You lost a big deal you believed you should have won. In letting you down easy, your dream client explained that you were a very close second and that it came down to their being more comfortable with your competitor. They’ve already signed your competitor’s contract, and you are no left to pick up the pieces and move on.
You might decide to give up, knowing your competitor has a contract and believing your opportunity is gone. But if you want to win your dream client eventually, you need to follow up and persist.
Recognize the Clock Has Started
Given a long enough timeline, your dream client is going to remove your competitor. It might be very early in the relationship if your competitor doesn’t deliver, or it may be some time in the future when they grow complacent, apathetic, or feel a sense of entitlement that damages the relationship or results. You might also have an opportunity when the person who drove the decision to choose your competitor has moved on, replaced by someone hired to make a change.
It might be months, or it might be years, but your prospective client will change partners again in the future. The clock has started, and the countdown has already begun. You don’t control when your dream client decides to explore change, but you do control what you do in the interim.
You have an opportunity to begin your process of winning the next contest by following up, by creating value, and by positioning yourself as the right partner on the next go around.
Early, Professional Communication
Maybe the worst thing you might do is to wait two years and six months into what you believe to be a three-year contract before you start positioning yourself for the next contest. Ignoring the contacts isn’t going to generate a desire to work with you. You want to start your communication immediately after you discover you lost.
No sour grapes. No expressing your disappointment. Don’t project weakness. Instead, communicate with the confidence you will do better on your next try. Start by thanking the contacts for allowing you to participate in their search for a solution and a partner and let them know that should they have any challenges, you are waiting in the wings.
Let your potential client know you are going to follow up with them, and that you will continue to share your best ideas and insights with them. Also, let them know you will do better next time.
It might help you think of what we do in sales, especially when winning requires a competitive displacement (i.e., eating your competitor’s lunch). Every day you call on prospective clients who are under contract with your competition. Why on earth would the fact that you lost a big deal to a competitor prevent you from continuing to pursue their business?
Start Your Displacement Campaign
Your campaign to displace your competitor starts when you begin taking action towards that end. You might start by calling at the ninety-day mark to make sure your future client is achieving the outcomes that caused them to choose a new partner. Ninety-days is long enough to verify if your competitor was able to stand up their solution and begin executing.
On occasion, you will be lucky enough to have a competitor who struggles to implement and execute, creating an opening for another conversation. Sometimes the honeymoon period doesn’t last very long.
With three or four communications from your nurture toolkit between ninety days and one hundred eighty days, you can follow up with calls to the stakeholders you met when you were competing for their business to ensure they don’t need your help. You should expect your contacts to tell you things are going well, even if they are not happy. Having just decided to change partners, solutions, or both, they will reticent to go through the process again.
With monthly communications and regular calls, you stay top of mind. If you are using a modern sales approach, an insight selling strategy, you provide meaningful communication over time, proving you have ideas as to how to produce better results—and demonstrating that you still want to be their partner.
Nurture Important Relationships
You know how you call contacts in your dream client accounts and ask them for meetings even though they already work with your competitor? You know how later on, when there is a contest, having wired the building by nurturing those clients ends up being crucial to understanding their needs and gaining their livelihood? All of that is as true now as it was when you first called your dream client.
The decision you have to make is whether or not you are going to nurture the relationships you need and capture mindshare, the very heart of consultative sales. You also have to commit to creating a preference to work with you, instead of waiting until you receive a request for a proposal, having done nothing to improve your chances of winning big deals.
If you want a competitive advantage, you much do the work create it yourself. As it pertains to winning deals, there is no benefit of being passive, reactive, and waiting until your dream client starts their process. You improve your chances of winning through the work you do between contests, including leveraging your nurture tools and building trust.
Ask for Opportunities
In many businesses, a contract doesn’t preclude the client from giving projects or orders to a competitor if they are not getting what they want—or what they need—from their provider. As you nurture relationships, asking for opportunities to help them with small projects or orders, your competitor struggles to deliver can lay the groundwork for your displacing your competitor.
Any work you do shifts your position from unapproved to something like a vendor, a supplier, or a provider. A small contract is still a contract, and once you are in your dream client’s system, it’s easier to acquire additional projects or orders.
Think of your follow up after losing a big deal as the beginning of the campaign to win it in the future. In competitive B2B sales, start that campaign and your communication plan to ensure you can persist over time, nurturing the relationships you need, and positioning yourself to win the next round.
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