Losing Gracefully: Why Winning Isn’t Everything in Project Interviews and Sales Presentations

SagePresence helps you deal with a sales, project interview, or short list presentation loss.

They’re called make-or-break moments for a reason, and any high-stakes communication event comes with the risk of things not going your way.

Anyone who faces shortlist interviews or competitive project sales presentations on a regular basis knows what comes along within the “eat what you catch” world of professional service work – sometimes you lose.

Not winning is a real bummer, and it happens. But as our clients discover over time, the obvious win isn’t the only win possible, nor the only way recoup on the investment of good interview prep. So if you’re licking your wounds, we have some thoughts for you, culled from some of the most inspiring leaders we’ve spoken with.

1: Your job is the interview, and their job is the decision.

We talked to an impressively positive principal at an architectural firm. I’m sure he doesn’t like to lose any more than any of the rest of us, but he was once very proud of a great interview experience, but they didn’t win the project.

“Making the decision isn’t my job. That’s theirs, and they’re allowed to make whatever decision they want. There’s no law that requires them to make the right one, or even a smart one. My goal is a team-wide “personal best” with every interview, and kicking butt under pressure is what I base success or failure on. After that, they can pick whatever team they want.”

Interviews can be a double-edged sword. First, you have very little choice but to assume that your performance will make or break you. That usually is the case, so the sometimes grueling effort required to be as prepared as possible is on you. But sometimes you find out in the end that there’s nothing you could have done to win. There may be politics at work, or a fraternity relationship, or one key factor that’s unknown, or a closely guarded secret that was going to determine the outcome no matter what you did.

Most interviews are legit. Some are predetermined or nearly unswayable. Which is why we like this leader’s take that your job is challenging yourself to hit a high bar in the quality of your interview and define outcome as the selection committee’s problem. This particular leader was so committed to this idea that he once got really upset at his team after they won a project, because he thought they were weak in the interview, and he chalked their win to circumstance.

Can you get behind the value of weighing how you play the game over the winning or losing?

2: There’s More Than One Way to Win 

At first blush, winning means getting a great project, earning money, growing your portfolio, and gaining the privileges that come with a title. But it’s not the only possibility for deriving value from an effort.

“I want my team always on the climb to higher places. If they won every time, they would get lazy and lose their edge.”

The continuous improvement that goes with prepping for a big sales presentation is just as valid a benefit to the future as winning that project is. The value you get from getting better will pay off in your next project, and the group preparation allows you to share your knowledge and think with other team members.

The construction executive who made that last quote surprised us with another:

“This project isn’t the big enchilada. Sure we want it, but half the reason we’re doing the interview is to get face time with this company, so we can be on the shortlist for some of the projects we know will be coming down the pike. We want to be on their radar, and the minimum daily requirement is that we make a strong impression. If we don’t get this project, we’ll get the next one.”

This is truly focusing on the big picture.

Can you weigh the betterment of your team and the value of the positive impressions they make with prospects as you assess your investment?

3: Helping is your ticket to freedom

The way you position your mindset around selling determines the speed by which you lick your wounds and get back in the game.

“It’s easy to say that you’re all about helping my clients, but are you really?”

A leader we know is all about selling to help. She believes that the only reason to be in a service-based business is to serve, and the moment you forget that, your own agenda will be in your way. Freedom from the agony of defeat comes from being there to help others, even in the sales presentation, no matter how the decision shakes out.

“I prep for the interview because I want to win, but when the big moment arrives, I don’t show up to get a project, I show up like a consultant in order to help my prospect succeed.”

The very idea of consulting during the interview changes the emotional experience of stress, setting you free to go out on that limb without hesitation. You have insight and recommendations. That’s what you’re bringing into the business development crucible of an interview. Prep to share value, to help get the prospect more ready for their undertaking. The icing on the cake is that by doing so, you might just land the project.

And when you walk away, anchor your satisfaction in the confidence that you have helped them make their hard decision.

Can you get behind the idea of presenting and answering questions in order to help your client, not just get a job?

We recognize that these ideas can be counterintuitive and hard to access when suffering the pain of defeat, but try them on between interviews. Work your service muscles on the job with your clients, and in your business development conversations with them, and you’ll build them up for interviews. Ultimately, that means you’ll win more, and when you don’t, you’ll bounce back faster.

What do you think of all this? Share your stories and tips about responding to a loss!


Leave a Comment



+1 612.384.0763


New Release! Our new book Winning AEC Interviews is now available!

%d bloggers like this: