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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Is Mindset Block a Lack of Listening?

Listening DogI read two great blogs in the last couple of weeks: David Harkelroad’s which asserted that the biggest problem in strategy is mindset; and an HBR blog on “What Gets in the Way of Listening?” I think they are related since if you truly listen, you are open to having your mind changed.

There are many reasons people don’t listen well. We aren’t trained on listening from childhood with the competition that seems to thrive in the classroom for the best answer, to be the best, often at the expense of the other students. Sometimes we don’t listen since we’re scared. We are trying to appear confident and assertive and miss others’ perspectives in the process.

I like the flexible mindset shared in the HBR blog, “I do have a viewpoint going in, but I don’t assume or try to show I’m the smartest person in the room. I’m willing to hear them (colleagues) out for the sake of getting the best answer, not just my answer.” Listening is a sign of incredible self-confidence. Back to David’s point about mindset. I think many leaders don’t fully listen since they aren’t confident, but they want to appear confident. In the example cited of Blockbuster’s Wayne Huizenga having the intelligence to get into digital media, there is something that stops many executives from taking corrective action. Maybe the extremely generous pay that executives receive clouds their judgment and reinforces them not to change their mindset.

“Leaders who take organizational conversation seriously, know when to stop talking and start listening.” (“Leadership is a Conversation” by Boris Groysberg and Michael Slind). When you put aside your fear and anticipation, you are more open to listening. You are fully present and ready to respond to whatever gets thrown your way. You’re not thinking about what you might say next. You realize that a critical part of your job is to fully listen. Good interviewers and journalists have known this for years.

Interestingly enough, when you focus on yourself, you can pick out your listening weaknesses.

  • Do you listen to your inner critic rather than your audience when giving a presentation or sharing findings in a meeting?
  • Do you only see your role as an information professional? (fill in your job title)
  • Does your listening shut down when you are emotionally uncomfortable?
  • Are you trying so hard to show confidence and be right that you aren’t listening?

So what can we do as marketing, strategic or competitive intelligence professionals to change our leadership’s mindset as we provide them information and insight to assist in decision-making, which perhaps doesn’t support where they were headed? I have found that many of them possess a major ego. If I can provide them with the intelligence to feed their ego in a way that makes them think it’s their idea, I don’t have to change their mindset, which I think is a lot harder. But they do change their course of  action when it becomes “their idea.”

I am curious as to how others deal with their leadership’s lack of listening ears? I know as a telephone interviewer that there are not enough listening ears and that job disengagement in the US is around 70%, so if they answer their phone, they are likely to be informative.

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