Learn something from every lost sale

It is, of course, always bitterly disappointing to lose a sale.  This is especially so if your sales cycle is long and you need to invest considerable time and effort into each sales campaign.  Some businesses are fortunate and enjoy the benefit of short sales cycles.  Those selling for such businesses will commit only relatively small amounts of effort to each sale, so the loss of a single prospect doesn’t have much of an impact on the salesperson.

These sellers will, however, be juggling many more active sales campaigns at any given time, as short sales cycles tend to imply lower average order values.  You need more sales each month to meet your sales targets.

I have always worked in situations where sales cycles were 9-12 months in duration (sometimes much longer) and each sales campaign absorbed considerable amounts of time.  If any of these sales opportunities is eventually lost to a competitor, all this invested time and effort can never be recovered.  If you are in this situation, it is worth investing a little more time at the end of every campaign to analyse what went wrong.  Learn from your mistakes.

I think it is a worthwhile exercise to document the lessons you can take from each lost sale.  There is always something you can learn and this collection of “lessons learned” will help prevent you repeating the same mistakes.  The lessons learned can be a useful source of knowledge for new salespeople who you will want to become effective as quickly as possible.

Ask yourself questions like these: What did you do well?  What could have been done better? Why did you lose the sale?  Does the winning supplier have an edge over you that could be exploited again and again?  Did our prospect qualification process work as well as we had hoped?

Learn to keep communication channels open with every prospect even after you lose a sale.  It is surprising how few “losing suppliers” do this and, as a result, they cut off a channel of valuable feedback.  Ask your prospects for specific feedback on why you lost each sale.  Listen carefully to the responses, even if they are tough to hear.  By gathering feedback from prospects who didn’t buy from you, you will quickly learn how to improve your performance in subsequent sales campaigns.

Once you have some feedback, put a plan in place to implement the necessary changes together with the ones you identified from your own analysis.  This will prevent you losing future sales for the same reasons as before.

By having the discipline to look back at why you lost individual sales (and making sure you never repeat the mistakes you made) will give you good forward momentum towards winning more sales campaigns than you lose.  Don’t ever expect to win every sale.  This is not a healthy goal, expect to encounter setbacks.

One lesson I learned years ago that continues to pay dividends is this:  When you lose a sale, do so graciously and professionally.  Thank the prospect for the opportunity to be involved and wish them every success with their chosen supplier.  Seek their agreement that you can contact them periodically to keep abreast of future potential opportunities.

Most salespeople, when they learn they have lost a sale, will simply disappear. Occasionally sales people take the news of a lost sale very personally and fire off all sorts of unwise emails.  Some will try to escalate their response to their prospect’s boss (or higher).  All these actions destroy any relationship they might have with the prospect and they rarely result in a positive outcome.

It is much better to work on finding something of value to take from every lost sale, especially if you have already invested considerable time and effort into the campaign.  Otherwise, you are simply throwing everything away.

Keeping in regular contact with prospects after you lose a sale has many positive benefits.  It leaves you well positioned should something unexpected occur with their chosen supplier.  Occasionally, situations will arise where the chosen supplier fails to deliver and the buyer then needs to find a replacement supplier at short notice.

If you have kept a professional dialogue with the prospect, it is an easy option for them to invite you into discussions about taking over some or all of the work.  Therefore, it pays to keep communication channels open, even as you deal with the disappointment of losing the original sale.


  1. Review how you deal with lost sales and identify what you can change so that you always gain something from each loss.  What lesson(s) can you learn?
  2. Contact the prospect immediately after you lose a sale, explain how disappointed you are and would they help you by telling you what you did wrong or how you could improve your likelihood of winning the order next time.
  3. Make it a habit to schedule a number of calls to lost prospects in the weeks immediately after you lose a sale.  Don’t sell in these calls, just ask some good questions and let the prospect know you are available at any time to provide help and assistance.  Encourage dialogue and look out for new opportunities.
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