The meaning of Onward (adjective) is to go further, rather than coming to a halt and it’s a good metaphor for advancing with a prospect through their buying process.

In selling, every deliberate interaction with a prospect should produce an advance, or move the opportunity onward.

But with 50% of salespeople failing to make their quota in 2013, it is clear that there is something not right with he general approach to meetings with prospects.

Ask any seasoned sales manager and you will hear them say – “The best outcome from any interaction with a prospect is a Yes and we move onward, the next best answer is a quick No, but don’t bring any maybe’s back to the office.”

There is limited time and you can’t afford to climb up the wrong trees. When it comes to sales, either someone is an opportunity for you or if they are not, they are an opportunity cost.

There is no way in the world that your offerings will be perfect for ALL the prospects in the world. If that were the case, there would be no room for competition in any business. 

The golden rule to remember is:

Sometimes you win; sometimes you learn. And, a “maybe” is generally a waste of time.

There are three things you can do when you lose an opportunity to a competitor or when prospect’s needs change and your solution is no longer required:

1. No is far better than a Maybe

Paradoxically, a NO is actually an opportunity to move onward toward your goal of reaching quota.
Too many salespeople, seasoned hands included, are willing to take a maybe from prospects. Instead of asking the hard questions and risking a no, they prefer to take a maybe and hope everything will work out.

There is no forward movement with a maybe, in fact this is a backward move because you are potentially wasting precious time and resources on an opportunity that will not close

Sales managers are familiar with the pattern. Big deals sit in the forecast and despite a LOT of activity do not advance to closure. Then one day the sales manager goes on a call with the sales representative to find out that there is no opportunity.

Be honest with yourself.  Ask the hard questions of the prospect and accept the “No” gracefully. 

Honestly, any other reaction has no upside but potentially large downside. 

A lost opportunity is painful, but not as painful as being fired for not making your number.  In addition a lost opportunity now does not mean that ALL opportunities in the future with the prospect are LOST forever. Bashing your competition or trying to prove to the buyer that they made a wrong choice won’t get you anywhere either, except convincing the buyer that they DID make a good choice by NOT buying from you.

2. You can’t lose what you do not have

In sales meetings I have heard salespeople talking about losing deals. 

Well, you can get outsold – and learn, you can lose-out to the status quo of no decision, or you can lose a customer who chooses to switch to a competitor.

But you cannot lose what you don’t have. All salespeople have is opportunities

The only way to lose a deal is if you win the opportunity, the deal gets signed and after the signature it then gets unwound – and this seldom happens.

There are opportunities to pursue and there are those that are best forgotten the moment you determine that your time is best spent an alternate ones.

Part of the skill in selling that is developed over time is pattern recognition; i.e. in knowing when to pursue and opportunity and when to qualify out. Being able to read the signals or lack of them from buyers is what I’m talking about… not B-A-N-T.

3. Share Your Learning With Your Team

Another paradox in selling is that the lessons come from the No’s, and lost opportunities, not the competitive wins.

When you get a NO, you can ask for feedback for the purpose of learning what went wrong with your approach. It is important to learn the REAL reasons so that you are able to learn and adapt in your future engagements.

You should be looking for feedback for your learning and not as a ploy to use the feedback session to convince them to change their mind.

If you don’t learn about the REAL lessons, you really didn’t get any EXPERIENCE from this entire exercise.

It is extremely important to share lessons learned with your team. Here are a few reasons for that:  

  1. It’s the right thing to do because you and your team should not learn all the lessons by individually making mistakes and blunders. By learning from each other’s mistakes, the entire team goes to the next level.
  2. You learn when you share. It will force you to reflect on things and organize your thoughts during the process of your preparation to share. Do this a few times and you will notice that whether your team learned anything or not, you will be a better person for having taught them.
  3. It’s good for your self-esteem and self-confidence. You require a certain level of self-esteem and self-confidence to share anything about your failures. Sharing will helps you to strengthen both the above. 

You have accepted gracefully, learned the REAL reasons and shared lessons with your team.

The next thing left is to focus on the keyword: Onward.  You are ready to take on the new adventure and can move forward to chasing the next set of opportunities at hand.

By investing in learning at every available opportunity (both during a success and a failure) you will move forward more powerfully compared to those that skip the learning and rush to the next item on their checklist. 

Other Posts in this series 

A is for Alignment (title changed on blog) 
B is for Bonding
C is for Confidence
D is for Detachment
E is for Excellence in Small Things 
F is for Follow Up (On Huffington Post)
G is for Grateful
H is for Hunger to Succeed
I is for Intent to Serve 
J is for Judgment (On Huffington Post)
K is for Knowledgeable
L is for Likeable
M is for Margin
N is for Nurturing (On Huffington Post)
O is for Onward
P is for Please
Q is for Questions (On Huffington Post)
R is for Resourcefulness (On Huffington Post)
S is for Storytelling
T is for Teaching

U is for Upbeat

V is for Velocity

W is for Word of Mouth

X is for X-Ray Vision

Y is for YourStory

Z is for Zeal

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