It was about ten years ago that I started my first win-loss program for my employer. The VP of Product Marketing and Product Management called me into his office, and told me to start a win-loss program. It was new to me – and we ended up choosing a consultant to help with the program. Here are some key aspects to starting a win-loss program that I learned from this experience:
TIP #1 – This is a collaborative effort between Marketing and Sales. You need the buy-in from your most senior executives, and it must include the VP of Sales.
Our first task at hand was to meet with our VP of Sales to discuss the benefits of the program to his team — and to get his buy-in. I explained the benefits. “Each interview would bring us invaluable account research, and will also provide some insight into the competitors’ strategy. Once we get enough interviews, the program itself will provide us with an analysis of why we win and lose. We’ll also get recommendations on how we can increase our win rates.“
To be honest, it was an easy sale. We decided to start with a 5-interview trial.
TIP #2 – Select only deals that closed within the last 6 months. Focus on deals that are strategically aligned to the business. Exclude sole-source deals, and smaller deals. All deals need to have a competitor involved. Hard fought deals give you the juiciest interviews.
Our next task was to select the deals we wanted to have interviewed. We wanted a few wins and couple of losses. We only selected deals that had closed in the past six months. Because if a deal was closed more than six months ago, then the interview will be about the client’s experience with the winning vendor – instead of being about the client’s purchase decision.
We also wanted to select bigger deals – that is, those that were aligned with our business strategy. For instance, we didn’t want to select small deals where the customer ordered a few more seats. Finally, we favored deals that had at least one of our five top competitors.
Working with our VP of Sales Operations, we selected the deals that met the above criteria. We selected a total of 15 deals – hoping we’d get at least 5 willing participants. That list was then vetted with our two executive sponsors, who made their changes to the selections. Now we were good to go.
TIP #3 – It really helps to have someone with authority in sales to obtain the contacts for the interviews.
Next, our VP of Sales Operations approached the sales executives for chosen accounts. She obtained the names and telephone numbers of those we wanted to interview. We were seeking to interview the decision makers – or individuals who were intimately involved in the decision process.
TIP #4 – If you are using a skilled executive-level interviewer (with a background in high tech), that person will know what questions to ask. You just need to provide a little education, and discuss some of the questions you think are important.
After having received the contacts, I met with our win/loss consultant to discuss what I knew of the deals. For each deal, the interviewer asked
- Who won it?
- Who were the competitors?
- How much was it worth (what was our price)?
- When did the deal close (when was it won or lost)?
I spent a bit of time educating him on our competitive playing field — what were our differentiators, and who were our competitors, etc. Finally, I suggested a few questions we’d like to get answered.
TIP #5 – Win-Loss interviews get the attention of the most senior management.
Now – this is where the magic started to happen for me.It wasn’t more than a week or two when I got a call back from Rick. “Hey John, we just got our first interview, and it’s meaty!” Soon I was reading it. It told us what the customer was looking for, why we lost, and how the vendors were evaluated and ultimately scored. It was great!
I sent it off to our VPs of Marketing/Product Management and Sales. Before I knew it, the interview was forwarded to the CEO by one of my executive sponsors. I was cc’d on it. What came back was something akin to this.
“John – Great work.” (I hadn’t really done much … but who was I to argue?).
“Please cc me and my direct reports on these interviews.”
TIP #6 – Sales people LOVE win-loss presentations! They are keenly attentive to the stories of how we win or lose.
So my next step was to institutionalize the program within the Sales organization. After completing the 5 interviews, I announced the program to our sales team in a 40 minute presentation that shared the results.
“Here is how we won at ABC – here is how we beat the competition”.
“This is what the customer said”.
“Here is why we lost at XYZ – here’s what our competitors did, etc.“
Wow. It couldn’t get much better.
Then I explained how every sales person could benefit by leveraging this service.
“It will provide you with invaluable in-depth account research – and you’ll learn all about your
competition at the account.”
Everyone at the meeting was excited. “Great work”. “Excellent stuff”. “I’m competing against that same competitor – I know how to counter them!“… You get the idea? That was how the win-loss program was started.
TIP #7 – Analysis across the interviews tells you why you win and lose, among other things. It should be shared cross-functionally.
Now I come to the 2nd part of the story…what happened when I had 20 interviews (10 wins and 10 losses).
My win-loss consultant and I developed a deck with charts as to why we were winning and losing. We looked at each criterion and the supporting quotes. We sliced the data by each competitor – and examined the competitors’ approaches against us. We sliced the data by other demographics – and were able to see variances by region or vertical.
We delivered the presentation to different groups – with about 10 participants in each group. We delivered it to the CEO and his staff. We delivered it to product management, and to product marketing. We delivered it to the services organization, the sales organization, and the greater marketing group. Each group was awed by the results. Everyone got on board, suggesting ideas on how we could each contribute to increasing our competitiveness.
TIP #8 – Win-Loss benefits the company, and it’s a great opportunity to participate across the company.
Before I knew it, the company was benefiting enormously from this level of research and collaboration. Our product team knew what features the customers preferred from our competitors. Our marketing team understood what messages were resonating with our customers…and more.
I also benefited professionally. Suddenly, I was thrust onto the stage. Overnight I was the go-to guy for the competition across the entire company. I got very involved in the deals, strategy discussions, reporting information and trends, researching, and offering recommendations.
And, it was great fun!
I have two important final points to make, and it’s about sales participation. You need your sales team to want to participate in your win-loss program.
TIP #9 – Not every sales person is comfortable with having their customers interviewed.
The first point is that you need to educate the head of Sales about the fact that many sales reps do not want their employer interviewing their accounts. Perhaps its job security, or some other reason – but I’ve seen many excuses from the field, including my favorite – “we’re trying to sign another deal, and I don’t want this interview to raise any bad feelings.” Maybe there are times when it’s best to hold off, but you need a sales management team that is responsible for getting these interviews to happen, and is familiar enough with the pipeline to know when to press for an interview.
TIP #10 – Interviews should only be used to learn, and not to punish.
Finally, if based on the findings of a win/loss interview, your management calls out people for the mistakes that they’ve made (or worse, fires them) — then that may set your program back. You should not publicly admonish anyone based upon findings of a win/loss interview – or that will make your sales team fearful of participating. They may sabotage your program. They will do things like prep the customer with the responses – or provide you with contact numbers of employees who have recently departed the organization. That’s one of the reasons that when we publish an interview, we like keep it anonymous. It protects both the sales executive, and the respondent.
Sales is hard enough without the frank post-mortem from the customer you lost, but the feedback is critical to learning and development of high-performing sales people. Use the interviews and the information to coach and train and make it clear that the interviews not used for rewards or punishment — only for insight into the sales process to help the company be more successful overall.
What do you think? Post your thoughts in our comments section and continue the dialog.