Surprising sources of sales leads

Do you regularly contact failed sales and former customers? If not, you could be ignoring viable prospects.

It’s easy to think that a lost customer is lost forever. That may be true, but not keeping up with past clients could unnecessarily seal your fate.


The customer who let your contract expire or did not include you in the selection process did so for all kinds of reasons. Yes, sometimes your company has made an unforgivable mistake or done something equally fatal. Often it is more subtle. Either way, if you give them up, they’ll likely remain former customers forever.

If you take the initiative and reintroduce yourself, you might find out…

  • Your company was considered ineligible for a reason that is not currently valid. (Your prices weren’t competitive; now they are. You didn’t offer a one-stop shop experience; now you are. The salesperson who used to cover that area was abrasive; his/her replacement is well-liked.)
  • Whether the decision maker who blackballed you or was unwaveringly loyal to your competitor is no longer there.
  • Or the person you routinely included in the company selection process has moved on or moved on and the new person doesn’t know you to include you.

Possible outcomes: a renewed relationship, news that you really aren’t a match anymore, or an icy shoulder.


Likewise with failed sales, they may not have chosen you when a certain decision was made. That doesn’t mean they’ll never consider you again, but it’s your responsibility to stay on their radar. If they are marketed by a sufficient number of companies in your category, they may not include you the next time they open their selection process. By writing them off, you turn “no” into “never.”


Some companies are great at asking departing customers for an exit interview and asking failed sales for a post-selection debrief. Unfortunately, many of these companies assign this task to the salesperson or account manager who just rejected the customer or prospect. That is mean! Think about it:

  • It is very difficult for an adult to say directly to another: “This is how you disappointed me” or “Here you fell short.”
  • If a former customer or a failed sale wants to be forthright, the average salesperson or account manager is likely to react defensively. In other words, they reward candor with an argument.

Instead, feedback on lost customers and failed sales is better sought from the VP of Sales or Account Management (or Operations). What on the surface sounds like an ill-advised use of very valuable time turns out to be the best way to isolate the root causes and reduce the number of future lost customers and failed sales.

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You can ask why a former customer or failed sale would cooperate and give honest answers to these questions. The answer is simple:

Companies need suppliers.

If you lost the customer or sale for reasons that can be addressed to their satisfaction, you may be the supplier offering the best deal the next time they need your product or service.

Once your team members get past the understandable discomfort of asking for candid feedback and guidance, you can win (or regain) relationships you thought were lost forever.