Establishing a win/loss program can identify the systematic factors that drive sales success and struggles. It can measure the alignment of your company’s solutions and sales processes with the customer’s needs and buying journey. It can also increase alignment among the sales, marketing, and product teams by providing an objective overview of what is happening in the market.
However, recommending that a company conduct win/loss analysis is akin to recommending that a company should advertise. Conceptually everyone agrees that the activity is worthwhile. The question is: What is the best win/loss approach for your firm’s needs and objectives? Like advertising, there are many flavors of win/loss research.
This article outlines the value of a formal or informal win/loss program. It also provides guidance on how to approach win/loss research based on your objectives, who is driving the research, and the nature of your deals.
Value of both informal and formal win/loss research
Many win/loss initiatives begin as informal programs, where Product Marketers and Product Managers regularly interview new customers and lost deals. These interviews help PMM teams keep tabs on how prospects perceive, and respond, to the company’s solutions and sales process.
There are many win/loss templates available online that identify key questions to ask. For one example visit our blog post – 12 Tips for DIY win/loss Research. Another good example is the templates the Product Marketing Alliance provides members or The Pragmatic Institute.
Although we recommend using a structured approach to conduct the interviews whenever they are done, the executions itself can be relatively informal. When the objective is to simply keep tabs on things, the interviews or surveys can be conducted when time allows and with new customers and recent losses that are easy to contact (a convenience sample).
But there are times when a product or executive team believes the company needs a more formal and robust understanding of why it wins and loses deals. That is when the design and approach matter.
Setting up a formal win/loss program
Defining Objectives & Stakeholders
Before you get focused on the tactical aspects of the program, define the program’s objectives, stakeholders, and how the results will be used. These strategic guidelines will help you select the best win/loss approach for your organization and define the specific questions, scope, and data collection tactics.
Companies have different motivations to initiate win/loss programs.
- It can be a part of a broader effort to be more market-centric – analogous to the role of many customer satisfaction or NPS programs.
- There may be a specific threat or change in the marketplace. Win rates may be decreasing. A specific competitor or category of competitors may be making headway in your market.
- A new executive may want firsthand insights into the sales process and the sales team’s performance.
If the objective is to improve win rates generally the program should be designed to collect feedback from a range of deal types. If a threat from a specific competitor sparked the research, there may be limited options for data collection. If an executive wants a dashboard the approach may need to be a quantitative survey.
Choosing a Methodology
At the highest level, there are two data collection options for win/loss programs: Surveys and qualitative in-depth interviews. Some comprehensive studies use both approaches. However, companies typically rely on one approach or the other. Here are some guidelines for when to use each methodology.
The survey approach asks wins/losses to self-complete a questionnaire consisting of closed-ended questions – rankings, ratings, multiple choice, etc. Inherent in the design is the assumption that you know the dimensions that drive purchase decisions. Put another way, you know the right questions to include in the survey.
Most win/loss surveys are conducted with online tools. This makes them easy to administer and cost effective. The quantitative nature of the data surveys product also lends itself to automated management dashboards.
Online surveys work best when:
- Your company competes in a high volume of deals–meaning thousands of deals per year. With survey response rates from losses often as low as 0.01%, a large pool of contacts is required to generate a reliable sample for analysis.
- The parameters of the deal (pricing, features, type of service, etc.) are consistent form opportunity-to-opportunity and between vendors.
- The set of decision-makers is relatively narrow. Closed-ended surveys can miss important dynamics in deals that are complex and involve multiple decision makers.
Many companies have solutions and objectives for their win/loss programs that fit the above criteria. Others would be better served using a qualitative in-depth interview approach.
Qualitative in-depth interviews are open-ended conversations with key stakeholders at wins and losses. The qualitative nature of an in-depth interview allows the interview to probe and clarify how the decision was made, who was involved. The interviews follow a structured discussion guide. They are typically conducted by someone in product marketing or by an external research partner, and not by a member of the sales team.
In-depth interviews are a good choice when:
- Deals are large or complex and involve multiple influencers
- A sales rep plays a major role in the process
- The solutions being sold are customized
- There are relative few deals to evaluate
The qualitative in-depth interview provides a narrative account summary that tells the story of the win or the loss. These narratives are typically shared with the key stakeholders and team member involved in the deal and then discussed in a roundtable meeting.
Focus on the Trends
Both surveys and in-depth interviews can provide rich insights into what drives your wins and losses. That makes them worth doing whether you do it informally or formally. Regardless of the approach you take, be sure to avoid one of the common pitfalls during analysis and interpretation of the data: Focus too much on one metric or on the details of a single deal. The most value of a win/loss programs typically come from identifying the overall systematic trends that enhance or hinder your sales success.
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