For many years I've preached the notion that, when selling, the next best thing to a 'yes' is a fast 'no'. Spending time on a sales opportunity you're not going to win is a waste of time. Thankfully some customers understand this, and will treat you respectfully, and will tell you early in the sales cycle if you're not in the race. But that does not happen most of the time, and that's when you need to qualify relentlessly.
I was reminded of this by a recent post How to lose by Seth Godin in his blog. I first met this now [in]famous marketing guru when we both spoke at a marketing conference in Ireland in 2000. Seth, on the back of his very successful Permission Marketing book, was espousing the core tenet of that book - using email marketing to turn strangers into friends and friends into customers, while I was arguing that an alternative approach might be one where you might delight your customer by understanding their business first, then provide solution that meets their needs, and in turn turning customers into friends.
Seth has always had a gift for short, sharp aphorisms that quickly get to the nub of the matter, and the post referenced here is no exception. Now, none of us like to lose, and I for one consider a sales loss to be my personal enemy, but learning to lose, and lose quickly is a tremendous asset, and really should only happen when you are working on an unqualified opportunity.
There are really only two reasons you should lose a deal; either you should not have been pursuing the business in the first place, or you were outsold. The first of these is down to qualification. If you have not done so already, you must define your qualification criteria, and apply them rigorously. Is there really an opportunity? Can you win? What unique business value can you provide that solves the customer's need more effectively than your competitor?
When budgets are tight - as they are in times like this - opportunities are sometimes hard to come by. When that happens you're tempted to chase anything that moves, succumb to demands for extortionate discounts, or throw in extra products for free. All this does is make it harder to make your number. You will need to do more deals to reach your quota, and as word gets around of the deals you are prepared to do you enter the death spiral.
This is why you need to qualify early. Identify those deals that you should win because you can really deliver value to the customer. But focus = defocus. To maximize the chance to have of getting those few selected deals over the line, you need to qualify out of other deals faster so that you can apply your resources where it matters, and where you will get the return.
And that's why early failure is better than late failure. It leaves more time for success.