May 27, 2019

Lesson of a lost deal

Kris Elliott

Years ago I remember attending a sales conference and listening to a presentation from an outside presenter.  While the intervening years have blurred my memory of much of that conference to the point where I could no longer tell you the presenters name, he said something that has stuck with me over the years.  I’m paraphrasing of course, but he posed a rhetorical question that amounted to: ‘Have you ever noticed that when sales people talk about past deals, the ones they lost were nearly always lost because of price, but the deals they won were nearly always won because of things like solution, value, and relationship…?’

I found myself reflecting on that question recently after receiving word that a customer had chosen to proceed with another vendor.  Unfortunately, the client is a little reticent about their decision and the opportunity for a debrief isn’t an option, nevertheless I find myself musing about what I could have done differently.  Realising that second guessing every ‘What if…?’, ‘But…’, or ‘Maybe…’ is a pathway to brooding rather than learning, I find myself considering the customer experience from their perspective.

Over the years I’ve read dozens of sales books that offer a wide range advice from The Challenger Sale‘s “Teach, Tailor, & Take Control” through to the SPIN approach of asking questions around Situation, Problem, Implication, Need-payoff. However, all these books are written as advice to salespeople from sale people and don’t truly get to the heart of what a potential client is looking for.  None of them posed the scenario the other way around and gave advice to buyers on what to look for from a solution sales engagement.  This got me thinking about how I would make the decision if I were in the customers position.  If I was a buyer, and for the sake of this exercise we assume that everyone I spoke to had a solution that could work for me and that their pricing was relative to the benefits received, what else would I look for…?

If I were in the market for a Business Process Reengineering or Automation solution, and knowing what I know from this side of the fence, here are three of the things I would look for beyond price and the solution itself:

A Customer Success Program

For years vendors have been trying to convey a desire to move past a transactional business relationship and form ‘Mutual Partnerships’.  For many companies this is a somewhat empty platitude borne out by the absence of contact until the final months of an expiring agreement.  But customer success is more than just a planned review schedule and a courtesy call every once in a while.  Customer Success is founded in a genuine investment in customer outcomings borne out of empathy and a measure of success that isn’t based entirely on a financial metric.

The company I’d choose to partner with would not just have systems and processes that determine the ongoing engagements and review cycles, but also measurable reporting around how both they and the solution(s) are performing against expectations.  They would have a growth or development plan that extends past the current engagement.  And they would certainly, and perhaps most importantly, maintain that program as a real-world benefit and not just some paragraphs buried in a proposal document.


In today’s connected world, buyers are more informed and educated than ever before.  As a result, there is an expectation that not only will vendors be able to articulate their solutions in high levels of detail, but also that those vendors will have more than a cursory understanding of the customers business and industry.  A smart vendor might have great knowledge in these two areas; however, a wise vendor can link those knowledge sets together and deliver true value.

Innovation is not just about having new ideas, it’s also about communicating those ideas and applying them to real world challenges.  As such, I’d want an advisor that can teach me something I can’t find with a few hours, a fast internet connection, and some key search terms.

Complexity can be daunting, but ‘dumbing it down’ is not the answer.  I’d want an advisor that can explain the complexity to me in such a way that makes it easier to understand rather than someone who simplifies the problem to the point of minimising the importance of the project.


Going into a procurement cycle for a BPA solution I imagine I would have several preconceived ideas about what it is that I wanted. Those requirements could be articulated into a supplier briefing, as many buyers do, and they would form the basis of my vendor engagements.  However, I would be suspicious of a vendor that simply said ‘Yes’ to everything I said I wanted.  To me, that would communicate a desire to sell me something rather than a desire to solve my problem.  I’d wanted someone to challenge my preconceptions, to question my base assumptions, and to test the validity of my scope.

As I write this, I’m reminded of a quote from an article I referenced in a recent blog which was that “RPA can’t fix bad processes – it just speeds them up”.  If I, as a buyer, came to vendor with my business process and said I wanted an RPA solution to automate it, I’d want that vendor to offer constructive feedback on my process and not just table a proposal.   If my process could be improved, then I’d want the vendor to say ‘no’ and challenge it.

Buyers are often seeking a Trusted Advisor in their vendor partnerships.  However, the emphasis is often placed on the first word of that title at the expense of the second word.  Afterall, the role of an advisor is to offer advice, not just agreement.

So, after all of this, the burning question is still why did I lose that deal…?  After all, UpFlow Solutions does tick all those boxes.  It’s has a robust Customer Success program, we innovate at the cutting edge of both technology and best practice development, and we don’t shy aware from the harder conversations that sometimes mean saying ‘No’.  The answer is likely the simplest one.  The reason I lost probably wasn’t due to a failing of UpFlow Solutions, a weakness in our solution, or even because of our pricing.  We lost because of me.  In my desire to convey why our solution was perfect for them, I treated them like a customer in a sales book.   As a result, they probably saw me as ‘just another salesman’ rather than as a potential trusted advisor.

A mistake I will not make again.

Kris Elliott
Solution Sales Executive

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