During an interview for a sales position, you may be asked to talk about a deal you lost or failed to close.  

This question, a variation on “Tell me about a time you failed,” isn’t intended to embarrass you or give the interviewer a reason not to hire you. Instead, the interviewer wants to understand how you respond when you’re faced with failure or disappointment. 

Here’s how to talk about what may be your least impressive achievement: 


Summarize the loss itself in one sentence. 

It’s important to establish what went wrong and what the consequences were. The longer you dwell on the lost deal itself, however, the less time you spend communicating how your strengths helped you recover.  

Instead, focus on describing the lost deal in one or two brief sentences: “We had the chance to land a $14 million account with Huge Hospital, but we didn’t.” 

Focus on issues, not people. 

After you summarize the lost deal itself, focus on why the deal was lost. Here, you want to look at the issues surrounding the loss. Strive to avoid blaming any individual, including yourself. Focus on what happened, not who did it. 

For example, after mentioning the loss of the $14 million Huge Hospital account, an interviewee might say, “Ultimately, Huge Hospital felt they couldn’t trust us to meet their needs after we let several emails and phone calls go unanswered for days.”  

Spend time on what you learned and how your behavior changed.  

Here’s where the bulk of your answer should appear. Discuss the specific lesson you learned from the loss, and give concrete examples of how you changed your approach to sales as a result of that lesson.  

Our example interviewee here might finish their discussion of the $14 million Huge Hospital deal by saying, “From that experience, I learned how vital it is to maintain communication with both prospective and current clients. That’s why I set myself a personal deadline to return emails and phone calls in 4 hours or less.”  

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At SMR Group, our recruiters help sales and marketing professionals connect to some of the best jobs and employers in the medical device, biotech, and pharmaceutical industries. Contact us today to learn more. 

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