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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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.

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

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From Competitive Intelligence to Sales Enablement: Free Webinar

Join us for a free 45 minute webinar on April 22 at Noon Eastern US time (11 am Central, 10 am Mountain, 9 am Pacific).

Getting from collecting competitive intelligence to winning more deals from collected competitive intelligence can be tricky if you don’t have a good road map.

  • Companies collect competitive data, but don’t know what to do with it
  • Sales teams waste time finding the data they need to win competitive deals
  • Product selling is not an effective way to convince customers to buy

Join our informative webinar and learn how to turn your competitive intelligence into sales intelligence to improve your sales force’s close ratios and customer retention.

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Ellen Naylor of The Business Intelligence Source will share her knowledge on how to collect from your sales force, which helps them win more deals and retain more business. Mitch Emerson of Compelligence will show how you can transform that data into competitive intelligence that your sales reps can tap into for each deal. Dean Davison of Forrester Research will show you how to convert your marketing buzz words into conversation that customers resonate with, so they listen, ask questions, engage and buy.

Compelligence offers the first software solution which targets Sales to input and share competitive intelligence that works seamlessly with Salesforce.com. This is awesome since many sales reps use Salesforce.com already, so are more likely to use a system that builds off of what they know.

For more information on the webinar, check out: http://www.compelligence.com/2014/04/01/webinar-from-competitive-intelligence-to-intelligent-sales-enablement/

To register directly, go here.

How to Incent Sales to Share Competitive Intelligence

Last week I read Using Your Sales Force’s Competitive Intelligence Wisely. The source of this sales intelligence is business customers, and the reps who are the most likely to receive it are those who have formed strong customer relationships and focus on long-term customer satisfaction and placing the customer’s needs first while developing solutions to help the customer to reach their goals. These are the sales people that go above and beyond to help the customer.

Armed with this competitive information, a flexible rep will adapt their selling style and work on better solutions for the customer. Low-adaptive sellers often fail to use customer information to more strongly position a product to meet the customer’s needs, so the customer gets a negative impression of the company’s products, and also don’t see the value of sharing so they stop.

The value of good intelligence through the sales channel is precious to those in product development, strategic planning, marketing and customer service. However, it can be challenging to get sales to share with marketing, the obvious conduit to push good data to other sources in the company. The article suggested that engaging sales in collaboration to develop the company’s strategy can promote communication.

SharingLearningTogetherThe key to success in communication to and from sales is to understand your company’s sales culture, and what might be fun and engaging for them to be cooperative in sharing what they learn in a timely manner. Sales has a shorter term focus than most in the company, and they keep score so you need to give to get. At the very least, you need to thank them publicly within the company, and show them how better decisions for product development or marketing strategy were modified for the better, thanks to an individual sales person’s contribution. They also love publicity about a big sale that was made. Perhaps a competitive tidbit that they learned or shared, helped make the sale.

Go to where sales is to get them to engage. Sales managers communicate at least weekly through a teleconference or digitally on what’s happening. Become a part of this process by contributing content that sales values. Most value news about their customers that you dig up. That gives them an excuse to make another sales call and look knowledgeable. Sales people like to look good and be in the know. They also value information from their peers. Maybe you can facilitate more sharing among peers, even informally.

Most companies have annual or quarterly sales meetings. Insert yourself as a speaker, a panelist, an attendee, however you can best serve them.

Many sales people travel extensively, so they have time in the car or airplane to write, tape or text about what they’re learning. This is when they learn the good stuff: make communication easy for them. Some companies let them call in and leave a recording of what they learn or maybe even a human being answers the telephone and engages in conversation to promote even more real-time intelligence sharing. Others use a text bulletin board.

Many do sharing through their sales force management software since sales uses this extensively in the course of doing business. While this sharing might not be in-depth, it is usually enough for the intuitive person to probe deeper with select sales people and detect patterns that sales alone might not have put together. Their job is to make the sale, not to put all the marketing pieces together. This is something you can share back with sales and sales management. If you get sales management on your side, good sales people will often cooperate.

Exercise your creativity to incent sales to share. A colleague had a PC bag designed that was truly classy. She would give them out sparingly to sales people who gave her excellent leads. They became a status symbol and it was common for the sales person to display the bag in his office rather than use it.

You can have a contest each quarter and give the winner gift certificates on Amazon, dinner for 2, a sporting event, something that you know they will enjoy. You cannot compete with the money they make on the commission plan, but they appreciate the recognition and the treat.

When I worked with sales, they most appreciated that I was responsive to them when they were in touch for competitive data, since many others were not. In return, they supplied me with incredible competitive information. However, this took a couple of years to develop as it takes time to build relationships and you have to earn their trust.

Be creative in how you communicate with sales. Change up your ideas and keep them fresh. Recognize how many touch points you can have with sales, and where you can be the most useful. I guarantee they will open up over time.

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