Last month, I urged you to take a close, clear-eyed look at your sales by analyzing what made the customer say "yes" to your offer. This month, I want to look at the other side–the ones that got away.

Even the best salesperson misses some. In fact, I would submit that the very best among you loses more sales than you make–if you're really trying. But what do you know about those sales you miss? Do you know why you lost the sale, what turned the customer away, where they eventually went, what product they purchased, who furnished it, who installed it, at what cost, and what was that competitor's advantage over you? Who cares, you might ask. Well, you should.

Say you are an outside sales rep with a solid customer who always buys frame packs from your company. You've been supplying these for a while now and you even get the occasional bone of additional fill-in material. But you're not getting any of the customer's millwork business. Many outside sales reps will simply say, "Oh well, I've got the framing material." Yeah, but can you live on low-margin framing material by itself? And why don't you want more business?

(Honestly, how many of you simply accept whatever business comes your way without going after more? But that's a topic for another column.)

You don't get the millwork order. Have you ever revisited the jobsite to see what brand of window and door the customer chose? Where did they come from, and at what cost? You should know all of the suppliers in your market, what products they sell and their approximate prices.

Drive back out to the jobsite, look at the product, check the condition of the material once it arrives, count the pieces, accessories, trim, and get a real good understanding of exactly what it was that you missed on that order. It should make you mad–mad enough to get better and want more. And don't buy into the old excuse "My brother in-law works at XXX Supply. I always buy from him." Not everyone has a brother/sister/cousin/half-step neighbor-in-law who works for another supplier.

Learn everything you can about that supplier. Ask the customer; often they will tell you. You may not want to hear it, but you need that information to get better. And believe me, it isn't always price.

I work with one dealer that does a great job analyzing lost sales. Its people know as much about sales missed as it does about sales made. This information helps the sales manager, store managers, and salespeople grow every day. By analyzing lost sales, this dealer knows what it needs to do to become more competitive, what products/brands its customers prefer, and how smart its salespeople need to be to continue to grow the business. This company works smart and hard, not just hard.

Invest in yourself. It doesn't take a megadollar computer system to track this information. You can keep this info in a $2 spiral notebook from the local office supply store. Review it regularly and also review it with your sales team, including the inside coordinator, sales manager, store manager, and owner. Search for ways to get better at everything you do.

At the very pinnacle of sales success are those professionals who truly understand the profession. They know why sales are closed, and also why sales are missed. They have developed a system of learning from each miss and review those misses just like a top-notch athlete reviews game films. But in our world, every day is game day.

Mike Butts is president of LBM Solutions Inc., a DeWitt, Mich.-based LBM supply consulting and training firm.
E-mail: [email protected]