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How to learn from a sales rejection

Vikrant Duggal
Vikrant Duggal
• 3 min read

You lost a deal. As a founder you may be sad, but I couldn't be happier for you.

Obviously a win is always better than a loss, but you will not win them all. If you're going to be handed a loss there are one of two ways to respond: negatively, or positively.

Often times founders are disappointed by their early sales engagements. I couldn't be happier. My biggest concern tends to be they aren't running enough sales engagements and they are learning slowly.

Often times this is the beginning of a new learning cycle so I encourage founders to sell often. If you conduct one deal a month you you will likely not learn much, if anything. But if you are selling multiple times a week and learning  from each engagement you'll iterate much faster and start landing deals.


Let's dive into a forwarded me an email by a founder looking to learn. After the founder held a customer interview, the customer was interested in learning more about the offering. The founder put together an email-based proposal which was rejected.

In this essay I want to walk you through how to learn quickly from a rejection.

Hi Jake,

Thanks so much for sending along your proposal. At this time we have a lot going on and it's all taking place at the same time.

I think you have a great product but I don't the time isn't right for us right now. I can't focus on this with the lean team I currently have. Can I reach out to you in a couple months to consider the product?

I know the free trial may not be available then. Currently we are under some massive deadlines and hiring like crazy!

Thanks so much, looking forward to hearing how things go on your end!


In this particular example here are the questions I would ask the founder to consider:

  1. What discovery did you do?
  2. Did you know they had a lot going on right now?
  3. Did we have a sense of what they do have on their plate?
  4. Did we know the size of their team?
  5. What are their current priorities?
  6. Do they see loss (of anything) by delaying launching with us?
  7. What's the cadence we can keep in touch with the buyer?

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The loss of a deal is typically due to something that didn't occur at the beginning of a sales process. Poor discovery is usually the cause of a rejection.

Poor discovery is usually the cause of a rejection.

In the case above, if the founder was holding customer discovery calls, then they wouldn't be applying strategies that they may use in an initial sales call. The key takeaway is that by foregoing discovery as part of the sales process, or mistaking customer discovery as sales discovery, we have not earned the right to send a proposal.

But, they are asking for the information. They are asking for a proposal.

Yes. I've written about my selling framework on this blog in the past and and one of the items I highlight is that when a customer is talking to you about buying your solution they are simply gathering information. It is your responsibility to help them uncover the opportunity, or the challenges.

In this example, if an individual asks for a proposal, or more information, the appropriate response is to set up a call where you would have an opportunity to answer the questions that I posed above.

Once you do that, you can run a proper discovery process where you are able to do the following:

  1. Understand the current situation of the customer and their business.
  2. Get a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities they face and how they serve the overarching goals and objectives.
  3. Understand the implications of not proceeding with solving these challenges, or going after the opportunities.
  4. Determining if they believe the pay-off for proceeding exceeds the needs they currently have.

Take each opportunity to learn, iterate and soon you'll have a playbook that works for your business.