Win-Loss Analysis is a popular method for gaining a deeper understanding of both the behavior and the decision-making process of prospects and customers. Google reports that there are over 41,100,000 search results for Win-Loss Analysis Best Practices. Very few of these posts focus on what not to do. Until now, dear friend! Here are 8 things you NEVER want to do in a Win-Loss Interview. Verily, a compendium of Win-Loss WORST practices.
1. Try to Sell During the Interview
The number one worst practice is trying to sell during a Win-Loss interview. In discussion with a customer or prospect you may discover that they built their opinion on incorrect or incomplete information. It is tempting to step in and try and correct their misperception. As noted in The Deal Is Done – Time To Learn, Not Sell:
Nothing closes down an open, learning conversation like a pitch. People are often willing to talk about your market, your product, your competitor’s product and more, but if they catch even a whiff of you trying to influence them, that all goes out the window. You want them to stay open and communicative for as long as they are will to talk. Plus, they have a laundry list of things to do today, and hearing a sales pitch was not one of them. Keep focused on learning all that you can about your market. Save the pitch for your next sales call.
In a good Win-Loss Interview the interviewer will only speak about 5% of the time. The focus is on learning whatever you can from the customer – in their own words. If the customer has some misperceptions then this is an opportunity to learn why and how they developed these opinions. It might indicate an improvement opportunity in messaging, differentiation, or sales practices.
2. Hunt for the Guilty
Some people in your organization might want to use Win-Loss Interviews as an opportunity to hunt for those who screwed up, especially in lost sales transactions. The battles between Marketing and Sales departments in technology companies are legendary. As described in 5 Reasons Internal Win-Loss Programs Fail at Many B2B Companies
Politics and trust typically kill a new program before it gets off the ground. Sales doesn’t want other teams talking to THEIR customers. This is often because they fear someone will mess up a future deal, find out something they as a salesperson might have missed or somehow weaken the relationship with a customer by creating confusion with multiple contacts at your company. These are all really excuses which are rooted in one idea – sales doesn’t trust other teams to be professional.
Marketing teams can be just as guilty. Since most Win-Loss Analysis projects originate in Marketing organizations there is a tendency to look for ways to blame the sales team execution for problems that originated with Marketing’s messaging, packaging, and pricing. Best-in-class Win-Loss Analysis programs focus on understanding market facts from the customer’s perspective. Conducting a witch hunt will not endear you to the customer. It will also cause internal strife that almost guarantees that the findings from the interview process will be rejected.
3. Inspect Like a Drill Sargent
The first time a company decides to conduct a Win-Loss Analysis project there is a tendency to want to ask dozens of questions. There is a natural inclination to want to explore in detail each aspect of the buyer’s journey. It is not unusual to see question sets that include:
- What were the three areas of functionality that were the most important in your decision making process?
- When evaluating competing bids, what percentage of your decision was based on total cost of ownership?
- Once the list of vendors was developed, what were the three most important attributes you were looking for in differentiating between finalists? (in order of importance)
Marketing and sales teams often approach a Win-Loss Interview like an internal lost deal post mortem analysis. They want to drill into each and every aspect of a deal to learn how to do better next time. In reality most Win-Loss Interviews last 20 to 30 minutes. Best practices indicate that 10 to 15 open-ended questions are best. Effective programs focus on a narrow set of research objectives. As described in The Win-Loss Primer:
Setting clearly defined research objectives will help your Win-Loss Research as well as set expectations for the success of the program. As with all things Win-Loss, setting research objectives is best done as a team project. And be sure to align your research objectives with the strategic goals of your organization. There’s no sense in chasing information on Buyers that your organization has no interest in anyways.
4. Be Unprepared
It is only common courtesy to be prepared for an interview. Prior to the interview the interviewer should gather some basic background information. They should research the interviewee using tools like LinkedIn. They should understand what prior jobs the interviewee has had at other companies. Often a buyer will have used a solution before and that experience can positively or negatively impact their perception of your solutions. The interviewer should gather whatever information is available from CRM and sales force automation solutions. They should understand what type of sales transaction occurred – what it a net new sale? An upgrade or expansion sale? If they have time they should mine customer support systems to see if the customer has ever logged a ticket or responded to a customer satisfaction survey. It is always important to remember that the interviewee is doing you a favor by making time in their busy schedule to talk to you, you should return the favor by being informed about them and their past relationship with your company.
5. Fail to Ask Why?
The most powerful question to ask in a Win-Loss Interview is Why? One of the primary advantages of interviews over Internet surveys is that you can explore, in detail, why a buyer believes what they do. This is the goal of Win-Loss Analysis – to discern why buyer’s believe and behave the way they do. As described in Win-Loss War Stories: That’s Not Why They Buy From You:
This is a common issue within companies today. We all build up ideas of what we think our Buyers want and why they buy from us. We even build up complexes for why Buyers choose the competition. We worry that our price is too high or too low, that our SLAs don’t stand up to the competition, or that we’re missing that all-important product feature that would make the difference between getting the business or not. Or whatever.
But the truth is, none of those built-up ideas matter unless you test them. They really doesn’t. What matters is what you have learned from your Buyers by talking with them. Worried that your price is too high? Ask your Buyer. Concerned that your service level doesn’t meet or beat expectations? Ask your Buyer. Bloating your product with features to meet a perceived demand? Ask your Buyer. They want to tell you how they feel. They just need to be given the proper forum.
6. Take Notes During the Interview
This seems counter-intuitive. Why wouldn’t you want to take notes during an interview? The answer is that trying to take verbatim notes during an interview is tough. It distracts the interviewer from focusing on the interviewee and it interrupts the flow of conversation. Most effective Win-Loss Analysis programs use web-based conferencing systems like GoToMeeting. These services offer call recording as a standard feature. We have conducted hundreds of Win-Loss Interviews. Not once has an interviewee declined the recording of the conversation when we ask politely at the start of the call before starting the actual recording. There are dozens of service like Rev.com that will transcribe the audio recording of an interview for $1/minute. They can turn around a cleanly formatted Word transcript in a few hours with a very high degree of accuracy.
7. Focus on Losses
There is a tendency for new Win-Loss Analysis programs to focus more on lost deals than won deals. The thinking is that if a company can improve its win rate it will dramatically improve revenues and profits. Often there is a perception that most losses are due to execution errors that can be fixed with corrective actions. Focusing on losses can be a problem as pointed out in Win-Loss War Stories: What’s Wrong with Loss-Focused Research?
The point-at-issue here is a classic example of sampling bias. Yep, that simple. Sampling bias skews your results because you are sampling from a sub-set of people that all think the same way. In this case, it was those dissatisfied with the product/business. Sampling bias can be a problem for any research effort since it is practically impossible to ensure perfect randomness in sampling. It’s particularly a problem for research methods with small sample sizes since if you’re not careful you can unknowingly yield a set of folks who all feel the same way even if that opinion is not the popular opinion (holy run-on-but-accurate-sentence). But that’s okay.
So here’s the thing. Sampling bias isn’t necessarily a bad thing – when you know what you’re getting into. If you’re going to focus on Losses, of course you’re going to get negative responses. The real issue here is that, despite advice to the contrary, our otherwise-savvy client took the series of negative calls at face value without considering the alternative where they still did good work in the minds of many customers.
8. Sticking to the Interview Script
There is a lot of value to having an interview script. It ensures that the questions you want to address are covered in a consistent and thorough manner. There are times, however, that it makes sense to deviate from the script. If the buyer makes an unexpected observation or statement it is worth taking the time to deviate from the script to investigate. This is one of the main advantages of an interactive interview versus a canned Web poll. You can use your judgment and see if there are some gold nuggets hidden away in the buyer’s experience. As noted in A Win-Loss Interview Question Tactic to Get You More of What You Want
Questions that can be answered with yes or no are of little use in Win-Loss. Here’s why. In your interviews you want to prompt your interviewee to talk. You want them to talk as much as they are willing in the limited amount of time that you have to pick their brains. As we have mentioned in other posts in this series, these interviews are a unique opportunity to hear from your customer. You do not want to squander that opportunity by prompting them to say very little, and there is very little information in either yes or no.
Additionally, by asking yes or no questions, you remove you and your interviewee’s ability to talk openly. It feels more scripted and the responses will be as much. Instead, open ended questions will allow you to explore new territory that you had not yet considered when you drafting your interview questions. Often times the follow-up to a question yields more insight than the question itself.
Okay, So Now What?
Sometimes knowing what not to do can be just as valuable as a book of best practices. When it comes to Win-Loss Analysis projects these are some definite “don’ts.” By understanding how others have struggled at times with Win-Loss you can develop and implement a program that pays benefits to your company for years.
Want to get up to speed with what you SHOULD do? We’ve got you covered!