“We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know” -Donald Rumsfeld

Remember when Donald Rumsfeld was Secretary of Defense and he was trying to explain to the press that, “We know what we know, we know what we don’t know, but we don’t know what we don’t know.”   Everybody had a lot of fun with that but underneath the rhetoric was an important thought when it comes to any type of competition. The most dangerous situation is when a competitor may be planning or executing a winning strategy that is completely off our radar . . .

We have no idea that the concept or the action even exists and we get totally blindsided as a result.  This has happened to all of us from time to time in sales, we do everything right and then, after the proposal, we are told we came in “second place” . . . or some other supposedly soothing euphemism for replacing the real  message . . . “ WE LOST!” We are shocked at the outcome. The question then becomes “why,” and often it is because we were unaware of something critical that was happening off our radar screen . . . a competitor had a close personal relationship working, the scope had changed quietly without our knowledge and our contact was not the final decision maker.

Whatever the outcome, “we didn’t know what we didn’t know,” so, two things:

  1.  We obviously need to do a better job of digging prior to our next proposal.
  2. We must find out, definitively, what went wrong so we can learn and “know more” in the future.

To accomplish that, we really have to have a polite but candid conversation with our contact . . .  simply accepting “you were second best” means we will be certain to be “second best” again next time.

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