Why Are You Really Winning and Losing Deals: A Customer Perspective on Determinants of Sales Failure

Scott B. Friend, Georgia State University


Understanding the determinants of sales success and sales failure has organization wide implications, ranging from an improved salesforce to improved corporate performance. However, a paucity of research on sales failure has resulted in an under-conceptualized field largely built on assumptions. This research proposes to overcome salesforce failure attribution biases by collecting data from the industrial buyer’s perspective. Thirty five post-mortem interviews with procurement decision makers from buying organizations were collected following a failed sales proposal. The context of these failed sales proposals was for multi-year industrial service key account contracts (>$5 Million). The result of this naturalistic inquiry is a model which outlines the determinant attributes of sales failure: price, adaptability and relationship-potential. An experimental design was conducted following this exploratory research in order to test the derived drivers of sales failure and success, as well as provide a trade-off analysis of the three emergent sales proposal themes. Results indicate that a lack of adaptability has the strongest impact on the sales failure outcome variable, as well as buyer characteristics have a potentially moderating impact on the relative trade-off weights between price/adaptability and price/relationship-potential.