Here are the questions you should ask after you lose (or win) a deal, according to Harvard Business Review researchers

We’ve all read the dreaded “we’ve decided to go in another direction” email, sometimes for a deal we were sure was going to close. When that happens, we usually don’t dwell on the whys and hows. Similarly, once we’ve secured a deal, we don’t usually go back and parse out why it closed — because we’re great, obviously.

Lisa Earle McLeod and Ian Gross, who have years of experience leading and coaching sales teams, have noticed that a sales retrospective that analyzes the reasons behind a win or loss can really help a team’s future chance of success. In a recent Harvard Business Review article, they laid out their findings. And it doesn’t have to be a long, drawn-out process either — McLeod and Gross found that even 10 minutes can yield helpful results. 

Below are three questions McLeod and Gross developed for organizations and individuals to use in a sales retrospective, with a design to help the team understand what’s really driving customers’ choices. These questions work whether the team won or lost the deal. 

How would the customer articulate the value of their choice?

Ask how the customer would articulate the benefits of the product they chose, whether it was yours or your competitor’s. Think about how the product affects not just the department or team you were pitching to but the whole company — it can give you valuable information about how the client perceives your product. Whether you won or lost the deal, this information will be useful for your next pitch. There is a morale piece that goes along with these exercises, too. When you unpack wins rather than just focus on when something went wrong, it reminds everyone that the product they’re selling is a good one. 

Whose voice was the most influential?

Even if it’s not clear from the start who the key stakeholders are at a company, knowing who they are once you’ve won a deal helps you implement your solution most effectively. Knowing who they are once you’ve lost prepares you to address people in these kinds of positions earlier in the process next time. And keep your focus on what to do better next time, rather than pointing fingers at whom you may think lost you the deal.

Beyond price, what criteria did the client use to make their final decision?

When losing a deal, it’s tempting to jump to price as the main culprit. But this is rarely the whole story. Asking your team to go beyond pricing and delve into what makes their product sing helps contextualize it in the broader landscape and see how it stacks up against the competition. After all, when a client asks why they should buy your product, you don’t want your only answer to be that it’s the cheapest one available. 

You can even ask clients why they chose another company over yours, as long as you keep the ask value-neutral and don’t try to repitch your product in the process.

Don’t “Always Be Retrospecting”

It’s impossible to have a retrospective after every single deal, and it’s a bad idea to have them after particularly heated and disappointing losses with large clients. McLeod and Gross recommend at least one retrospective per account executive per quarter. And once these retrospectives become a habit, hopefully sales teams will do their own reflecting after a deal without the structure of a retrospective. 

Even going from no retrospectives to just a few is a big win for companies that want to distill what makes their product and teams successful. McLeod and Gross found that these retrospectives make account executives feel heard and both sales and marketing more effective.

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