Win/Loss Analysis – Triangulating on the truth

Understanding why deals are won or lost can seem like a game of telephone or “He said, she said”:  The Buyer gives one side of the story, Sales has another, and Marketing brings its point of view too.  Who is right?  Everyone’s partly right and partly wrong.  In our experience, the best process combines all available information streams to triangulate on the truth.

Companies often implement win/loss programs when they encounter a rough patch: Sales have flattened or declined, or a new competitor emerges with unexpected success. These dynamics create internal insecurities, finger pointing, and at worst, eroded trust between functional teams. Sales feels Marketing is out of touch with the front lines, Product Management believe Sales uses price as an excuse, and so on. To settle the dispute, a third party like Isurus Market Research is brought in to provide an objective, outside perspective. With no vested interest in the outcome, we listen to wins and losses with an unbiased ear (e.g. we can tell if comments about price reflect actual decision drivers or if they are a red herring). People talk more openly with a third party than with someone who wants to sell them something. This enables a third party, like Isurus, to elicit insights that are unavailable to internal teams.

While results from win/loss interviews provide significant value, we encourage clients to use the insights we bring judiciously.  No win/loss program or research firm can provide the end-all be-all of reasons for a client’s wins and losses. There simply is no single point-of-truth. The process is analogous to a criminal investigation.

In an investigation detectives take statements from multiple witnesses and often from the same witness multiple times. Rarely do the stories match perfectly. There are inconsistencies across witnesses and from the same witness over different conversations. Lawyers and investigators evaluate the circumstances and possible motivations. Then, as a team, they take these various information streams to develop the most accurate picture possible of what happened. In the end it’s the collective knowledge that makes the difference – not any single interview or perceived circumstance.

Effective win/loss programs have the same dynamics and follow the same process. The sales reps have multiple conversations with the loss, some during the sales process, some after the decision has been made. The product team has circumstantial evidence on how its products fit the specifics of the RFP. Marketing has insights into competitive advantages/disadvantages. Outside research firms like Isurus provide insights into motivations, perceptions and additional circumstantial evidence. Taken collectively these provide the most accurate picture of why the prospect likely made the decision they did.

This is a mix of good and bad news in terms of setting expectations for a win/loss program.

The bad news first: There aren’t any silver bullets. Often by the time organizations engage a third party for a win/loss program they’re frustrated and looking for a single, definitive thing they can do that will improve their sales outcomes. Unfortunately, the solution is more complicated than that. If a single factor makes a major difference most companies would have figured it out long before looking for outside help. In addition, getting the most out of a win/loss program takes work. The functional teams need to spend time together dissecting the lost deals. This includes thinking through all of the information available and figuring out how to square the circle when Sales heard one thing and the win/loss consultant heard another.

Now the good news: The efforts will bear fruit. When functional teams regularly work together to evaluate why they win or lose deals they start to see patterns. They can then make systematic changes that lead to long term success, which is far better than reacting to the one-off circumstance of any individual lost deal. The process also brings the functional teams closer to the end-customer and helps them develop a shared understanding of the value the company brings to the market.

The takeaway: Relying on a partner for a win/loss program will get you part of the way there. But the most successful programs get more than simple buy-in from the functional teams, they bring the teams together as an investigative team. So before you evaluate potential win/loss vendors, you should evaluate your internal teams and how you will work together to triangulate on the truth.