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How to turn your setbacks into a strategy for success

February 7, 2018

Selling involves continuous rejection. It’s what you do when you don’t close a sale that can determine how successful you will be.

Bart Shachnow

Sales Performance Director

As Sales Performance Director, Bart, with the help of his team, develops and delivers a broad range... About this expert

Broker tip turn failure into success


Let’s face it, selling is extremely difficult. That’s why top producers earn big bucks. Plenty of people have the technical expertise to become a good salesperson, but that’s only part of the equation. Sales requires intestinal fortitude and the ability to persevere in an environment in which failure is much more common than success.

Some salespeople view their failure to close a deal as a reflection of some inner fault or shortcoming. This can be true not only for new salespeople but also for veteran sales professionals who hit an occasional downturn in their productivity. However, anybody who takes failure personally would benefit from a change in attitude.

Adopting a different perspective: Change your perception that not closing a sale is automatically a failure. Quite the contrary. Insights and information gained as a result of not winning a piece of business make you better and more prepared for the next opportunity.

A salesperson has only failed if he/she did not learn anything or did not get better and stronger from the experience. Approached this way, a failure can be viewed as a “deferred win” in that you will be more effective, resilient and enjoy a higher probability of success the next time around. 

An unexpected teacher: One of the best ways to get critical insights and information on a lost sale is to engage with customers who decided to do business with your competitor.

How should you approach them? Through a simple two-step process.

First, thank the customer for the opportunity you were given.

Second, ask the customer if he or she would be willing to discuss how the final decision was made. If the customer is reluctant or asks why you want this information, be honest: Explain that you want to be in a better position to win his/her (or similar) business in the future.

You might ask questions like these:

  • What were the critical factors that ultimately led you to choose our competitor?
  • Who was involved in the decision-making process?
  • How important was price in the final decision?
  • How important was service, product features, technical support, etc.
  • What were the strengths of the proposal you gave? What were the weaknesses?
  • What would you, the buyer, like to see from us in the future to put us in a better position to win your business the next time around?

Most reasonable people will respect you for asking. If they decline to engage in this discussion, thank them for the opportunity (a thank you note might work as well).

Finally, people often ask me the best way to conduct this type of post-sale debriefing. My immediate response: in whatever manner the buyer feels most comfortable. Ideally, the best way for you to get this information is through an in-person meeting. The next best approach is a phone conversation. An email would be last on the list. However, you have to let the customer decide.

Bottom line: Acknowledge and be comfortable with the reality that no one bats 1,000 in the world of selling. Successful salespeople convert losses into gains by securing valuable information that will make them more effective when the next opportunity rolls around.