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What I Learned from Getting Fired

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firedCreate a fulfillment mindset for your prospects.

Did you ever get fired because you lost a deal? I did. I’ve never shared this before…publicly.

I was so close to nailing a million-dollar deal—something no one in my company had ever done. My company was one of 12 vendors under active consideration. And I pulled out all the stops. I was attentive to their needs and had multiple meetings with the entire team responsible for the decision. I knew everyone. When it was bake-off time, I flew key consultants in from our headquarters to participate in the presentation. I could smell a win in the air. We were thought leaders; we had visibility; the client loved our solution for advanced sales training; and now we were one of two.

Everything was going so well that in my head, I’d already spent my commission. I’d redecorate my living room, take a long vacation, and save the rest. But along the way, I’d consistently ignored some major red flags. My prospect:

  • Had a relationship with an existing vendor for basic sales training. (When I asked why the buyer didn’t contract with this company, I was told the system didn’t have advanced capabilities.)
  • Kept pushing out the milestone dates we had agreed upon.
  • Spent time in Europe where the existing vendor was headquartered.
  • Wouldn’t tell me my competition, even though I continued to ask.
  • Didn’t agree to any additional in-person meetings.
  • Kept me hanging.

I called and called, and was repeatedly told they hadn’t made a decision. Finally, the buyers chose the existing vendor. While I’d been working so hard to seal the deal, the existing vendor had developed the advanced sales training it previously lacked. I have no doubt this development was based on what my team shared with the prospect, but it no longer mattered. I lost my job.

Avoid This Sad Sales Story

A seller is accountable for results, and I didn’t deliver. I get it. That was my problem, not my buyer’s.

Our clients don’t care that we have goals to meet. They don’t care that it’s quarter-end or year-end. They care about making the best possible decisions for their businesses, and they’re under tremendous pressure to get it right. Otherwise, they’re the ones who lose their jobs.

Knowing this, how do we help prospects make the right decisions and still meet the numbers for which we’re accountable? By making them equally accountable for moving deals forward.

Never leave a meeting without giving your buyer a task. As a sales VP I once worked for told me: “That’s the best test for whether the person is serious about moving forward.”

Without assigning tasks to prospects, you have no way of knowing whether they’re truly interested in buying what you’re selling—or if they’re just kicking tires and wasting your time.

You Know What They Say About Assumptions…

When you assume a deal is in the bag just because you had a great first meeting with a prospect, you tend to get lazy about follow-up. Assumptions are dangerous in sales.

If you assume you uncovered all of the prospect’s needs, you also assume:

  • The prospect understands the full impact your solution could have on his business.
  • The prospect has decision-making authority.
  • You know and understand the company’s approval process.
  • The prospect understands your pricing.

Instead of relying on assumptions, hold yourself and the buyer accountable for ensuring everyone has what he or she needs to move forward. Here’s how:

  • Prepare a one- or two-page Discussion Document that summarizes the business issues you talked about with the prospect, the ROI of your solution, and a pricing range. This doesn’t need to be a full-blown proposal, just a written version of what you discussed in the first meeting—a way to ensure all parties are on the same page.
  • Schedule a time to review this document with the prospect before you leave the first meeting. Don’t waste your time writing all of this up unless you have a follow-up call or meeting on the calendar.

Turn Your Prospect into a Partner

Bottom line: Never leave sales meetings with a list of things for you to do and nothing for your buyers to do. Everyone needs an assignment. Without one, your prospects aren’t invested in the solution. You could ask them to provide you with materials to review, to conduct research, or to survey their internal teams. The nature of the task doesn’t matter as much as the simple fact they’re willing to invest time and energy into learning more about what you offer.

Agree on specific action items for both parties before you conclude your meeting. And always, always, leave with another meeting scheduled. If a prospect is noncommittal about reconnecting, that should be a huge red flag you have been too quick to jump to a proposed solution, or that the client was never really interested in the first place. Either way, you know when it’s time to move on and what to do differently next time.

Sometimes you win deals, and sometimes you lose them—even when you’ve invested everything you have into closing them. But you always learn something. For example, I learned to pay more attention to how I build my deals, whom to include, and the steps I should take to move deals along. And I vowed never to get blindsided again. It’s clear to me now that my prospect had no accountability. I knew the team liked us and believed in our solution. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have been at the table. But I was “hoping” and not dealing with reality.

Have I been blindsided since that time? Once or twice, I think. But I do my best to set expectations at the beginning of a relationship. And because I now generate all of my business through referrals, my relationships begin with trust and credibility already earned. My clients are on my side. They tell me the truth. They tell me how to get deals done. And if we don’t have a fit, I know when to stop before I go down the competitive rabbit hole once again.

Join the Conversation on LinkedIn

When have assumptions cost you a big deal, and what did you learn from the experience? Join the discussion on LinkedIn.

Connect with No More Cold Calling

Follow Joanne on Google+ or Twitter @ReferralSales, or connect on LinkedIn and Facebook.

 

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One Response to What I Learned from Getting Fired

  1. Sharon Peterson says:

    Great article, Joanne! Truthful, on-target, based in reality, and full of encouragement and good tips! Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

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