Recently, the Australian government announced their decision to award a $38.5B contract to France's DNCS to build new submarines. The French team bested ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems of Germany and a consortium led by Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI). In a statement explaining the high profile loss, the CEO of MHI said,
"…we clearly have to tell our story better."
Like people in other fields, politics for instance, business people too have a jargon that serves as shorthand - a way to gloss over critical news - particularly bad news. And, just as in politics, this simplified business-speak formulation tends to suppress critical thinking. Nowhere is this more common, or more toxic, than what business people and leaders say to excuse losing.
For example, if you strip away the ‘business-speak jargon’, what the MHI quote really says is,
The customer failed to comprehend our great solution. If he had, we would have won. We need to figure out how to explain ourselves in a way that even THIS kind (stupid) of customer will be able to understand.
A statement such as this would trigger some serious scrutiny as to how the company interacts with the customer, the sales process, and the leadership team behind it.
Our experience tells us a more accurate self assessment after a loss of this magnitude should read more like this,
We failed to understand the most pressing priorities that drove the decision and therefore failed to offer what this customer really needed. We owe our customer, our employees, our suppliers, and our shareholders an apology. Next time we will engage more thoroughly, listen more intelligently, and utilize the wide array of talent we have to devise and present a solution that best serves our customer needs.
We've heard, "We have to tell our story better." many times - always by losers and never by winners - in large complex sales campaigns. What such talk reveals about how a company approaches strategically important pursuits is not good. It nearly always blames somebody else, often – incredibly – the customer, for a loss.
A recent Inc. article by Matt Matyszczyk, "8 Common, Pointless Phrases That Make You Sound Horribly Unprofessional" inspired my business partner, Steve Krause, and me to recall other phrases we've heard from the losing side of large complex sales pursuits (economic development initiatives, software sales, medical sales, large equipment sales, infrastructure projects, service contracts, etc...). So, in the same manner Mr. Matyszczyk succinctly outlined his eight common pointless phrases, here are our nine phrases said by large complex sales losers, beginning with the submarine case:
1."We have to tell our story better."
A polite way to say the customer was too stupid to understand why our solution was the best.
2.“We continue to believe that our offering represents the best solution and that the selection process was fundamentally and irreparably flawed.”
A way to blame the loss on the customer - politely ghosting that 'they cheated us out of winning'. This one really endears yourself to the customer.
3.“The decision, though regrettable, is in no way a reflection on our ability to provide great solutions to our customers.”
.... just not this time.
4.“Given the terms for this deal it is probably best we didn’t win this contract.”
Of course we knew the terms throughout the duration of this competition but that is irrelevant - right? I wonder how that statement would have read if they had won?
5.“Clearly the other guys bought the contract (by pricing it at a loss).”
A go-to-favorite because no one can disprove this.
6.“We won on technical but lost on price.”
In-other-words, we lost.
7.“It wasn’t really a competition - they were going to reward it to the other guys all along.”
Of course this does not explain why you would expend the resources you did if you knew this to be true ‘all along’.
8.“We put up a good fight. Every member of our team should feel good about how close we came to winning this."
This is usually followed a month later by, "now I regretfully have to announce how many of you in the factory (who had nothing to do with how we, the leadership team, chose to prosecute this competition) will be losing their jobs as a result of this devastating loss".
9.“We knew it would be an uphill battle for us to unseat the incumbent.”
Yet we entered the competition anyway ... and had no real strategy in place to compel the customer to change.
If these sound familiar, we would encourage you to explore what changes you might make that will transform how your team interacts with your prospects and customers and its direct link to your win-rate. The next time you hear such talk we hope it will be the sound of your competitors’ voices you overhear in the airport lounge as you make your way to your team’s victory party.