How to Stop Making Excuses for Lost Deals

By Heather Baldwin

Want to know how a prospective hire – or any of the reps on your team – are going to perform in the future? You don’t need a crystal ball. You only need to ask one question: “Tell me about the last sale you lost. What happened?”

Steve Gaffney, president of the Steven Gaffney Company, and Colleen Francis, president of Engage Selling Solutions, often use this question to evaluate talent on a sales team. What they’ve found is that reps who make excuses – “It was shipping’s fault” – are destined for failure, while reps who take ownership of the loss – “I should have qualified the lead better” – are destined for greatness. “Our accuracy at determining successful versus unsuccessful reps is 95 percent with this one question,” say Gaffney and Francis.

Sure, bad things happen, and they happen to even the best reps and managers. But how a person responds to and deals with these events plays a major role in whether or not that person is successful. Here’s the best news: You can train yourself to be a person who takes responsibility and ownership for your actions by doing three exercises every day. Gaffney and Francis outline the exercises in their book, Honesty Sells: How to Make More Money and Increase Business Profits. Here’s a look at each one:

  1. You are who you hang out with. You’ve heard the old saying, “You are what you eat,” right? In the same way that your health is forged by the food you ingest, your character is molded by the people with whom you associate frequently. So associate only with people who are positive, energetic, who take responsibility, and who are looking for solutions rather than scapegoats. You can choose with whom you spend your time, so choose wisely, say Gaffney and Francis. Stop spending time with people who bring you down and complain a lot, and instead seek out winners. You’ll be amazed at the turnaround this one change can make in your life and in your sales results.
  2. Laugh, learn, and take responsibility. Even the best salespeople have lost more business than they’ve won. While the lowest performers whine, blame, and complain about those losses, the top 10 percent remain optimistic and, most importantly, channel their energy into learning why they lost. Then they move on, using the lessons learned to improve future sales. Next time you lose a sale, make a conscious effort to look at the reasons behind the loss from the perspective of what you could have done differently. If you catch yourself, say, blaming the legal department for derailing the sale with its slow response, turn it around and ask yourself, how can I improve my relationship and coordination efforts with legal to move things through more quickly in the future? You’ll feel more empowered – and your results will show it.
  3. A goal a day . . . Train your mind for success by setting a small but achievable goal for yourself every day. Make a list. Write down each goal and cross it off when you’ve achieved it. “Before too long you’ll have a pattern of successful achievement that will help you develop a pattern of positive thinking,” say Gaffney and Francis.

Taking ownership of your behavior and assumptions – or helping your reps learn to take ownership of theirs – can certainly be tough. But if you can master it, you’ll have an unshakable foundation for long-term success.