Why You Lost the Sales Pitch You Thought You Won

Sales pitches come in all shapes and sizes. Whether you’re a global advertising agency, a mid-sized consulting firm, a freelance web designer, or a job seeker, many of us are regularly selling and convincing others to do or buy something.

In the midst of proposing our services, ideas, or ourselves, we can tune into buyer signals that indicate how well we’re doing. Often it’s no shocker when a potential client delivers the disappointing “thanks but no thanks.”

The lost sales proposal I witnessed a few weeks ago was different. The sellers had no idea the opportunity was slipping away. That in itself was telling.

A firm (let’s call them Digital Dog House, DDH) was proposing on a nice sized piece of work for my client (let’s call them Windy Way, WW). I felt confident about brokering the introduction since DDH has a stellar reputation in their field. Excellent credentials. Top-notch work. A real media sweetheart. I had (and still have) no qualms about bringing on DDH.

Although this was no Draftfcb debacle, I still squirmed uncomfortably across the table as DDH slowly choked themselves out of a future client. It wasn’t because of a lack of expertise or the proposed fees.

Sloppy hubris lost them the deal.

The mistakes were so basic. So obvious. Don’t be DDH.

6 Ways to Lose the Sales Pitch or Proposal You Were Sure You Won

  1. Walk into the meeting 10 minutes late. Nothing says “Meh. Your business isn’t that important to us” than strolling in with a Starbucks in hand after the meeting starts.
  2. Give us the standard vanilla proposal. We couldn’t locate much in the proposal that was tailored to WW’s business. In fact, it read “find” (previous client name) and “replace” (our name) all over it. One ad exec summed up a similar experience by telling me, “Not customizing a presentation sends a message of lack of effort or prep … and we all want to feel like our business is a priority.”
  3. Be vague. We understand you don’t have a crystal ball and can’t predict the exact ROI for working with you. But at the very least, make up provide some well formulated benefits. Tell us stories, with facts and numbers from other clients, to make a convincing case.
  4. Ignore the background documents and communication we send you. WW’s goals, voice, brand personality were there for the taking – we sent it via an email silver platter. And DDH incorporated none of it into their proposal?! To us it screamed laziness. WW’s co-founder wrote me in disbelief: “They didn’t read the materials I sent between meetings 1 and 2 and they didn’t even respond to the email between said meetings #argh!”
  5. Say “you should bring us on because we can do this better than you.” While it may be true, don’t actually tell us that. Especially to a client who reveals they think they can do a lot of the work you’re proposing themselves.
  6. Don’t engage us through social media. My client has a decent social media footprint so this was a huge miss on DDH’s part. A comment, a retweet goes a long way and takes mere seconds. Some social engagement from DDH would have certainly been appreciated and noted.


In the end, we knew DDH would do a great job but we just didn’t think they cared enough.

Moral: Be on time, make your potential client feel important, and by all means, take a bite of humble pie.

Marta Steele is a Partner at PeopleResults. You can reach her on Twitter @MartaSteele or through email at msteele@www.people-results.com.