The Four Stages of Grief a.k.a. Losing A Project

Giddy with Possibilities

You were so excited when the client called you with a shiny, new project! You just knew your studio was the perfect fit…

You jumped into the conversation with reckless abandon. You and your studio’s team came up with some amazing ideas…

You wrote a proposal. The client asked you to sharpen your pencil. You did. And then you did again. Ok, the filename Proposal_v5.doc clearly shows you revised it four times…

You even went back to your original ideas and came up with a few more. The client was excited. They thanked you profusely…

Then the client suddenly sends you an email out of the blue:

“We’ve decided to go in a different direction.”

Oh $#!+

In that moment you realized – for the first time – that the client had been talking with several of your competitors. The whole time. You assumed otherwise.

Shame on them. They should have told you the project was being put out to bid.

Shame on you. You should know better than to assume.

Be that as it may, you’re running a business and sales is its lifeblood. Over the next few days, you will no doubt experience a range of emotions.. which follow a pattern that is sadly all too familiar.

The Four Stages of Grief

1. Shock

“What? How? No! This can’t be happening.” It’s normal for your first feeling to be one of shock. You didn’t see this coming. After all, you did everything right. Right?

2. Anger

Next, you wonder if you were abused. You start to feel anger. The client took advantage of you and got a lot of free thinking, ideas and value… for free.

Were you abused? Perhaps. You ask yourself why you let that happen. And decide you won’t be fooled again.

3. Resignation

Next, you feel a sense of hopelessness. “I knew we weren’t going to win that stupid project,” you tell yourself. This feeling of resignation is your coping mechanism kicking in.

After all, if you can convince yourself the project was never yours to win anyways – and you really don’t like that client much after all – you don’t want their business.

4. Resolve

In the last stage of grief, you gain clarity, make decisions, and feel empowered. This fourth feeling – resolve – sets you on a path towards making things better, and a refusal not to repeat your mistakes.

Solving the Real Problem

As you resolve to make things better, we recommend you reflect carefully on your missteps. What are the real reason(s) your studio did not win the project?

Solicit Feedback

First, ask the client graciously – but firmly – for their candid feedback. Your goal is not to receive an explanation. That always comes across as sour grapes. Rather, you want to learn, grow and serve this client better the next time they call upon you.

The only way to do that is to get their feedback. So ask for it.

Back when I ran my studio, I once lost a very high-profile production job with Nickelodeon. I went through all the stages of grief. Then I composed a genuine email appeal soliciting their feedback (tip: always sleep on an email like this prior to sending) because I wanted my firm to learn, grow and become better. My email so impressed them, they called and awarded my studio a different – and better – project!

It May Not Be WHAT, But HOW

Are you super responsive to your client’s needs? Are you helpful no matter what? Do you maintain a posture of flexibility? Do you bend over backwards to make them happy?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above, the problem may not be WHAT you bid, proposed or presented…. it may be HOW.

Clients won’t tell you this because, actually, they don’t realize it themselves. All they know is they repeatedly drag you through a long and protracted – even abusive – proposal process, only to see you stand there and take it… as you maintain your best stiff upper lip.

They feel badly. They don’t want to take advantage of you. But you keep going along with it, with a smile.

I strongly encourage you overhaul your sales mentality and adopt a posture not based on servitude, but on expertise. For more guidance, please see RevThink’s articles and resources on pitching or attend our next one-day conference on sales.

Fixing the Bigger Problem

Losing a project stings. Especially when it is “the one that got away.”

But if you are focused on the impact of winning or losing any one opportunity, your studio has a much bigger problem: you need many more opportunities. Doing so will shift your focus away from any single opportunity and onto dozens of opportunities.

How? RevThink comes alongside our client studios to help them design a sales pipeline and implement a serious set of marketing and sales routines. Otherwise the deeper problem – and the corresponding feast-or-famine cycle – will persist.

Always have several, or dozens, of potential projects in discussion. Break the cycle.

Progress, Not Perfection

I’m reminded of a season at my studio when – much to our amazement – we won a series of big network rebrands. But then we lost one pitch that we really, really wanted. I was devastated. My creative director – and trusted friend – Mitch Monson, was likewise disappointed but he wisely pointed out:

“No one can win them all.”

We know this is true, but we hate to admit it. I’m reminded of the classic factoid of when Babe Ruth broke the record for most home runs in 1923, he also broke the record for most strike outs.

Which means never forget that when it comes to sales, you can do everything right and still lose. So go easy on yourself.

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