Do We Ever Really Learn From Sales Failure?

I've recently had the privilege of getting to know Cian Mcloughlin as part of a Sales Masterminds group that's been formed in Australasia and led by John Smibert (Strategic Selling Group in LinkedIn). Cian has real insights into how to drive massive success in complex selling and I asked him about the role of win and loss reviews, why they're important and what mistakes companies make. Here is his wisdom... the rest of this post is from him (with pics from me).

“You don’t learn from successes; you don’t learn from awards; you don’t learn from celebrity; you only learn from wounds and scars and mistakes and failures. And that’s the truth.”  Jane Fonda.

Not all scars, in life or in business, should be seen as badges of honor. Most of my business battle-scars (with the possible exception of my grey hair) I wear on the inside. Earned in hard fought deals lost at the 11th hour or sales skirmishes over before a single power-point had been fired in anger.

The thing about scars, be they from life or business, is we should always learn from them. It’s one thing to lose a deal or miss out on a promotion at work, but before the scar has even begun to form, you need to be asking yourself “what can I take away from this experience, how do I learn from it and ensure I’m better, smarter and more prepared next time around?”

Unfortunately the vast majority of professional sales organisations, I’m talking big companies spending inordinate amounts of time and money prospecting for new business, actually spend very little time or money trying to understand why they won or lost a deal in the first place. We all know line attributed to but almost certainly never uttered by Einstein “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome”. You can guarantee whoever did say it, didn’t work in the b2b sales world!

The amount of wastage, duplication and chasing of lost causes which occurs across the business world is borderline criminal. I wouldn’t even hazard a guess at the real and opportunity costs associated with sales organisations (be they technology, professional services, engineering & construction, utilities, oil & gas companies) responding to numerous tenders, conducting lengthy cycles with would-be customers or undertaking hugely expensive proof of concepts, only to lose the deal and walk away with nothing.

My personal opinion (and I’ll be the first to admit I’m biased) is that win, lose or draw if you’ve conducted a professional sales process, you’ve earned the right to extract some value from the experience and the vast majority of b2b customers out there agree with me. So, the next time you’re conducting a major deal, whether you’re in the box seat or staring down the barrel of defeat, pause for a moment and ask yourself the following questions. Win, lose or draw…

  • What insights could this client give me to improve or refine my sales skills and do an even better job next time?
  • Could their feedback help me to distance myself from my competition in some small but important way?
  • Am I winning this deal on product, price or my ability to present a compelling, credible and believable story?
  • Am I losing on product, price or my inability to engage, inspire or educate my prospective client?

I suppose the real question you should be asking is what lesson could this new new scar teach me?

Follow Cian in LinkedIn and read his posts. He has held senior sales and channel management roles in a number of the world’s largest IT software companies, including Cognos and SAP, in 2011 Cian became the founder and CEO of Trinity Perspectives, a boutique sales consultancy firm based in Sydney. He also co-authored an Amazon #1 bestseller ‘Secrets of Business Success”, and is a regular sales and marketing commentator in the mainstream media including Sky News Business, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website:

Main image photo by Flickr: Erik Charlton Fire Eater