A Loss Should Set Up Your Next Win

By Mo Bunnell

What's On My Mind

"I can't believe YOU were scared."

This is what one of my participants said this week as I was giving a workshop called Closing The Book On Closing The Deal.

​I think she felt relieved that I can find myself hesitating too, and I teach this stuff.

​I was telling a story where I asked for a debrief call with a prospect where we didn't win the work.

​Even the best of the best don't win them all. Us included.

​So what should you do when you lose?

A loss should set up your next win.


​When you lose, it's an extremely unique time to:

  • Show the client you care about the long term relationship, not just the deal.
  • Display that you're open to feedback, always striving to improve.
  • Have the client open up and share their future priorities so you can follow up in a meaningful way.

​The best part?

The ROI on your time is immense.

These calls rarely take more than 15 minutes.

​And, you intensely bond with the decision maker.

​(Science: showing your vulnerability and desire to improve is highly connective.)

​Here's what to say to get the call:

​"Hey, we're really disappointed we didn't win this. I'd really appreciate a 15-minute debrief call so we can learn from this and better serve you going forward. "

​You don't have to overthink it. People take these calls nearly 100% of the time.

​Here's the perfect structure for the debrief call:​

  1. Show Thankfulness: Thank the person for taking the call. Remind them you're in this for the long-haul, want to be helpful, and want to learn how to serve them going forward.

    REASON: They're feeling as awkward as you are. You want to start the call with a warm and thankful tone.
  2. Ask who won: So, can you share who won and why?

    REASON: Why not ask? You want to learn from this answer. Most people will share who won. Even if they don't, they'll share some specifics: "we went with a boutique on this one because we felt like we'd get better service." Just learning what mattered in the decision-making process is highly valuable.
  3. Ask for feedforward: Thank you. Please give us some candid and clear feedback so we can learn and best serve you in the future. Next time we pitch work like this, what's one thing we should change and one thing we should do again?

    REASON: You want to frame the "feedback" in the future because people are more willing to share the honest truth this way. It's called feedforward. Also notice the specificity of the question, clearly asking for one thing to change and one thing to keep. Make sure they give you at least one thing for each. This is really valuable for you and a bonding moment for you both. It sets up a future Yes if you follow the advice. 
  4. Pivot to the future: Thank you. I'd love to continue to be helpful to you going forward, even if it doesn't involve short-term commercial success. What are your biggest priorities going forward that I can proactively follow up on?

    REASON: You don't want to end the call after debriefing. The point is to try to find follow ups, to continue to be helpful. This question provides closure to the past, pivots to the future, and let's you be curious and think through potential follow ups.
  5. Thank them again, recap learnings and replay next steps: Thanks again for taking this quick call. I can't thank you enough. It showed me ____. As a next step, I'll _____.

    REASON: The thankfulness reiterates that you're in this for the relationship, not the transaction. And everyone likes finishing with next steps. Your next steps might be immediate, like sending a thought piece about one of their priorities. Or it might be an "if this than that" like "next time we have a webinar on that topic you mentioned, I'll be sure to let you know." Either way, you're looking to commit to some kind of follow up to show your commitment to the relationship.

This process is foolproof.

In the small chance someone doesn't agree to the call, you win. You learned the organization doesn't care about the relationship. Good to know, and you can decide if you want to work with them in the future.

​But in the very likely chance they'll have the call, you'll get immensely valuable information, deepen the relationship and gain agreement on important follow ups in the future.

​So, why did the senior partner say "I can't believe YOU were scared" in our workshop this week?

I had just told a story about how nervous I was making one of these calls.

Hey, none of us are excited about asking for a special call to elaborate on why we are a loser. 😉

​You really have to really swallow your pride. It's tough.

​But here's the outcome.

​These calls have tremendous value.

​That organization I called?

They became one of our best clients within a year.

All because I followed the steps above.

Use a loss to create your next win.

What We Just Created

I just LOVED Ozan Varol's book, Think Like A Rocket Scientist. He and I have the same publisher and even the same book marketing team. So cool.

​We taped several amazing podcast interviews together, mashing up The Snowball System with his Rocket Scientist thinking.

​My favorite episode we recorded is a power packed 13-minutes.

​Check it out here.

​(By the way, can you believe we're already 30 episodes into Season 2? People are really liking the shorter episodes!)

What's Worth Lingering On

I was working with some senior partners of a consulting firm a few months ago.

​One senior leader was lamenting after they put 100s of hours into a proposal he really wanted to win, but found out they last just just two weeks before.

He was still down about it.

I asked him how the debrief call went.

​He said: We didn't ask for one.

What a missed opportunity.

​(Luckily he loved the model above and asked for a debrief call that day. It was a game changer.)


How does your organization handle losses?

Are losses a dead end?

Or do they set up your next win?