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Don’t Sell Where You Lose!

by David Brock on January 3rd, 2014

“Well duuuhhh, Dave, thanks for that great insight!”

As obvious as it sounds, one of the fastest ways to improve organizational or individual performance is to stop trying to sell where you lose.  Yet, as obvious as it sounds, too many of the behaviors I see are focused exactly on that–selling where we lose.

The problem is, too often we blindly chase after bad deals.  Prospects ask for information, and the sales person is immediately forecasting it as a close.  We blindly dial, making dozens of calls every day, desperately trying to find deals.  If a prospect fogs a mirror, we immediately want to go to visit.

We waste too much time pursuing opportunities outside our sweet spots.  Wishful thinking, believing “this time, we will defy the odds, we will be more persuasive, more customer focused, better able to deal with objections,”  just doesn’t work.  If our solutions aren’t a great fit.  If we can’t consistently demonstrate and create superior value, then we are selling where we lose.

And we’re wasting our time and the customer’s time!  We’re distracted from investing time in customers where we can win.

So how do we do this?  How do we know we are selling where we lose?  How do we stop this?

First, we need to look at our win rates.  If we are focused on the right customers, we should have very high win rates  —  they should be at least 40%, probably higher.  So if your win rates are lower than that, something’s wrong.  It may be just bad selling, but when organizationally, systemically, we start to see win rates significantly lower than 40%  it may be a clue that we are spending too much time selling where we lose.

Do the analysis, look at your Wins/Loss’s.  Use this to help define you sweet spot and the things you do in your sales process that consistently cause you to win.  Make sure you understand what you do to win, how you do it, who you do it with.

Make sure your marketing and product marketing people are involved in this.  Leverage them to help understand and define your sweet spot.  Make sure it is well defined and that everyone understands it.

Think of it as a “picture” of your ideal sales opportunity.  This picture is a combination of the characteristics of the ideal prospect or customer and your sales process—the things you do in engaging the customer that cause you to win.  Both are critical in “selling where you win.”

In your prospecting, leverage this “picture.”  No one will match it 100%, but the better the match, the more likely you will be selling where you win.  Your selling process tells you the things you have to do to align with your customer’s buying process and maximize your ability to win.

What if you don’t identify enough deals to make your number?  This is where too many do the wrong thing–causing them to spend too much time selling where you lose.  They start relaxing their standards–they cast a wider net, rather than focusing on finding the ideal customer–they add prospects far outside their sweet spot.  Or they abandon their sales process, rather than doing the things they know they must do to win, they engage in a frenzy of unfocused activity.

In the end, they are just wasting time and getting into deeper trouble.

It takes understanding, analysis, and discipline to focus on selling where you win–not being distracted.  It takes courage, when you don’t have enough deals in your pipeline–choosing to search for the right deals, rather than chasing any deal.

But if you want to improve your results, if you want to maximize the return on the time you invest in chasing deals, focus on selling where you win!

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  1. Brian MacIver permalink

    This is the simplest, and most valuable piece of advice,
    which any Salesperson can be given:
    “Don’t Sell Where You Lose!”

    And, if it’s a “Duhh!” then why do I have to sit through so many Lost Business Reviews? Where, if they had qualified properly, then the ‘opportunity’ would have been qualified OUT!

    Make a new year’s resolution:

    Instead of qualifying all opportunities INTO your pipeline;
    start trying to qualify Losers OUT OF your pipeline as early as possible! Only back WINNERS.

    Great blog to start my 2014 thinking, Dave.

  2. Ron Garland permalink

    Excellent post, Dave. But I have a question…

    When we have determined that we have no better than a 50% chance of winning on the merits (i.e. We’re not the #1 solution and the other competitors are at least equal to our solution), how do we increase our odds of winning?

    • Ron, sorry for the slow reply. That’s a huge question. Andy offers some great insight, I’ll take it a little different direction. Actually, the greatest differentiation is the sales person and how we create value for the customer. CEB has great data showing the solution is basically table stakes. We have to have a great solution–but so do others. How we work with customers, the understanding of their business, problems, the insight and leadership we provide, how we help them manage their buying process, etc are the ultimate differentiators.

      Great issue Ron!

  3. Great post, Dave. I find that not thinking through the definition of the sweet spot and understanding the advantage of their product differentiation in that sweet spot is the biggest problem my small business clients face. I call these losers “dead ponies” as in “When the pony’s dead, the ride is over.”

    A possible answer to Ron’s question is, if you are competing with folks whose solution is at least equal, are you competing in your sweet spot where you can differentiate your offering and provide a superior solution, or are you just having trouble articulating that differentiation so that you are seen as superior to these competitors?

    • Ron Garland permalink

      Thanks, Andy. Actually, I’ve worked for companies that were the leader in their space and they were the easiest to places to succeed (even if they weren’t the most fun places to work).

      But I’ve also worked for companies who were just part of the pack and where there was no real leader in the space; just a number of relatively equal competitors. These were the more difficult places to succeed.

      In other words, it wasn’t a matter of selling where you lose but more a matter of “How do we win?”

      I would love anyone’s thoughts on selling in this environment.

      • Ron, I’ve worked for these middle of the pack companies in mature markets, too – and you’re right, it’s tougher than working for the market leader. On the other hand, I’m not convinced that the question is “how do we win?”

        I’d contend that there’s some reason that you’re winning where you do win – you are creating differentiation of some kind – and it’s probably not product differentiation. Figuring out the common factors in your wins might show you some kind of “sweet spot” that helps with qualifying what your best prospects look like, and helps you avoid selling where you are more likely to lose.

        Having said all that, I know there are commodity markets where price or some special relationship are driving the sale. Not good places to work for a salesperson.

    • Awesome comment Andy!

  4. Norman Roth permalink

    Great article David. Never stop writing waiting for another book of yours when are you going to write it?

    • Norman, you can almost hold your breath for Sales Executive Survival Guide. You’ll be one of the first to get a draft copy. Thanks for asking.

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