The Curious Incident of the Good News and the Bad News

Businesses these days are getting better and better at understanding bad news. If they lose a customer, they will visit them to ask why, what they could have done better and who has replaced them. If they lose a pitch they will ring the prospective customer to find out why they lost. Bad news deserves investigation to make sure whatever happened isn’t repeated; companies are learning from their mistakes.

It’s a curious thing, though: it often doesn’t happen the other way round. Businesses can be incredibly complacent about good news.

I recently supported pitches for two different clients, each of whom had identified potential suppliers. In both cases the potential suppliers had received specs and proposals, and I had had a conversation with them to brief them.

Following the pitches each client decided on the supplier they liked. In both cases the losing suppliers called me soon afterwards to find out why they were unsuccessful. Had they misunderstood the technical aspects of the proposal? Were they too expensive? Was it a lack of chemistry?

However, in neither case did the winning supplier ask why they had won. Why not? Perhaps they were technically strong in a way that would be a clear USP? Perhaps they had won on price - if so, by how much? Are they giving business away too cheaply?

Think about Sherlock Holmes’s observation: "The curious incident of the dog in the night-time."; "The dog did nothing in the night-time."; "That was the curious incident," remarked Sherlock Holmes.

A business needs to be just as curious about its successes as failures, to use the knowledge gained to make the company even better, and to exploit its strengths as much as possible.