Winning A Client, But Never Actually Winning The Sale

winning the sale
When a win, isn’t winning.

In sales, getting a new client is often referred to as winning the sale. But sometimes getting a new client doesn’t actually mean you’ve won anything at all. This is tough to overcome, especially if you deliver. I run a division of a headhunting firm and recently I was chasing an emerging startup, regarding a VP of Marketing they were looking to hire. I emailed the CEO (I actually put the CEO in a HubSpot Sales Sequence, a series of 3 emails). Once he read it a few times, he forwarded the email to HR, which got the ball rolling.

The Initial Meeting

On the initial call, HR was vetting my firm very thoroughly, which was fairly standard for this level of a search. However, near the end of the call she asked for references from previous and current clients, which was a bit atypical. Regardless, I hopped off the call thought about who to provide as references and shot out a few requests.

Fast forward 1.5 weeks and the HR person gets back saying they would like to have me hop on a call with their CFO to discuss our track record.

Selling Yourself

Obviously I hop on a call with the CFO and he is giving me color on the company and its vision/mission. Then out of nowhere he mentions wanting us to work on a C-Level position they had just opened. He is asking us about our experience in working searches at that level and mentions a huge player in our space. We had only worked on one or two positions at this level prior to this. Upon mentioning the shallowness of our experience at C-level placements the CFO hesitated in continuing the conversation. He stressed the importance of this hire to their continued growth and their need for a strong partner for the search. He basically insinuated that we didn’t have the chops for them.

Taking a huge risk I interrupted and said, “You can go the safe route of the more experienced firms, or you can go with me. I can guarantee that I’m more hungry and diligent than any of the other firms you are speaking to. And I can prove it. Instead of the retained agreement you are likely being pitched by other firms I’ll do it as a contingent search.” The conference bridge fell silent for maybe a few seconds, but it felt like an eternity. It took everything in me not to say another word. That would only weaken my staunch bid for the role. When the silence broke, the CFO said, “I’m going to make the recommendation to our CEO that we move forward with your firm. I can only hope my son has the gumption you just conveyed when he enters the workforce.”

I didn’t illustrate this to toot my own horn, but rather to give perspective on how big winning the sale was for the business and my team.

When Winning Becomes Losing

We engaged the startup for the hire. We spent hours and hours qualifying candidates and identified only a handful that were (in our eyes) presentation worthy. Eight weeks into the search, we had gotten to the final two candidates. One was the clear favorite and moved on to the last stage. Everyone below the CEO was sure this person was the ‘One’. However, he was not the one for the CEO. The CEO wanted to continue the search for a “unicorn” candidate.

Now that’s how you win, but don’t end up actually winning the sale.