Be Smart: Be Human: Be Flexible

I read a moving post about the value of being flexible by my friend and book counselor, Judith Briles. She totally changed gears from talking about her book, The Confidence Factor, on a morning show in Cleveland due to a tragedy where some high school students had been killed the night before. The community was reeling from it. She decided it was time to talk from her heart. She had such incredible empathy from her experience losing her son at age 19, also in a terrible accident. The local community couldn’t get enough of her. The show extended her time by two segments and she was invited back.

manager woman doing yoga at white background

How flexible are you in competitive intelligence and Win/Loss analysis? We usually aren’t in situations where the daily news changes how we’ll be with people. However, it’s likely that no matter how much planning we do, there are surprises.

Flexibility at Trade Shows

In my first Neocon, the largest N America-based commercial interior and design trade show, I was asked to get specific information on three competitors. I had done my homework before the conference: I knew where are the competition’s exhibits were in the huge Chicago Merchandise Mart. I had memorized considerable facts about each competitor, and had my questions all organized in my head. I was sure of my game plan.

I came up to the market leader’s showroom and asked to have a tour of their space which featured some new products. The snooty sales person asked if I had an appointment. “Why no,” I answered. “I didn’t know I needed an appointment just to see your furniture display.” So I walked away feeling dejected.  To add spice to the day, I was rapidly losing my voice.

What was I to do? I could not succeed in my assignment unless I could get into the competitor’s showroom and get answers to our questions. Then I got an idea: “Why couldn’t I find a group who had an appointment and just tag along?” So I stood outside the market leader’s space until I saw a group of gentlemen from a well known software firm, heading to the competitor’s exhibit area. I asked if they had an appointment, and when they answered in the affirmative, I asked if I could tag along. “Sure,” they said. “Happy to have you join us.”

Ironically the snooty sales person was their account rep, who gave us the tour being as informative as she could be. She told us all about their new products, and why they were better than the competition, which answered most of my client’s questions. She glared at me, but graciously answered my questions, since I imagine this was one of her largest accounts as this software firm was expanding exponentially. Meanwhile her client had questions that I hadn’t thought of, as they were steeped in the commercial interior space. Their jobs varied among purchasing, design and decision-making, so you can just imagine how much I learned, all because I hung back and waited for a major customer to get the tour.

Flexibility in Win/Loss Interviews

In Win/Loss interviews, I like to research who I’ll be speaking to, and usually can find something about them from the sales team and social media, especially on LinkedIn. No matter how much you learn, you need to be flexible as soon as you connect with them on the phone, SKYPE or however you converse. Sometimes you cold call these people, especially in B2C Win/Loss interviews.

In one case, I was trying to reach those who used test and measurement tools. When the gentleman answered his phone I could barely hear him and wondered why he had even bothered. I could hear machinery very close by and asked where he was. “I am a crane operator, and that’s where I am.” I chewed him out for answering his mobile on the job and asked to schedule a time when he would not be operating his crane. We had a great interview during his lunch hour the next day.

In another case, I thought I was going to talk to a user of these test and measurement tools, which was the target of this project. Instead I got through to a person who repaired all the brands of these test and measurement tools. I revised the questions on the spot, and asked him about the repair track record of all the manufacturers’ test and measurement tools. This was one of the most informative interviews we had, since he had about 20 years of experience. Not only did we get the current trend in repair protocol and need, but we also got the history of how it had changed, and his future assessment of the industry.

Competitive Intelligence Collection

In another project, I was researching the glass industry. My client thought I might benefit from listening in on the quarterly earnings call. I thought I might just as well read the report later, and look at the slides. But he insisted that I should listen in. I was so glad I did. When the CEO was asked about the failing glass business, his tone of voice changed to a sad one. Yet he didn’t indicate any desire to sell it. A rational business person would have sold it a few years before I was hired to investigate this company. This made me wonder what emotional tie this CEO might have to the glass business. I found out his dad had bought the business, and that he wanted to keep it going for his dad.

So I told my client I couldn’t predict what would trigger the sale of this business, which was inevitable, but it would be a major event where the CEO would be forced to sell the business. Perhaps it might be a terrible accident in the glass factory. A couple of years later, some stockholders filed to force the CEO to sell this unprofitable business and won. My client was ready to capture this company’s glass business.

So the bottom line is as with many things in life. Do your homework and be prepared. Be flexible and swallow your pride, and let your heart speak when it’s needed. That way when the unexpected happens, you will have an ability to shift gears.

Check out our book, Win/Loss Analysis: How to Capture and Keep the Business You Want.

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Selling Win/Loss Analysis to Sales Teams

Win/Loss analysisSales may initially exhibit fear and resistance to Win/Loss analysis since individual sales people’s performance will be critiqued by customers in ways it hasn’t been, outside of sales management. Others, whose products and services are continually being upgraded, are more likely to appreciate Win/Loss analysis since their marketplace and products are a fast moving target. But, Win/Loss analysis focuses on buyer’s entire decision-making process, most of which is made before they contact sales. Thus, a major objective in Win/Loss analysis is improved lead generation: Find where buyers look and how they are influenced by what they learn before they call sales …so more do connect with sales. What are the strategic benefits that Sales gains from Win/Loss analysis?

  • Improved customer retention
  • Higher win rates
  • Expanded pipelines
  • Increased customer spend
  • Untapped opportunities with little competition

Here are a few of the tactical benefits for Sales from Win/Loss analysis.

  • Better quality leads
  • Competitive intelligence
  • Silver bullets to win against the competition
  • Repurpose Win/Loss data for
    • Competitor webinars or podcasts
    • Sales tactics workshops
    • Sales battle cards

And besides, Win/Loss is not focused on critiquing of individual sales people. Ask general questions such as:

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

By hearing first-hand why their peers won or lost deals, sales people can replicate successes and avoid costly mistakes that impact their ability to win business. Marketing can also use the success stories to develop case studies to use with customers as proof points on why the customer should choose your company’s solution.

Learn how to build your company’s Win Loss analysis program from my book: Win/Loss Analysis: How to Capture and Keep the Business You Want.

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Outsourcing Win/Loss Analysis? How to Select the Right Consultant

I am excited that my book, Win, Lose or Draw: How to Grow Your Business through Win/Loss Analysis is now in the copy editing process.

This is a follow-on blog to Win/Loss Analysis: Outsourcing versus In-House where I share the pros and cons of doing Win/Loss analysis in-house, outsourcing it, or outsourcing part of it.

Win/Loss consultantIf you want to outsource Win/Loss analysis, here are 10 things to consider as you decide on a consulting firm:

  1. Industry Experience
  2. Connection to Sales
  3. Professionalism
  4. Project Management
  5. Team Player
  6. Written/Oral Skills
  7. Project Delivery
  8. Deliverables
  9. Fees
  10. Sharing Win/Loss Experience

1. How much experience do they have in your industry or a related industry? How much industry experience is required or can you educate the consultant adequately on your industry? I have been able to gain enough knowledge about the customer’s industry from client sharing and my own research. It’s mostly needed to probe more deeply on technical issues. Most of what you are asking about does not require technical expertise. It requires an understanding of how sales are made and how buyers find and make their decisions. The consultant learns more about your company, the industry and the marketplace each time they conduct Win/Loss interviews and analysis.

However, there are some industries that are so technical that you will need to hire someone who already has this experience, such as a retired employee or a consulting firm that focuses on your industry. Beware when you hire a consultant in your space that they are not working for your competition. Win/Loss interviews and analysis results are highly proprietary.

2. Rapport with sales and sales management is often overlooked in our anxiety that the consultant will connect well with our customers and non-customers. How well is that consultant going to relate to your sales people and sales managers to get their customer and non-customer (losses) data? Has the consultant ever been a sales rep? Do they speak sales? The ability to connect with sales is essential since the consultant needs to know how the account was left before calling their customer.

3. The consultant needs to be professional and respectful both with your company employees and customers and non-customers. It’s often a challenge to gauge their professionalism. However, you can get some clues from their proposal, website, blogs and other Win/Loss publications they have authored. Check out a couple of testimonials if the consulting firm wasn’t referred to you.

Interviewing skills are much harder to gauge than written skills. Perhaps the consultant gives presentations or webinars that you can listen to in order to get an idea of their attitude, tone and speaking style, although unlike Win/Loss interviews, these are mostly 1-way communication.

4. Project Management is a key requirement for Win/Loss analysis. The first 4 steps of Win/Loss are collaborative:

  1. Coordinate and develop the right questions with the right people at your company.
  2. Collaborate with sales to get customer/non-customer data.
  3. Keep track of each contact in the interview process.
  4. Conduct the interviews and write up the summaries soon thereafter.

5. How well will the consultant connect with your sales reps and sales management? How well will they collaborate with your company employees? Will they quickly establish rapport with your customers/non-customers? Is the consultant trustworthy? Is the consultant a good listener?

6. What is the consultant’s experience in conducting Win/Loss interviews and the analysis? Decide how you will assess their writing skills. Do they write or blog about Win/Loss?

Be sensitive about asking for a Win/Loss analysis report sample: Win/Loss findings are highly proprietary. Win/Loss is custom research. Your final report will look quite different from a scrubbed sample since it will reflect what is uncovered from your Win/Loss interviews.

7. Win/Loss is a relationship business. You rely on other people’s schedules for the first 4 steps listed under “#4 Project Management” above. To do Win/Loss analysis right, you need adequate time: don’t skimp on it. Don’t reward the hasty Win/Loss consultant, since they usually won’t be able to adhere to a hasty schedule.

8. Be clear on your expected deliverables. What communication do you expect from the consultant on project progress? Do you want interview summaries or transcripts of the Win/Loss interviews? How do you want the quantitative data presented? Do you have a preferred format for the final Win/Loss analysis report? Do you expect an oral presentation of the findings? Would your company benefit from an interactive brainstorming workshop? Often enough Win/Loss findings bring up more questions, so a facilitated brainstorming session with key sales, marketing and product developers can be quite fruitful.

9. Understand the full cost of outsourcing your Win/Loss program. This is custom research so consultants charge differently from each other.

There is typically a start-up fee to learn your industry, your sales process, your sales deliverables, the competition and to organize the Win/Loss template for interviews. There is a cost per completed interview, which might include a written summary or transcribed recordings. Some consultants charge a certain fee for unsuccessful interview attempts to incent clients to give them an accurate list of customer/non-customers to interview. There will be a cost for the final Win/Loss analysis report. There may be an additional cost to present the Win/Loss findings to your team or this might be included in the cost of the final Win/Loss report. There will be an additional cost for the consultant to facilitate an optional half/full day review of Win/Loss findings, recommendations and brainstorming on how/who should implement the changes at your company.

10. Does the consultant write about Win/Loss aside from their website? Is it all just promotional material or does it impart some “how to” knowledge? Does the consultant present or teach Win/Loss analysis? Has the consultant been published in Win/Loss in trade journals, magazines or a book? How clear is their Win/Loss proposal? Is it customized to your needs or just a Win/Loss proposal template?

In the end you need to decide who you are most comfortable working with. Chemistry is important as Win/Loss is a relationship business. If you decide to embark on a Win/Loss program, I hope you’ll consider The Business Intelligence Source as a partner for the parts of the process that you want to outsource.

Research from various sources indicates that a formal Win/Loss program can improve win rates up to 30%. However, there are no guarantees. Beware of consultants who guarantee that they can improve your win rates by a certain percentage. Nothing happens until you take action based on Win/Loss analysis findings. We consultants can only make recommendations for change. We don’t know the culture of your company like you do, which is imperative for making change. Closing deals can be improved by many actions, and not all of them come from Win/Loss recommendations.

Good luck with your Win/Loss program.

Here is a Win/Loss Analysis Slideshare to help you develop your Win/Loss analysis program.

Win/Loss Analysis book gives you a process to learn why you’re losing business and how to keep more of it!

Receive our 6-page Win/Loss Cheat Sheets

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3 New Competitive Intelligence Books

Red open bookIt is my pleasure to share 3 great competitive intelligence books that came to my attention this week.

Business and Competitive Analysis: Effective Applications of New and Classic Methods, 2nd Edition by Craig Fleisher and Babette Bensoussan, Pearson, 2015.

So what’s changed in this version?

  • They have included new techniques not included in the 1st edition
  • They include Key Intelligence Questions for each technique
  • They give you ideas for other similar or complementary techniques you can use
  • There is a worksheet that you can use for each technique, handy for teachers too
  • They also teach you a better SWOT.
  • Babette Bensoussan promises once you use this improved SWOT, you won’t turn back to the old 4 boxes one.

Craig Fleisher informs that customer orders for printed copies overwhelmed their publisher, Pearson, this week. They should be available again next week. For those of you who need it more quickly, the digital version is available at Amazon and other digital on-line retailers.

 

The Guide to Online Due Diligence Investigations: The Professional Approach on How to Use Traditional and Social Media Resources by Cynthia Hetherington, Facts on Demand Press, 2015.

Learn “Hetherington’s methods” in this book which provide the information for you to:

  • Conduct an online background on any business, person or entity, foreign or domestic
  • Hunt down online social network profiles and locate assets
  • Set up alerts for asset tracking or any type of investigation
  • Learn how to keep up with cutting edge services that are coming up daily.
  • Expose fraudulent business enterprises, locate assets, and find undercover intelligence.
  • Learn about database resources and online sources for conducting research online.
  • A demonstration of actual Web sites to utilize in their own investigations.
  • Found Online – Learn where and how your personal life ends up databases and how it is sold.

 

Blue Ocean Strategy, Expanded Edition: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Market the Competition Irrelevant by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne, Harvard Business Review Press, 2015.  Following are excerpts from Amazon reviews.

According to John Gibbs, an Amazon Top 1000 reviewer:

“While not every reader of the book will discover a perfectly formed blue ocean strategy, almost every reader who spends time and effort working through the tools provided by the authors will come up with some creative strategic ideas which might not otherwise have arisen. This is one of my favourite books on strategy and, although the changes between the first edition and the expanded edition are not substantial, they are still enough to justify the price of buying the new edition.”

Another more anonymous reviewer adds:

“This new expanded edition adds new chapters at the back covering unanswered questions from the original. The new chapter on the issue of what the authors call “alignment”, that explains how to get your staff and suppliers on board with you when you decide to make a ‘blue ocean’ move, is particularly useful. That new chapter alone made this a worthwhile purchase for me.”

Zunaira Munar comments:

“The new expanded edition of the book now puts the big picture in perspective by showing how strategic alignment of value, profit and people propositions is achieved to create a successful blue ocean strategy. The new chapter about red ocean traps is particularly insightful as it shows, through interesting examples, what keeps companies stuck in red oceans and how to overcome those mental models. The addition of two new principles of blue ocean strategy for addressing execution risks related to renewal and sustainability answer some of the very important questions that my clients have asked over the years about blue ocean strategy. It is also interesting to see how the case studies described in the original book ten years ago have evolved over the years, presenting useful insights into the sustainability of blue oceans.”

Jacqueline Chang comments:

“My favourite part about the expanded edition is that there is even more emphasis on how Blue Ocean Strategy can be applied to illuminate the human dimension of organisations, to engage people’s hearts and minds in carrying out their activities. The book illustrates how to build execution into strategy and create trust among employees and other partners. I found many useful examples that other project managers can learn from, particularly in terms of how a new strategy can be implemented quickly and at low cost.”

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Win Loss Interviews: Compensation and Recording

Win Lose or Draw

Win Lose or Draw

As many of you know, I am writing, Win, Lose or Draw, a book on how to set up a world class win loss program.

 

 

 

 

In this book I am sharing some best practices to capture customer intelligence through win loss interviews:

  • The Steps to Take to Establish a Sustainable Win Loss Program
  • How to Include Sales People in Your Win Loss Process
  • Determining Which Customers and Prospects to Target
  • The Value of Interviewing Wins AND Losses
  • How Your Company Culture Will Impact the Execution of Win Loss
  • What to Look for if You Outsource Win Loss Interviews and / or the Analysis
  • What You Should Cover in a Win Loss Interview
  • How to Conduct a Win Loss Interview to Maximize Sharing
  • Tips on How to Structure Win Loss Analysis

What are your best practices in there two areas:

  • Monetary Compensation to those you interview for a win or loss
  • Recording Win Loss Interviews

#1 Do you compensate the customers and prospects you interview?

If you compensate, has this improved your success at getting people to agree to be interviewed?

If you compensate, what do you think is a competitive rate per interview?

Which industries are you expected to compensate, such as doctors?

Where had you better not compensate, such as government employees?

 #2 How do you feel about recording interviews?

If you record interviews, do you transcribe them?

What software do you use?

Do you use the transcripts for data mining?

I have mixed emotions and experience in both of these areas. I tend to get a pretty good interviewing rate without compensation, but I haven’t queried doctors. I always have a good value proposition, and have an organized process which is more apt to lead to YES for the interview.

Win loss is a good use of a customer’s or prospect’s time, since it gives them an opportunity to tell you what they do and don’t like about doing business with you and the competition—after the pressure of the decision to buy has been made. Yet I am realistic in that people’s schedules are so filled these days that I am competing for their time, so sweetening the deal with a monetary reward will encourage them to find the time.

I feel kind of like a spy when I record conversations. Call me old fashioned. I have such an established shorthand for note taking that I don’t miss much, and have no problem asking them to clarify or I repeat what I thought I heard them say to slow them down a bit. I don’t mind getting back with a question after the interview since I always have their email. I always provide interview summaries, which can be data mined. My clients are more apt to read the summaries since they are a quick read compared to transcripts.

While Win Loss is a relationship business, like all business processes, it continues to evolve. With the advent of big data, some companies include win loss transcripts in their big data to more scientifically uncover trends, for example.

If you’re uncomfortable sharing your best practices on social media or my blog, please email me at ellen at thebisource.com or send me a private message on LinkedIn or Twitter.  Thanks so much. I am closing in on my rough draft for the book. It feels good to get this far.

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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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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.

Be notified when our book, Win/Loss Analysis: How to Capture and Keep the Business You Want is published.

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