Many CEOs have their team go through a soul searching exercise when they lose a big deal. But if you are only paying attention to what went on behind the big losses, you are missing some of the most valuable lessons.
Every client or prospect interaction, good or bad, is a potential learning opportunity. To make the most of these experiences and up your team’s game, you’ll want to require a post-mortem report of everything your team did in pursuit of a sale, win or lose.
True, we often learn more from our failures. The brain remembers the unfortunate losses better than the series of good choices and decisions that lead to a win. But don’t forget the mistakes you got away with on the deals you won, because nobody noticed or no competitor exploited them. And don’t forget to capture the things you got right!
In sports we see this all the time; an athlete gets the better of the competition, despite making mistakes, because the competition was unable to capitalize on the opportunity. The same thing applies in business, and the danger is that people don’t always learn to correct these mistakes or overcome their weaknesses, until it’s too late. After a win you should do a victory lap and then immediately turn your attention and focus to improving for the next battle.
Practice alone doesn’t make “great”, being battle-tested does
Life, the day-to-day battlefield itself, is the ultimate teacher. Sometimes you rationally plan your attack and then through happenstance you stumble on what’s right! When that happens – stop and learn for next time – use your new found secret or weapon. Other times you make new mistakes or discover previously unknown weaknesses that cost you the deal.
Dabbling in mixed martial arts, I’ve seen plenty of people hit the pad in practice with seemingly flawless technique, only to get their butt kicked in a sparring session or a contest/fight. Whether it’s a gridiron, a ring, or a boardroom, we all learn more on the battlefield than anywhere else. The way to more reliably get to the win next time is to study and learn from the critical data you take from your battles. Knowing why you won is equally as important as understanding why you lost and what you can do differently to win next time.
But winning the deal is just the beginning
What matters at the end of the deal is not just winning, but also figuring out how to make a difference for the client that will be really beneficial to them. Never forget to take away from these client and prospect interactions how to deliver value that helps them succeed. You want your client to get what they want, even when you have to guide them to what that looks like.
You need to define what success means to your prospect from the outset, because at the end of the day, the real victory is getting to the place where both you and your client get the win. For a successful relationship these two goals must be in lockstep. This may sound altruistic, but it is actually selfish; it will almost always result in greater certainty of outcome, longevity, and potential for relationship expansion.
Some lessons I’ve learned from my battles include:
1. Define client success first, then reverse engineer how you are going to achieve it.
2. Don’t assume anything. Always be curious about how to get to the win. This will guide you to ask the right questions.
3. As mentioned above, require a post-mortem report of everything your team did in pursuit of a sale, win or lose.
4. Insist that team members identify and include in their report things they did right and things they could have done better or differently after every client interaction.
5. Go back post-sale and conduct health checks at a regular cadence. Is the customer delighted? Are they using your product to its highest potential? Are they using your products in ways you hadn’t thought about? Are they willing to be a reference?
Whether you are competing for a new deal against a competitor, to get a new product to market, or to prove your value to clients, it’s a battlefield every time. There are always critical things you can improve upon. So make sure your team pays careful attention to the lessons that come from every win and every loss. If they succeed at that, then win or lose the battle, they will dramatically increase their chances of winning the war.