There I was, feeling pretty damn good about myself. And why not? As far as I could tell, I’d just nailed the sales pitch. After all, I was able to answer all of the client’s questions on the fly. I felt that our solution would more than address all of their needs. And the client was highly engaged throughout the conversation. Or so I thought . . . until I debriefed with my team . . .
At that moment, I realized that maybe the presentation wasn’t quite as good as I’d initially thought. I asked each of my teammates how they felt it went, and here’s what I got back: “You spent too much time on one topic.” “You didn’t connect with one of the key stakeholders, who sat there pretty silently.” “You weren’t able to get into details about a critical part of our strategy.” And so it went — for roughly a half hour.
During that time, my emotions essentially descended from a mountaintop to a hole in the center of the earth. My first instinct was to question my team. Much like going through the five stages of grief, I had entered into denial. I couldn’t believe that we had listened to the same sales pitch. But the more I listened to them, the more I moved from denial to despair. I was no longer confident that we would move forward with the client. I even started to question our proposed solution.
As it turns out, I didn’t have to wait long to discover that my team was right. A short time later, we got the news: We didn’t make it to the next round — or, as the client put it, they were moving in a different direction than us. For me, this served as a painful but valuable reminder of the merits of the team approach. In a nutshell, here’s what I was reminded of:
Leaders can focus only on their immediate engagement. While the person driving the conversation is focused on just that, they are not paying attention to the other people in the room. They are less mindful of the time spent on a particular topic. And they lose the ability to maintain a high-level perspective on that conversation. However, a dedicated observer can do all of the above.
Utilize your team to create space in the conversation. Bringing in teammates to present specific topics, ask questions, or summarize the conversation on a regular basis gives the leader the ability to take time to regroup, refocus, and re-engage in the conversation more effectively.
Perspective removes blinders. No matter how capable the leader might be, alternative perspectives inevitably broaden their point of view and better enable them to effectively drive a conversation. It’s the job of the leader to enable their team to provide those perspectives.
The biggest miss for me in this presentation was that I didn’t enable the team to provide their feedback to me in real-time. Since the presentation was a teleconference, we relied on technology that failed and we didn’t have a backup plan. A painful lesson learned that will never happen again.
While this experience was humbling, and I’m still disappointed that we lost the business, in a sense, I feel like I’m back on top of the mountain. I’m confident that when we get the opportunity to win back the business, we will. And we’ll do it as a team.
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