Rejection and Growth

I’m passionate about building efficient sales engines so excessive loss is something I avoid. But, learning always precedes growth. That means setting aside the old-school perception that sales is a numbers game (i.e., simply make more calls).

I remember preparing for my first sales interview and being coached by a friend who was a “successful” salesperson. He taught me to use a company database to get a call list, call 200 people a day, win a small number of meetings and then convert one into a customer. Then rinse and repeat.

Many people have achieved goals with this strategy and love to tell their stories about “smiling & dialing,” but this is far too much thankless – and inefficient – work. As VP of Business Development at ApplePie Capital and startup advisor, I coach my team and founders that we should always be in one of three states:

  1. Accessing customers,
  2. Engaging on the buying and adoption journey, or
  3. Collecting feedback to influence and improve the chance of a closed-win in the future.

In this post I want to dig into the third state, as it’s often underserved at the expense of focusing on growth.

Feedback is a Gift

Many of you reading this will relate to the fact that as you start acquiring customers and measuring your customer acquisition costs and conversion rates, you’ll notice that you lose a lot more than you win.  As a sales professional, you may have been taught to “work smart,” which loosely translates into selling where you know you can win and then recreating successes as a way to avoid losing a sale.

That safe approach can result in a narrow strategy for your company’s growth.

It’s the role of the salesperson – both as the face of the company and as the face of the customer – to accept accountability for representing both parties and this includes not just managing the customer buying journey that ends with a closed-win, but also includes understanding why customers don’t transact so you can avoid future losses.

It’s the role of the sales team to listen for “No” in all the shapes and sizes it comes in which is most often in the form of silence.  

I spend a considerable portion of each week in discovery with my sales team to understand their engagements with customers, how they found us, the language the customers use about their needs and about our solution. Ultimately, it’s about learning why they select and don’t select us in the presence of other options.

Some of this discovery converts into quick learnings about how we need to adjust our dialog with the clients to improve the delivery and acceptance of our value.  Other portions get shared with the product, operations or marketing team to enable them to extract the valuable information for their functions.  All feedback is collected, sorted into themes, quantified and used to support the constant cycle of iteration on the product, messaging and adoption experience.

Beware of Lazy Feedback

There is a nasty trap lurking out there set by customers that you think are doing you a favor by quickly telling you that you lost but would have won if you were cheaper and had more features. Once this happens, anyone and everyone who sounds similar gets lumped into the same bucket where they would have bought if you had the same feature or a lower price and this also happens. It becomes a very convenient bucket for a salesperson to place customers in and then shift the burden back on the product team to add all of these fancy new features while lowering price.

To work through this properly a team needs to get busy with closed-lost analyses to get to the root of the loss and what you could have done to win.

When you’re in the business of lending money there is no shortage of feedback from customers suggesting they’ll do business with you if your money is cheaper.  Over the past few months I’ve heard enough consistent feedback from our core target audience and our channel that we decided to respond and adjust pricing on certain products to gain market share.  By deciding to address the feedback we immediately fell into the lazy feedback trap and focused too narrowly on price.  Fortunately we have a disciplined approach at making changes and as we modeled the impact of the proposed change across factors critical to our business (investor returns, revenue growth, rate of growth and  lifetime value of the customer) it became clear the proposed changes, if left as is, would facilitate growth but it wouldn’t move a quickly as desired.  We were then able to focus on the less obvious but critical element which was accelerating the adoption process through our channels.   

Feedback loops need to become a part of the company DNA along with a healthy paranoia about what you don’t know.

A commitment to closing feedback loops yields deeper levels of engagement and far more interesting feedback that enables sales teams to spot and analyze trends that fuel healthy, growth-supporting discussions with marketing and product teams, and, together, make decisions on how to capitalize on them.