful. Listening to someone else talk endlessly about their company is boring. 

However, in the end, a lost sale should never be a total loss. Anyone with a career in sales likely has a story about how they lost an important sale, but the key in sales is to become resilient and bounce back from a painful outcome by learning from the experience. The Japanese have a saying: “When you fall down, don’t get up empty handed.”

Copyright 2016 Floor Focus