30 Reasons Why B2B Customers Didn’t Buy + X to the Nth Permutations

It can get a bit old hearing B2B sales reps discuss why customers bought or didn’t buy. I’m speaking about outsourced services in general, where sales reps compete for large contracts bid every few years. Where customers are inured to the bunkum of “smoke and mirror” proposals and dog their way through short-list “dog and pony” presentations.

When the sale doesn’t go through there are, according to typical sales rep feedback, three likely reasons why it didn’t, such as:

  • Customer never intended to change (surprise, it was only a SOX exercise)
  • Competitor bought the business (their pricing wasn’t a race to the bottom, it was a swan dive from the high platform into an empty pool)
  • Unrealistic contract specifications (delivering those specs would cost a gazillion dollars – a day)

However, those contract decisions are rarely, if ever, made because of a single reason. But we as sales reps simplify complexity into easy sound bites. When an opportunity dies in the RFP stage, who wants to dig down into the awful truth? We move on to the next optimistic pipeline future.

But wouldn’t it be refreshing to have, if not a doctoral post mortem, at least a freshman level discussion about why the deal went south? One that would add a little bit of reality to the fact that there were likely multiple reasons why we didn’t win. Who knows, it may even help our next opportunity.

To that end, here are a list of potential reasons why B2B sales reps missed out on that last contract decision. Of course there are more reasons than these, and if it were possible to create an exhaustive list, the number of permutations would be extremely high. Thus the “plus X to the Nth Permutations” in the title.

While I’ll not let “exhaustive list” get in the way of “something to work with,” here are 30 reasons why you didn’t win, and they can be combined with others to make up a multiple losing cause. They’re grouped in categories for sanity’s sake, because doesn’t everyone hate an ungrouped list?

Evaluation Team

Decision Makers on the Evaluation Team

We, as sales reps, lost this opportunity because we didn’t know:

1) Who was on the eval team, their names & titles

2) Who they reported to

3) What their role on the team was; gatekeeper, end-user, final authority?

4) What their individual goals were; pet projects, ambitiously climbing, tenaciously holding on, waiting till retirement, etc.

5) What personal power they have individually, who had more relative to others, who was dominant, persuasive, or acquiescent?

6) What were their political alliances/allegiances with higher ups and/or the C-suite

7) Their past experience with our firm; Any skeletons in our closet from past offerings, and/or with our key execs?

8) Their dominant personal feelings about us individually; are they our Evangelist, Friend, non-caring Stranger, or Foe ?

Department Info

Customer’s Departmental Situation

We, as sales reps, didn’t know our customer department’s:

9) Biggest pain, the first thing on their radar screen

10) Historical train wreck, which their organization blamed them for, rightly or wrongly

11) Resolution of that train wreck; did they regain their reputation or are they still in the doghouse?

12) Group emotional state; energetically building, holding on, retrenching, or bracing for RIFs

13) Strategic initiatives coming up or in progress

14) Reporting structure; where does the department report to & whom? Always this way, or changed since when? Why?

15) Relationship with Procurement; who has the power of final decision? What’s the temperature with procurement; helpful, supportive, adversarial?

Business Situation

Business Situation

We, as sales reps, didn’t know our customer’s business situation and how those upstream factors influenced the downstream contract decision. We didn’t take into account our customer’s:

16) Stock price: rising / falling / flat

17) Profits, earnings & dividends: rising / falling / flat

18) Analysts ratings adjustments: buy / hold / sell

19) Aggressive threats from new/old competitors

20) PR train wrecks

21) Catastrophic lawsuits

22) Significant governmental issues / regulatory non-compliance

23) Publicly announced strategic initiatives

24) 10k guidance, e.g. how they describe themselves: rising / stagnant / falling

25) Social media temperature: hot (good or bad) / tepid / cold (good or bad)



We, as sales reps, looked at our competitors with jaundiced eyes knowing their real character – and didn’t understand that customers look at them differently. We didn’t:

26) Find out who all our competitors were

27) Know how competitors were branding themselves in the marketplace: what position they were claiming

28) Assess their strengths as customers would see them

29) Identify their weaknesses as customers would be aware of them

30) Figure out where our strengths would point out competitors’ weaknesses

At the End of the Ride

Those are 30 off the top. Must be many more. What’s missing from this list?

Questions or Ideas?

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