How Culture Affects the Win Loss Process

Culture in Win LossI continue to write my Guide to Win Loss Analysis book, which is the best of source of customer intelligence I know of. I still need to find a better title: any ideas?

I have had the pleasure of interviewing two impressive Directors of Win Loss programs. Both work for large companies that have done win loss analysis for a long while. Both emphasized the importance of company culture in how they set up their win loss programs; how they conduct win loss interviews—both internally and with customers—and how they write up the win loss analysis.

Culture at a Telecommunications Company

At a large telecommunications firm, the win loss team and sales people work cooperatively. At the outset, the win loss team worked with the various sales organizations and other key stakeholders, such as pricing and product groups, to develop an exhaustive set of testable hypotheses regarding root causes of sales successes and failures. This process had the benefits of buy-in from Sales and other key stakeholders as well as a higher quality analysis.

This telecommunication firm holds a full blown 360 internal company debrief before conducting a win loss interview with the customer or prospect. The meeting is not recorded so people share freely. Lessons learned along the way are noted as well as why those at the meeting think they won or lost the deal.

After the internal company debrief, the win loss person accompanies the sales person to conduct the win loss interview. The win loss team does not want to interfere with the rapport that sales people have developed with the customer. Thus the sales person is a member of the win loss interviewing team.

The win loss process is not a Sales witch hunt. Rather it is more holistic:

  • Why did we win or lose the bid?
  • What are the gaps in the RFP (request for proposal)?

The aim is not to assess or critique the performance of Sales outside of factual relationship questions that can be tied to a win or a loss:

  • Frequency of sales visits
  • Executive alignment from the telecommunications company with the client company’s C-levels

This cooperation permeates the win loss report. The win loss team is empathetic and sensitive to company politics and face saving in their reports on losses. The recommendations you make at the conclusion of the win loss report can impact people’s jobs. In this vein, the win loss team interviews those who are criticized during a loss interview to get their side of the story before publishing the quarterly win loss report.

Culture at a Big Four Firm

Win Loss is particularly sensitive since consulting firms only provide services. Thus there is no product to assess like there is at the telecommunications firm, so it’s entirely subjective. It’s all about the people: their skills, expertise, presentation, communication and project management. Professional services work tends to be long term, and the projects major, so wins and losses have the potential to make or break a career.

The lead sales person is an Account Partner, which adds another level of politics to the win loss process. Thus the Win Loss Director realized he needed to be collaborative with Account Partners to gain access to their accounts. Being a Director rather than a Manager gives him credibility with his company’s Account Partners and their senior level clients.

Every win loss interview is a sales job in this culture, so the Win Loss Director reduces the politics around which clients to query. He will ask the Account Partner if he can conduct a win loss interview with his client, just after the Account Partner has pitched the sale. Since this request is put forth before knowing how the deal with close, win loss is seen as less punitive.

Due to the company culture and the high stakes of most sales, the Win Loss Director assures the Account Partners, while letting them know he needs their help to be positioned for win loss interviews with their clients:

  • I am an internal third party, but I’m outside of Sales. I need you Mr./Ms. Account Partner to gain entrée to your client
  • Remember we work for the same firm so we have consistent client service standards
  • The first person I will get back to is you, Mr./Ms. Account Partner. At a minimum, I will go to you first with sensitive information so you will not be blind-sided
  • If I find damaging information, I will act with discretion, consideration, and a sense of partnership. We use what we uncover in win loss interviews as lessons learned

Recording Win loss Interviews

The culture around recording is different between the telecommunications company and this big four firm. At the big four firm, the Win Loss Director records every conversation, and asks for permission beforehand. This process gives internal clients assurance that the quoted client verbatim statements are accurate. This also gives the Win Loss Director the ability to pull out the conversation that led up to the verbatim. The report makes a great impact especially from direct client quotes which add credibility and authority to the win loss analysis. Since their conversation is being recorded, the client being interviewed feels important. They know that their feedback is appreciated and that they will not be misunderstood.

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Win Loss: A Cooperative Relationship Business

I am having a blast writing my book on how to develop and implement a sustainable win loss program. I am 2/3 done with my rough draft: no writer’s cramp yet. Here are some tidbits for you to noodle on as you think about your win loss efforts.

Win Loss is a Cooperative Relationship Business: You need to treat people the way they like to be treated throughout the process.

we build relationshipsIt starts with soliciting feedback for the win loss questions from multiple people in relevant departments such as sales, marketing, product management, PR and executives. The next touch point is the internal interviews you conduct before reaching out to customers. Treat sales people with respect. They are the gateway to the customer.

Be sensitive especially around losses as it’s easy for account reps to lose face in this process. You want them to realize how much they can learn for future deals by interviewing their customers, and that their customer isn’t the only one you’re reaching out to interview. Sales managers usually get this, but they aren’t the one who just lost the deal and the commission check that went along with it. This is one reason you also include win interviews, to keep sales uplifted about the process. Of course you learn things from win interviews that you don’t from losses.

With the customer, you want to engage early and frequently throughout the sales process. Relationships can make or break deals, especially when there is little differentiation among competitor’s products or services. You need to be respectful and polite when conducting these interviews as you represent your company (or the hiring company if you’re a consultant). Sales works hard to develop customer relationships. You don’t want to upset these relationships. That’s why I like to get plenty of information on each account before I even reach out to schedule a business to business win loss interview.

Rather than conducting a witch hunt on sales people in win loss interviews, go for a more holistic approach such as:

  • Why did we win or lose the business?
  • What are the gaps in our proposal?
  • What did we do well that they appreciate?
  • Where can we make improvements?
  • What did the competition do well that they appreciate?
  • Where can the competition make improvements?

Remember that the recommendations you make at the conclusion of your win loss report can impact people’s jobs. Be sensitive to company politics and face saving in your loss reports. Don’t assume a trend or fully believe everything customers tell you. Find several examples of the same trend before reporting it as such. If there is a complaint against a certain person, crosscheck and give that person a chance to tell their side of the story. Sometimes the customer really didn’t get along with an account rep, and they can’t say anything good about him or her. You need to dig deep enough to get the full scoop as to what happened. You will get a more balanced perspective, make the accused employee feel better and feel better about what you’re writing in your win loss report. This is so important for a sustainable win loss analysis program.

Consistency

In closing, one key to your program’s success is consistency. If you have the same person or couple of people conduct win loss interviews (both internally and to customers and prospects), you gain progressively more insight. In the first year, you will learn the issues. By the third year, the interviewer(s) has a solid relationship with sales teams, management and has an incredible grasp of the issues, which gives them the ability to know when and how to probe to gain maximum information from each win loss interview.

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Win Loss: Indecision is Often Stress

Lost maze conceptI have been conducting win loss analysis for 25 years, and have wondered how stress affects decision-making, since it crawls into most aspects of daily life.

I recently discovered Stephen W Martin’s studies on this very topic. In 2012, he interviewed several hundred B to B salespeople about their challenges in winning deals with prospective clients. Their companies ranged from start-ups to billions of dollars with the majority between $50 – $150 million in annual revenue. He has also interviewed thousands of decision-makers in the win loss analysis process.

The top finding from Sales is that their biggest enemy is not the competition: it’s “no decision.” Customers are afraid to make decisions due to the stress of buying. Psychologically, stress shortens attention spans, escalates mental exhaustion, and contributes to poor decision making. This can lead to analysis paralysis. To reduce the fear, uncertainty and doubt in decision making, customers will:

  • List needs in lengthy RFP documents
  • Hire consultants to help them make the right decision
  • Conduct lengthy product evaluations
  • Talk to existing product users to ensure they work as the vendors claim they do

Customers are seldom sure they are purchasing the right product or solution, and there are often naysayers in their organizations who are against moving forward. So customers increasingly don’t make a purchase even after a thorough evaluation. They feel too overwhelmed with information and contradicting evidence to make a decision.

I have paraphrased and embellished on the specific forms of stress Stephen has uncovered in his research that can postpone decision making or lead to indecision.

Budgetary Stress – Is the money available and justified for this purchase? A company’s budgeting process is not only designed to prioritize where money is to be spent but also to remove the fear of spending it.

Evaluation Committee Stress – Finding common agreement for a solution. Whenever a company makes a purchasing decision that involves groups of people, self-interests, politics, and group dynamics will influence the final decision, and can cause it to stagnate.

Vendor Selection Stress – What is the difference among competitors? The difference between most products is often small in that they share the same basic features, functions and benefits, which makes decision making more difficult.

Information Stress – What is Truthful? Most customers have had a negative experience with a salesperson which leads them into the stressful position of separating fact from fiction. Thus salespeople carry the burden of proving they’re telling the truth. Later in the sales cycle, competitors will often sabotage one another and this quarreling can cause customers to postpone or cancel decision-making.

Corporate Stress – What is the best solution for the company? Evaluators want to do what’s in the best interest of their company and to be good corporate citizens. Even after a formal evaluation process, the likelihood that a purchase will not be made jumps tenfold when the recommended solution is not aligned to the company’s goals and direction. This is more often the case with purchases that are instigated by lower level employees.

Peer Level Stress – What will my peers think? Whether from above, below, or the same level in an organization, coworkers continually evaluate the behavior, success, and failures of those in the decision-making process. This exerts pressure on the evaluators to make the right decision and not to make a decision if there isn’t an obvious choice or clear-cut direction.

Individual Stress – Retaining my job. Today, employment is never guaranteed and loyalty frequently goes unrewarded by companies. This leads some prospective buyers to feel continual pressure to put their individual needs before the company’s to keep their job or to help them land another opportunity.

Conclusion: I believe the stresses that employees face in making a wrong decision gives incumbents and big companies with strong brand ID even better odds at winning business. According to Stephen, incumbents have 80% odds of winning the business. This makes customer retention an even more valuable goal for companies.

In the last 10 years, I have lost business increasingly due to being small and having lower brand ID than larger firms even though I have been doing competitive intelligence since 1985, have led initiatives at two Fortune 500 companies, and am widely published. In many cases I feel that decision-makers are too stressed out to change providers or to seriously consider a smaller solution provider. I would love to hear other people’s stories on this.

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Are you a work in progress? | Babette Bensoussan + Co

We walk around with an illusion that what we are now is what we will be in the future. Harvard Psychologist Dan Gilbert raises the concept that the person you are right now is a transient being and explains how time transforms preferences, values and personalities.

Source

Interesting talk in that many of us think we aren’t changing when we are. All we have to do is look back 10 years and think what we liked then versus now. We are always changing. While the rate of change slows as we age, we underestimate the amount of change at every age. Successful entrepreneurs are often embrace change and enjoy looking into the future. 

Check out the video by Dan GIlbert: The Psychology of Your Future Self to get a perspective of how you realize how much you change when looking to your past versus how little you realize you will change in the future. 

 

Templates for Win Loss Analysis

loss win photoI am now writing my win loss analysis book in earnest, over 2500 words, and adding at least 500 per day although I take Sundays off.

The question I get asked the most often is: “Can you share your win loss templates?”

This is a hard question to answer. While there is some commonality among the questions you want to ask your customers and prospects based on your industry and the things sales, marketing and product developers want to know; you need to use your creative juices. You also want to ask the right questions to answer your goals for conducting win loss interviews and analysis. For example, you might want to learn how your product or service is used, since it might be different from your company’s intention. Product developers will eat this up. Sales people will too if it means they can sell more.

Creativity aside, below is my template to stimulate your line of questioning for win loss interviews.

I break down questions into 4 buckets:

  • Relationship health
  • Company reputation
  • Product/Service attributes
  • Servicing issues

Win Loss Template

 

I hope this helps you create your win loss interview questions. Stay tuned for more tips on how to set up and execute a win loss program to help retain and grow your business.

In the meantime, feel free to checkout my Slideshare on “The Why, What and How of Win Loss Analysis.”

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20 Reasons to Do Win Loss Analysis

loss win photoI have some exciting news to share. I am writing a book on how to develop a win/loss program, even if you only do it for one quarter. I had thought that you would only gain benefit if you conducted these interviews quarterly, but I found out that you can learn so much, even from 20-25 interviews.

I hope to share this skill so small and mid-size companies can take advantage of what they can learn from more in-depth interviews with customers and prospects a couple of months after the sales event. I have been doing win loss interviews and analysis since the late 1980s and I keep coming back to it, since my customers learn more from these interviews than any other tactical analytic technique, as long as they take corrective action from the findings.

Why do you care about doing win/loss interviews?

  1. You learn things that your customers and prospects don’t want to tell Sales
  2. You learn things that your customers and prospects do tell Sales, but Sales doesn’t tell you
  3. You learn why customers really chose your solution
  4. You learn why prospects chose another solution provider
  5. You learn why undecided customers aren’t upgrading their solution
  6. You learn what your company is doing well
  7. You learn where your company can make improvements
  8. You learn what the competition does well
  9. You learn where they can make improvements
  10. You learn that the competition doesn’t always deliver on what they promise
  11. You learn that your company doesn’t always deliver on what your sales force promises
  12. You learn about good customer testimonials
  13. You learn about bad customer testimonials
  14. You learn how customer testimonials affect the sale
  15. You learn about shortcomings in the marketplace
  16. You learn about new technology being promised
  17. You learn how customers and non-customers perceive your selling process from start to finish
  18. From your wins, you learn how well implementation, training and customer service is perceived
  19. From your losses, you learn how well the competition’s implementation, training and customer service is perceived
  20. You learn about other marketing factors that affect customer perception: your trade show booth, industry write-ups, your advertising, etc.

Given all these benefits, I don’t understand why more companies don’t conduct win loss interviews and the resulting analysis. It’s the most cost effective form of research I know of, and talk about real-time intelligence. You gain so much more insight from a conversation than from conducting on-line surveys. I wish companies did fewer on-line surveys, since most of them seem meaningless. How can I assess good customer service from a grocery store cashier or retail cashier, who just rings up my sale?

You can gain great intelligence from talking to your customers, and win loss interviews are another marketing touch point if they are properly positioned as learning how you can improve your relationship with customers and prospects.

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Honoring Maya Angelou

The world has lost one of our greatest women this week, Maya Angelou. Her words have inspired so many people ranging from world leaders to the mainstream population of men and women around the world.

Years ago, I read about her life, and how she chose to be silent for a number of years during her difficult youth. I am so grateful she endured that time, and chose to share her many reflections about life over the years. She has impacted my life with her statements, particularly this one.

Maya Angelou

So many of us, myself included, spend too much time thinking about saying the right words when we hold a conversation. Maya made me realize that it’s my intention and the tone that I share that influence the conversation much more than the exact words.

I intend to make the person I talk to feel better at the conclusion of our conversation than when we started, even when I cold call.

I reinforce this intention with a short meditation or reflection before a conversation. This helps me think about the other person.

Another habit that reinforces this intention, physically is to put a smile on your face, whether on the phone or in person. Sometimes I have to force it at first, and then it just stays.

“Don’t take yourself too seriously.” What’s the worst thing that will happen in a conversation? Nothing life threatening that’s for sure.

Be enthusiastic: it’s infectious and you bring good energy to the other person, which is a gift.

Show appreciation for their time and what they’re sharing; and not just at the end of your conversation.

Be polite. This is a rare commodity in this digital world.

Listen closely and without judgment. Wow, it’s amazing what great questions you will ask; how much you’ll learn; and how good you’ll make them feel.

I share this Maya Angelou wise saying in almost every competitive intelligence, elicitation training, interviewing or conversational presentation or training session I give.

Thank you Dr. Maya Angelou.

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