5 years ago
January 7, 2020

“Tell Me About a Time You Lost a Sale.” 5 Tips to Answer This Common Sales Interview Question

You can’t win them all. And you won’t. There are going to be times when you lose a sale. It’s just part of being a sales professional. Some will be…

Rhys Metler

You can’t win them all. And you won’t. There are going to be times when you lose a sale. It’s just part of being a sales professional. Some will be more impactful than others. But the key is to learn from these situations so you can get better and avoid losing out on sales in the future.

If you are interviewing for a sales job, you can expect to be asked about your track record. Hiring companies want to learn about how you handle certain situations during the sales process, including the times when you fall short.

This means you should be prepared to get asked about an instance when you lost a sale. In this blog, Toronto sales headhunters will discuss why this question gets asked frequently and provide you with some effective tips to provide a great answer to this challenging question.

Why Do Interviewers Ask, “Tell Me About a Time You Lost a Sale”?

Even the best sales professionals will lose a sale. Interviewers ask this question not because they want to know if you’ve lost a deal in the past, but because they want to see how you reacted to the situation.

  • They want to see if you have self-awareness: Can you admit you lost a deal?
  • They want to see how you react to the question: Do you immediately play the blame game or do you take ownership of the lost sale?
  • Interviewers want to see if you learn from past mistakes: Do you take the time to see what you can learn from the situation and make yourself a better salesperson because of the experience?

“Now’s not the time to drag out the old, ‘I’m a perfectionist and it frustrated a prospect once,’ narrative. Dig deep and show your interviewers you have healthy self-awareness and the ability to learn and proactively move on from your mistakes,” says Pree Sarkar on the HubSpot Blog.

How to Answer “Tell Me About a Time You Lost a Sale”

There is a right way and a wrong way to answer this type of question. Putting blame on others, citing extenuating circumstances or making excuses is NOT the type of response interviewers are seeking.

STEP 1: Choose a Great Example

You’ve likely had numerous sales go awry, but there are probably one or two where you truly learned an important lesson or gained a new perspective. Choose an example that you clearly remember and for which you can communicate some important takeaways.

STEP 2: Own It

Own the fact that you lost a sale or two in the past. Sales is highly competitive, and customers are exploring multiple solutions. Hiring managers are looking for sales employees who are professional and mature enough to not only celebrate successes but take ownership of defeats and when mistakes are made.

Toronto sales recruiters advise owning your mistakes

STEP 3: Identify Where You Went Wrong

The interviewer wants to see that you are self-aware. You can communicate this to them by identifying where you when wrong with the deal. Depending on the type of sale, customer, and other factors, this could be many different things.

If you lose a sale, it’s important to explore the reasons why. Here are some questions to ask yourself when reflecting on the situation:

  • Why did the customer choose not to make a purchase?
  • Did you effectively answer all the customer’s questions?
  • Do you think you fully understood the customer’s issues and needs?
  • Did you clearly communicate the sales solution?
  • What would you change about your approach/closing techniques?
  • What were the positive takeaways from the interaction?

Asking these types of probing questions will help you gain a deeper understanding of how you are communicating with customers, how well you are applying your sales process, and how good you are at understanding customers’ needs.

STEP 4: Explain How Your Mistakes Affected the Situation

Once you communicate to the interviewer where you went wrong with the sale, it’s important to show you understand how your mistake affected the deal. Talk about how your mistakes changed the course of the sale, how it changed the dialogue, the progression of the sales process and other issues it created.

STEP 5: Communicate What You Learned and How You’d Do Things Differently Now

Finally, explain what you would do differently if you could go back. Talk about what you specifically learned about this instance and your approach to sales overall. Did you have an “ah-ha” moment? Did you adjust how you communicate or interact with customers? What did you change about your approach to sales? Interviewers want to see how you recover, react, and learn from mistakes.

Get More Sales Job Interview Advice From Toronto Sales Headhunters

Go Out With a Bang! 5 Great Ways to Finish a Sales Job Interview

5 Tips to Create a Strategic Answer to “Tell Me About Yourself” in a Sales Interview

6 Genius Ways to End Your Sales Interview and Leave a Lasting Impression

Get Stumped During Sales Interviews? Clever Ways to Answer “Teach Me Something.”

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SalesForce Search is a sales recruiting company which specializes in the recruitment and placement of sales professionals. We recruit salespeople in every sector of the economy including, software, manufacturing, financial services and medical devices. Find the right salesperson for your organization, start your search here.

Rhys Metler

Rhys is a tenacious, top performing Senior Sales Recruiter with 15+ years of focused experience in the Digital Media, Mobile, Software, Technology and B2B verticals. He has a successful track record of headhunting top performing sales candidates for some of the most exciting brands in North America. He is a Certified Recruitment Specialist (CRS) and has expert experience in prospecting new business, client retention/renewals and managing top performing sales and recruitment teams. Rhys enjoys spending quality time with his wife, son, and daughters, BBQing on a hot summer day and tropical vacations.