As we discussed last week, there are only two fundamental reasons why someone won’t buy from you. Either you are talking to the wrong person, or the prospective customer doesn’t trust you. Unfortunately for commercial professionals, the reasons why someone could lack sufficient trust in you to purchase are myriad. Doubly unfortunately, those reasons often go undiscovered. Many organizations performing little analysis of why any given sale is won or lost, others do so superficially in ways that don’t provide meaningful information. Even more confusingly, many companies think they are performing win / loss analysis when really they aren’t! They are instead utilizing other tools and methods, often in an ad hoc and undocumented manner, which provide biased or misleading information!
Performing win / loss analysis correctly is not a trivial endeavor and requires a good deal of planning, but there are many benefits to doing so. These include:
- Clearer understanding of the customer buying journey
- Better understanding of the competition’s offerings (including pricing, positioning, etc.)
- Early identification of market trends
- Better understanding customer preferences
- Understanding how you and your competition are perceived
- A built-in “warning system” which informs you if your messaging is missing the mark
- Feedback on performance of the sales team and effectiveness of sales processes
- Market feedback to help guide product development
Planning for Win / Loss Analysis
Remember that win / loss analysis is a form of market research. It requires proper planning – and adherence to the plans – to ensure that the execution yields the answers you’re looking for.
The first question that needs to be answered is: who will implement the program? This should not be your sales organization! Ideally, the people running the program and performing the interviews will be far removed from the sales process. An external agency who is familiar with your market and experienced in performing win / loss analysis would be ideal, however other internal departments or functions can be used (usually a market research or CI person / team, if you have one, otherwise the applicable product manager or another relevant marketing person would be a good choice to head the effort).
Next, decide what specific objectives you hope to achieve from the win / loss analysis. There are basics that are central to the reasons a sale is won or lost and will therefore almost always be included, such as understanding the customers’ decision criteria and knowing how you measured up against the competition across a number of key factors, but you will also have the opportunity to obtain a plethora of other information. For the sake of customer participation and limiting the cost and / or effort, you will be limited to how much additional information you’ll be able to collect. You will therefore need to determine what non-core information is the most important. Are you interested in learning more about your competitors’ offerings? Do you want to know more specifics about the customers’ buying journeys? Are you interested in the finer details of how your brand is perceived compared to the competition? For long, consultative sales a customer may be more willing to engage with you in a lengthy interview. For short, low-value purchases where sales interaction was limited or non-existent, you probably won’t find customers willing to sit through a long interview. Know what can be realistically expected from your audience and plan accordingly.
The next question you need to answer is: what opportunities will be analyzed? Given the time and / or cost required to perform win / loss analysis, it is often only applied to major product lines or service areas and / or large accounts. (We do not recommend only analyzing large accounts unless your focus is improving win rate solely to large accounts; if you want to improve the win rate for all customer classes, you need to analyze them all.) You can define which opportunities will be analyzed more narrowly to cut down on the number of interviews and amount of analysis necessary, or you can be more broad to collect information about more opportunities and then perform post-hoc analyses of specific products, markets, etc. You also need to determine the frequency at which opportunities that meet the defined criteria will be analyzed. If the nature of your business is such that you have a low number of high-value opportunities, you may want to analyze them all. If you have a high number of low-value opportunities you may want to analyze only some of them. If you will be analyzing only some, you should select them either at random or at regular intervals (for example, at the conclusion of every fourth opportunity, chronologically) to prevent bias. Furthermore, ensure your criteria don’t exclude wins! It’s just as important to understand why you win as why you lose, and understanding your wins can be even more informative.
From the defined objectives, plan your questionnaire. There are a massive number of potential questions, and if you’ve clearly laid out your objectives the questions you need to ask should become somewhat obvious, but here are a few common ones to get you started:
- What caused you to initially consider a purchase of this type?
- Which other companies / products / solutions were being considered? Which one was ultimately chosen?
- What actions on the part of our team made notable positive or negative impressions?
- What selection criteria was used to make the ultimate decision?
- What interaction influenced you most during your decision-making process?
- How did our pricing compare to the competition?
- Why did / didn’t we win your business?
- Who was involved in the purchase decision?
- Were you comfortable with the product features / company’s capabilities? Which were most / least important?
- How do you perceive our company? How do you perceive our competitors?
- Would you be likely to recommend our solution to others?
A common issue with win / loss analysis questionnaires is the tendency to focus almost exclusively on the latter stages of the buying journey. Remember that the early stages of the buying journey are often more influential. Ensure you ask questions that will inform you how well you are setting the stage for a win, as many lost opportunities aren’t simply failures to close.
If you end up wanting to ask more questions than they reasonably can, remember that not every interview needs to ask the same questions. If you feel that a question has been sufficiently answered, change it out and ask another which would provide more new knowledge. You can also have multiple sets of questions and rotate through them to collect input, albeit less of it, on a larger number of some ancillary questions of lesser importance. (We strongly recommend always asking a set of “core” questions which directly address the most influential reasons for winning or losing.) If you ultimately want to ask more questions than would be feasible in an interview, you can create an accompanying questionnaire to collect additional data. This can be particularly useful if you wish to collect sizeable amounts of quantitative data which can be easily collected via an online survey or similar tool. Just remember that everything you ask a customer to do effectively has a conversion rate. Asking your customer to do two things will invariably lead to an increased number of incomplete data sets from respondents who either did not take / complete the interview but completed the questionnaire or vice versa.
Preparing for the Interview
Determine who will conduct the interview. Similarly to choosing the person or team to run the program, it’s best if the interviewer is not on the sales team. The interviewer should never be someone who was involved in the sales process for that particular customer. That consideration aside, the interviewer should be someone who is familiar with the product or service being sold, familiar with the market, understands the sales process without being too intimate with the sales team, and will make the respondent feel comfortable with the interview process.
Interviews should be scheduled with the customer or prospect very soon after the opportunity has ended. A good rule of thumb is that if more than a month has passed since the opportunity was closed or lost, don’t conduct an interview. Details of their decision journey and interactions with various companies need to be fresh on their minds in order to obtain accurate information, and collecting inaccurate information is often worse than collecting no information at all. When scheduling the interview, let them know exactly what to expect and what topics you are going to discuss. If there were multiple people involved in the prospect’s decision, they should be interviewed separately as they may have differing opinions and these differences can be stark at times. If you interview them collectively, you run the risk of those differing opinions not being expressed or falling victim to groupthink.
Before the interview, the interviewer should sit down with the sales team / person who was handling the opportunity and document some facts and perspective regarding the opportunity. How did the opportunity arise? Was there any previous relationship with the prospect? What tactics and sales tools were they using and why? Were there any noteworthy challenges during the process? What was the result and was it anticipated?
Performing the Interview
Interviews are generally performed by phone, although analogous communication tools such as teleconference can be used. In-person interviews can be performed as well so long as the customer is local and the interview can be performed without becoming cost-prohibitive. Being able to see the interviewee an be helpful, as gestures and body language can convey feelings which can in turn be used to help guide the conversation. (The interviewer’s impressions obtained from body language should not be documented as it could introduce a large degree of subjectivity. Additionally, when performing win / loss analysis across cultural borders, body language could be misread due to cultural differences.)
Any expectations of confidentiality should be discussed up front. As some purchasing processes involve sensitive information, ensure the interviewee(s) feel comfortable using any information necessary to fully explain themselves while knowing that any confidential information will not be recorded or shared.
The interview should have a “script” to ensure the interviewer asks all the questions, although some of which will likely vary slightly interview-to-interview (in phrasing or approach, not in intent) based on the nature of the opportunity and how the interview progresses. However, the questions on the script should be taken to be a minimum of the questions that need to be answered. A good interviewer will probe the interviewee to uncover the underlying reasons behind their answers. Simply surveying the interviewee by asking a set list of questions in sequence is a waste of a live interview and a good way to end up with incomplete information that is difficult to understand and / or leaves a lot of opportunity for guesswork. The ability to be meaningfully spontaneous is dependent on the interviewer’s knowledge of the market, the product bring sold, and the details of the opportunity and sales process for that specific prospect.
Post-Interview Analysis and Assimilation of Knowledge
Soon after each interview, send the customer a message to thank them. As with any customer interaction, a win / loss analysis is a branded experience and you want to ensure the customer experience is a good one in order to earn future business and cultivate brand advocates.
There is no single, correct way to analyze the information from a win / loss analysis because the information, and the kind of information collected, will vary based on the questions you are trying to answer and potentially other factors as well (as discussed earlier). However, data analysis provides ample opportunity to derail your win / loss analysis. It’s likely that most of your data is qualitative. If your organization has a tendency to be political, various groups may try to influence how the data is analyzed or presented in order to make themselves look better or further their own ends. It’s the job of the person managing the program to ensure this does not happen. Any quantitative data should be handled using proper statistics, and qualitative data should be analyzed in a way that is logical, defensible, and allows you to extract the necessary insight. Applying semi-quantitative methods to the analysis of qualitative data may help, but you shouldn’t limit yourself to them. Whatever methods you use to analyze the data, you need to ensure that they are consistent!
Once the data is distilled into knowledge, you need to ensure that it is utilized! When there is enough analyzed information to answer at least some of the questions that you defined in your objectives, a report should be drawn up and a meeting called with people from all departments who would stand to benefit from the resulting knowledge. (Depending on your company policies and culture, the reports and analysis may also be made available to anyone in the company who cares to learn from it, or restricted on a need-to-know basis.) At this meeting, the data and analysis are discussed, lessons learned are shared, and ideas can be generated for ways to improve – these ideas are the foundation for change. The results should inform your sales processes, market segmentation, product development, messaging, marketing communications, sales collateral, and other areas.
If you’ve obtained answers to some secondary objectives, you can remove the associated questions from the interview script. These may be replaced with questions to fulfill other knowledge objectives. Remember, however, that the primary purpose of win / loss analysis is to understand why you win or lose business! The core questions facilitating the answer to that question should, under most circumstances, not be removed or replaced. If you find yourself desiring the answer to other questions more than the answer to why you are winning / losing business, then you should use a different tool or approach which is more suited for the information you seek to gain. You may, however, rotate through other product lines or service categories in order to obtain information specific to other areas.
A recent Gartner study (“Tech Go-to-Market: Three Ways Marketers Can Use Data From Win/Loss Analysis to Increase Win Rates and Revenue“) found that less than one third of organizations conduct win / loss analysis properly. The same study found that win / loss analysis can increase win rates by as much as 50%! That should be no surprise. Understanding is the foundation upon which improvement must be built. Sure, win / loss analyses require a good deal of rigor and effort, but that 50% should be well worth it.