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Every time we lose the sale we learn something. Sometimes we change how we approach projects and sometimes we agree to never pitch on certain projects ever again. There’s a part of losing the sale you need to become comfortable with. (Just because I’m writing this doesn’t mean I’m comfortable with losing sales. I HATE it! There’s nothing worse than losing, I’ll do anything in my power to not lose hence why I loathe answering RFPs, we’re not good at winning them.) As much as I say we’re getting more comfortable with losing, it doesn’t get easier.
Coaching Volleyball, playing Volleyball, playing golf, ping ping or Tennis I’m very competitive. I hate losing more than I like winning! (Bonus points if you know who said that first!) But I also hate being bad at something, hence why I’ll generally do anything to practice more and more so I don’t lose anymore. In a counterintuitive way, the more you fail early on at any endeavour, the more you’ll win in the long run. Or as Mr Gates once said; “Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose”.
You may think you can but you can’t. You may give someone a job because someone told you to, but if they aren’t qualified you’re going to lose in the long run. You may think you can force business your way, and you may be able to get away with it for a while. But eventually it’ll catch up to you.
In a week last year we had lost three major projects we were competing on. I felt terrible. I had put together the RFP, I had sent in the confirmation and I had lost all three pitches. Then out with friends that weekend I got to talking to a long time friend we’ll call Tandy. Tandy has been in business for himself for years now. I told him about how shitty I felt because of losing three of the last pitches we made. His response? Laughter.
That week he’d put out over 20 quotes and only expected to get back 10-20% of projects to start. WHAT THE FUCK?!? How the hell was my long time friend so comfortable with losing? Because in his mind he wasn’t losing.
The more proposals he wrote the better chance of landing that 10% of amazing customers that’ll help him grow his business. In one conversation I realized I was focusing on the wrong number! I doesn’t matter how many times people say NO! It’s much more important to keep trying for a yes! You can’t control when people will say YES but you can move the odds into your favour!
It’s okay not to work with someone. It’s okay to lose the sale. You can’t help everyone, when you lose a sale ask yourself, “are we really the best for the job” and if your answer is an honest yes, then you may need to dig a little deeper. If you know someone else was better for the project why shouldn’t they get the work?
I had a hard conversation with a creative friend who was moving out of the province a few years back. He cited his reason why it was so difficult to grow a creative business here (in Saskatchewan) was because of nepotism. I had no idea what the concept of “nepotism” was. Nepotism: a popular motive in business of giving your family or friends preference over someone else, generally by giving someone a job.
Giving someone a contract, job, work, or anything just because of the relationship is a poor way to make a business decision. I believe in the long run those companies create such a toxic culture that over time they dig their own grave. This is why we don’t have “one” person at StratLab that decides on new hires. This is why after three months after someone starting with us we have a vote so our people decide on who stays on the team, not one person. Having one person making all major decisions is a scary place to be.
Working with a car dealer years ago I remember asking how someone got a job in the marketing department, “oh the owner knows his Dad, that’s how he got the job.” Really? You just order someone to hire a family member of the owner? Do you think the manager of that department can treat that person the same as everyone else? It wasn’t fair at all. There was in-fighting, talking behind backs, threats of going to Uncle! That’s a horrible culture to work at within a company.
If you lose an RFP because someone on the board knew someone at a competitors company let it go. You’re going to spend a lot of time asking “why”, denouncing the system, balking at how organizations make decisions. These things don’t help you get better as a person or company. Focus on bettering what you do, focus on your art, focus on the customers that love you to death! (If you don’t have customers that love you to death than you haven’t tried hard enough yet.)
If you’re getting business in an unethical way it won’t last long. It may be lucrative, it may be extremely valuable for cashflow, but at what cost to the character of your business? There are somethings that aren’t worth any amount of money in business, your reputation is one of them.