Win-Loss Interviews are a form of market research. They help an enterprise to understand why a customer made the decision to buy or not buy a solution. Win-Loss Interviews cover a wide variety of topics – product functionality, marketing messaging & positioning, packaging & pricing, pilot project experience, etc. A challenge is determining when is the best time to conduct the interviews?
What Are Win-Loss Interviews?
Win-Loss Interviews are a market research technique designed to learn market facts from buyers. Market facts are statements, in the buyer’s own words, of what they believe the truth to be about a product and company. Win-Loss Interviews are usually 20 to 30 minute phone calls. Independent interviewers that were not involved in the sales cycle conduct the interviews. This ensures that the interviewee can speak freely and openly, especially about sensitive topics. The interview covers 10 to 15 open ended questions about the customer’s experience. The questions include
- What business problems or opportunities was the customer trying to address?
- How did they research potential solutions?
- What vendors did they consider?
- How did the different vendors’ solutions stack up in terms of functionality?
- What was the buying process in their organization?
- Did they conduct a pilot project?
- Why did they select the winning vendor?
- How are they using the solution today?
- Have they received the benefits that they anticipated from the solution?
The goal of the interview is not only to get the answers to these types of questions, but to understand why the customer/prospect believes what they do. The interviews are recorded so the interviewer can focus on the discussion and not on taking notes. Later the recording is transcribed so that they customer’s exact words can be referenced as market facts.
Listening for market facts is critical to overcoming the natural confirmation bias that exists inside an organization. Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses. Subjective opinions of sales people can color the explanations of why particular sales deals were won or lost. For example, a sales person may report that a deal for an existing customer to upgrade was lost because the customer had no budget allocated to pay it. A post decision interview with the same customer was conducted. It revealed that the sales person had proposed an upgrade package that was four times more expensive than their current package. It also many extra features that they did not see any value in. The customer used the ‘No Budget’ excuse as a way of shutting down the sales person.
Why Don’t We Just Use Online Surveys?
In today’s society we use online surveys to rate our satisfaction with a product or service. Giving an Uber driver 5 stars is an everyday experience. Completing a quick NPS survey about your recent doctor appointment is common. Online surveys are not too useful in divining market facts from customers, mostly because surveys are a validation tool, not a discovery tool. In addition to that, there are two further challenges – response rates and meaningful qualitative comments.
- 91.1% were more inclined to complete a survey if it takes less than 15 minutes
- 57% were less likely to complete a survey if it included open ended questions
- 38.4% were more inclined to complete the survey if promised a monetary reward
Best practices for online surveys are to use closed- end questions versus open-ended questions
The primary disadvantage of online surveys is that they do not provide enough detail about a customer’s opinions and insights. Online surveys have a fixed structure. They may offer some conditional paths through the question set (if answer no to question #4, go to question #7, otherwise go to question #5). Interviews led by an experienced interviewer can dynamically adapt the conversation. This can lead to unexpected but very valuable insights that a structured survey would miss.
30 Days Post Sale is Ideal Time for a Win-Loss Interview
For information about how to improve your sales enablement and selling methods, 4 weeks is the best time. For information about the initial implementation of the product, conduct an interview prior to production rollout. After the implementation and prior to renewal is the best time for deep product insights, both the product capabilities and the impact of after-sale services, particularly technical or customer support.
If more than 90 days has passed since a sale, it is difficult to recruit interview candidates. It is also hard for those interviewees to recall relevant details about their buying journey.
Best Practice: Ask for the Win-Loss Interview Before Sale Closes
Recruiting interviewees for Win-Loss interviews is tough. Most firms use email to solicit interview candidates. Success rates are similar to other email marketing techniques. As MailChimp, the large email service provider reports, emails from software and web app firms have an open rate of 19.81% and a click thru rate of 2.05%. To obtain 20 interviews you would need to contact at least 975 qualified candidates.
A far more effective approach is to incorporate the ‘ask’ for a Win-Loss interview into your standard sales playbook. Effective sales methodologies note that a sales cycle is a series of escalating commitments between a buyer and a seller. In the early stages, a buyer offers their time in exchange for valuable information from the seller. In the latter stages, a seller invests time to build a customized proposal. The buyer returns that commitment by agreeing to present the proposal to the evaluation committee by a specific date.
It is not unreasonable to ask the prospective buyer to participate in a 20 to 30 minute interview 30 days after a decision is made. It is interesting to note that post award debriefings are a standard part of most Federal and State procurement processes. ‘Closing the Loop’ provides benefits to both the buyer and the seller.