One of my sons is a very good soccer player. He's competitive (like most lawyers), and hates to lose (like all lawyers).
When he does lose, I try to get him out of his post-game malaise by reminding him that, "We learn much more from our failures than we do from our successes."
What's true after an unsuccessful soccer game is equally true after an unsuccessful marketing pitch. There's much to be learned from the loss.
Gaining From Losing
Too often after not being selected, the "loser" wants distance from the experience. But you can gain a great deal of useful information (and continue to build an important prospective client relationship) by setting aside the instinct to hide and instead following up after an unsuccessful marketing pitch.
When I suggest such follow up to my clients, they're usually taken aback. Isn't follow up for prospects, not people who've said, "no," they wonder.
However, when they take my advice and make that call anyway, they learn a great deal. Among the lessons they've learned about why they weren't chosen as counsel:
- The entire RFP process was a sham. The "winner" had already been chosen.
- Their team was not diverse enough.
- They did not have the requisite expertise.
- They didn't seem like a "team."
- They were the first choice of the person running the process, but not the decision maker.
Following Up on Losses
How do you structure your follow up on these "losses" to learn valuable lessons for the future? Here's what I suggest:
- Make sure you have accepted their decision to hire someone else. Don't even consider contacting them if you are still upset about the decision.
- Begin the conversation by (sincerely) making it clear that you aren't trying to convince them to change their minds. This is an information-gathering and relationship-building conversation, not a sales pitch. If, during the course of the discussion, you discover they were mistaken about something (your expertise, your rates, your approach), this is not the time to correct their mis-impression. The opening conversation might go something like this:
"I have a favor to ask. I would like to get some feedback about my presentation and how I could improve it in the future. I accept your decision and promise not to try to change your mind. I would like your honest feedback about how I did."
Prepare a few open-ended questions you would like to ask. This conversation is awkward enough for both of you, don't come unprepared. For example, you might ask:
- End the conversation on an upbeat note, anticipating that this is not the end of your relationship. You might say something like, "I hope we have the opportunity to work together in the future. Would you be interested in receiving an invitation to our next firm seminar on litigation management?"
- Follow up. Follow up. Follow up. These people belong on your primary marketing list (unless you learned something in the process that disqualifies you or makes them an unattractive client). You have spent a lot of time educating them about who you are and what you do and they trust you (at least enough to consider hiring you). You are much further along with them than with someone you've yet to meet!
- What one thing could I do to most improve my presentation?
- In what ways did I not meet your needs?
The next time you don't win a pitch, don't go underground in shame. Use it as an opportunity to gather valuable marketing intelligence about how you are perceived in the marketplace and how you could do a better job of selling yourself. Look at it as another step in building a relationship with a prospective client. You won't regret it.