A colleague once told me "you're doing something wrong if you're not getting rejections".
I've pondered that statement over the years, and what it means. Does it mean you are being too desperate and making yourself too accessible? Does it mean you aren't being as selective as you should be, or aren't telling the clients the truth they may not want to hear? Does it mean you are compromising your standards and going after work that is below your pay grade?
When Losing Hurts.
As the person responsible for writing proposals and responding to potential client requests at Fastspot, I feel each rejection personally. In most cases however, when I take a step back from the sting, I can usually say it was probably for the best. Generally we are seeing red flags along the way, which are telling us this isn't a match made in heaven, and those are the situations where inevitably we end up not getting the gig. However, even telling yourself it was for the best doesn't dull all the pain. And of course there are the few that you really really want and don't get - those leave lasting scars.
The occasional loss isn't nearly as bad as the sequential ones.
As rejections happen, in sequence, they can cause you to question your core, and doubt your capabilities or your presentation of those capabilities. Often times those rejections can result in positive changes being made - like revamping your proposals or presentation style, examining your pitch team, closely scrutinizing which projects you're going after.
I prefer to turn down a prospect if I think they will be a bad fit for us, and when I don't, I usually always come away licking my wounds after the inevitable rejection. It's fruitless to go after work you don't feel passionate about, but the honest truth is that not every job that comes across our plates is our dream job. And depending on how busy we are, and how many paychecks have to be paid, it's not too hard to start chasing every car that drives down the road. So what I'm saying is it's a balancing act. In a perfect world you only go after jobs you are totally passionate about and perfectly suited to, and at no point during the process do you get any red flags, and you all love each other and you get the job. That just doesn't happen every time.
Will We Make the Playoffs?
In terms of how I calculate my success, it's not nearly as formulaic as Joe's. I don't keep a tally, or prepare a report. (This post is written in part as a response to Joe Rinaldi from Happy Cog's recent post on Cognition - which you can read here.)
I do think there's another number Joe and others in sales should pay attention to as well - inbound inquiries that you don't pursue.
Much like a college evaluating its selectivity ranking - the numbers of inquiries you don't go after (and who they are coming from) says a lot about how well you are reaching your target audiences and how selective you get to be in choosing who you ultimately work with.
Recruiting From Winners.
I just interviewed a potential addition to our team last night, and his main reason for wanting to leave where he is currently (a very reputable company in the web industry), is that he feels the company is putting volume and dollars over quality. They, in their pursuit of growth and expansion, will go after every opportunity that comes their way, with any tactics possible - over promising, underbidding, and ultimately throwing the mess to the team to clean up and deal with. This kind of approach is the best way I know for a company to lose good people - so thank you "company who will remain unnamed".
If You Can't Win, Don't Play.
Back to how I look at the whole win / lose thing. I try to mitigate our losses from the get go by managing invested time / money into prospects, and also avoid any long shots or things I know are really far fetched. I often ask how many agencies a RFP is being sent out to - if they are sending it out to anyone who asks, or more than say 10 firms, it's a red flag. We don't take weeks responding to ridiculous RFPs that want a traveling circus to come perform as part of the pitch process. We NEVER do spec work, EVER. We don't send huge teams across the country to pitch (and sometimes even suggest virtual pitches if the client is extremely remote). We try to show the client just enough for them to see what they would be getting if they worked with Fastspot. After that, if they aren't ready to select us, I try to move on.
You never want to be the one trying to convince someone to go on a date with you - it never ends well.
Taking this stance is extremely hard when work is sparse and people are mumbling about all the free time they have. Luckily we haven't seen days like that since 2009 when the recession's ripple effects rolled in. But we have had bouts of "no thanks", and it's scary when it happens. I can't say it's been useless though - as that scary reality of failure and rejection has always inspired us to take a close look at our process for going after new business, and try to make it better and better. And more importantly it forces me to be very selective about the business I go after for Fastspot. Finding the right clients is more important than many companies realize. Working with bad clients can poison your whole shop, and make everyone's lives miserable. I try to avoid those situations at all costs and I have a fairly long check list of things I look for that tell me to run the other way (for a future post I promise!).
The Score Card.
To answer Joe's question about how 2013 is going, we are seeing a major positive change regarding inbound leads compared to this same time last year. Probably a three fold increase. I attribute this to a continuing awareness that the web is a critical role in most marketing and communication strategies, every website reaches a retirement age, a lightening of the economic mood across the country, as well as the benefit of being in the business for a long time. The return business from past clients is a welcome addition to new prospects.
More important than the inquiry numbers being up, is the inquiry type being more appropriate.
I'm still saying no to plenty of prospective work - but I'm not saying "no" because it's Larry the Landscaper calling who needs a new site for his family business (sorry Larry, we aren't the best fit for you). This tells me that our reputation, brand, exposure and marketing efforts are reaching the right kinds of clients. And while it's harder to take a pass on work that falls much closer into your target zones, it allows me to be much more selective and only pursue the ones I do think we have business going after. It also allows me to avoid those nightmare RFPs or processes that can suck up so much time, energy and money and focus on the ones who are reaching out to us as people, and initiating that conversation in a human and reasonable manner from the beginning.
If You Never Lose, Winning Aint So Sweet.
Trust me, if I could go back in time over the past three months I would have probably said "no thank you" to the last three that we lost - and thankfully there's only one loss I'm still simmering over, but it's the nature of the business. If you aren't losing some, you are probably doing something wrong. After all, everybody loses at some point (except the 1972 Miami Dolphins). Your losses can teach you a lot about things you might be doing wrong, little adjustments you can make to be better, and they remind you to savor the victories - you never want to take winning for granted.
My thanks and gratitude is extended to Joe Rinaldi for sharing his thoughts and transparency on Cognition - Happy Cog makes the world a better place for us all.