Referrals might be your silver lining.
I have been in B2B sales so long that I’ve probably forgotten more deals than I remember. But there’s one I’ll never forget. It was 20 years ago, when I was working as an account-based sales rep, and I lost the biggest deal of my career.
I was so close to nailing a million-dollar deal—something no one in my company had ever done. We were one of 12 vendors under active consideration. I pulled out all the stops. I was attentive to the client’s needs and had multiple meetings with the entire buying team. I knew everyone. When it was bake-off time, I flew in key consultants from our headquarters to participate in the presentation.
I could smell a win in the air. We had a stellar account-based selling team. We were thought leaders; we had visibility; and the client loved our solution for advanced sales training.
I was already planning how to spend my commission. I’d redecorate my living room, take a long vacation, donate a portion to charity, and save the rest.
Then came the radio silence. I called and called, and was repeatedly told they hadn’t made a decision. Turns out, I had consistently ignored some major red flags along the way. 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 their system didn’t have advanced capabilities.)
- Wouldn’t tell me who this competitor was
- Kept pushing out the milestone dates we agreed upon
- Spent time in Europe where the existing vendor was headquartered
- Didn’t agree to any additional in-person meetings
Finally, the buyers chose the existing vendor. While I’d been working so hard to seal the deal, the other company had developed the advanced sales training it previously lacked.
How to Generate Leads—Even When You Lose the Deal
To say I was crushed is an understatement. I left my office, went home, and took my dog for a hike so I could clear my mind and decide what to do.
There were five members of the buying committee. I knew all of them quite well after the long buying process, and they seemed as frustrated as I was about the delay.
When my contact, Nancy, delivered the bad news, she told me that the team appreciated the work of our account-based selling team and my professionalism. At first, I thought she was just trying to butter me up, until she said, “I wish all of our salespeople were like you.”
That’s when I knew my next step. I called Nancy and told her I’d like to take her to lunch and ask her for referrals. I have no idea where the idea came from. At the time, I didn’t yet understand that referrals were the #1 way to ensure qualified sales lead generation. I just knew I needed to focus on how to generate leads if I wanted to replace this major piece of lost business.
She invited other members of the buying committee, all of whom felt terrible they couldn’t do business with me. We talked about a lot of things over lunch, and then I asked Nancy to introduce me to her colleagues in other divisions of the company. She wowed me once again when she offered three referrals.
What she said next surprised me even more. “Joanne, I’m giving these referrals to you, not to your company.” If I left the company the next day, next week, or next month, I couldn’t hand those contacts off to my successor.
That was my first lesson in referral selling: Referrals are personal. They’re also the best sales lead generation strategy for account-based sellers. Even though I lost this deal, I won the trust of my prospects—and earned the right to ask for referrals.
How Account-Based Sales Reps Win When They Lose
Sometimes you win deals, and sometimes you lose them—even when you’ve invested everything you have into closing them. But there’s at least two silver linings for every lost deal:
- You earn the right to ask for referrals. Account-based sales teams meet and interact with many B2B sales leads during the sales process. When they earn those people’s trust, they earn the right to ask for referrals to other departments in their enterprises. That’s a good way to land and expand.
- You learn something. For example, I learned to pay more attention to how I build my deals, whom to include, the steps I should take to move deals along, and the red flags that indicate a prospect has no accountability. I knew the team liked us and believed in our solution, but I was “hoping” and not dealing with reality.
Have I been blindsided since? Once or twice. But I do my best to set expectations at the beginning of a relationship.
Because I generate all my B2B sales leads through referrals, my relationships begin with trust and credibility already earned. My prospects are on my side. They tell me the truth. They tell me how to get deals done. If we don’t have a fit, I know when to stop before I go down the competitive rabbit hole once again. I also know when I have earned the right to ask those prospects for referrals.
Want to learn more about generating B2B sales leads via referrals? Check out No More Cold Calling’s #1 Referral Selling Program for Account-Based Sellers.
Connect with No More Cold Calling
Copyright: milanmarkovic / 123RF Stock Photo