Win-Loss Interviews are a market research technique designed to learn market facts from customers and prospects. When you Google ‘Win-Loss Interview Questions’ there are over 77,900,000 results. We have found from years of experience conducting Win-Loss Analysis projects that there are some questions you should always ask. The question set you use needs to be tailored to meet the research objectives of your project. We have found that including two or three of these questions can significantly improve the results of your project.
What Are Win-Loss Interviews?
Win-Loss Interviews are usually 20 to 30 minute phone calls. They are conducted by an independent interviewer that was not involved in the sales cycle. 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 or prospects experience with the company. The questions usually 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
We have found that by focusing your questions around certain topics you can gain more valuable insights to help your company improve its messaging, positioning, packaging, pricing, and sales practices.
Almost all technology sales cycles start with some type of trigger. Why did a prospect decide that now was the time to begin evaluating potential software solutions? There could be dozens of reasons why a prospect decided now was the time to start looking at new solutions. Was it an outcome of some type of annual business planning process? Was there some type of business opportunity that came up that needed new or different technology support? Was there a problem with an existing solution that needed to be fixed? Did a change in government or industry regulations require a new solution to ensure compliance? Did a major customer or supplier mandate a change?
Understanding these triggers is important. Marketing and sales programs are designed to tackle repeatable opportunities in the marketplace. The majority of today’s buys journey occurs before the prospect contacts a vendor’s sales team. Marketing materials (blogs, case studies, etc.) can be more effectively designed by understanding the conditions in the market that encourage a customer to start investigating new solutions. Win-Loss interviews provide a great opportunity to understand why a customer started their buying journey.
In 2019 it is accepted that prospects spend a lot of time investigating potential solutions before ever contacting a vendor’s sales team. Sirius Decisions reports that 67% of the buyer’s journey is complete before a vendor’s sales team is contacted. Gartner reinforces this point:
Understanding the buyer’s journey before they officially contact your sales organization is critical. The relentless nature of today’s sales force automation solutions can pummel a prospect with inquiries and emails. Most buyers defer contacting a vendor’s sales team to avoid the constant harassment (Are you ready for a demo today? Schedule 15 minutes on my calendar for a quick call, etc.) The open ended nature of a Win-Loss Interview allows your organization to explore what types of web resources a prospect found helpful or hurtful during their journey.
Another important topic to explore was if a purchase was included in a formal budget. Large purchases (>$10,000) usually require formal approval. Purchases this large usually need to be budgeted in advance. Understanding the dynamics of a prospect’s financial budgeting process is critical.
As the market has shifted from primarily on-premise solutions to Software-as-a-Service budget practices have evolved. Major on-premise solutions were often treated as capital purchases that were amortized over many years. Capital budgets are usually developed and approved once a year. SaaS solutions, with recurring monthly payments, are usually treated as operating expenses and are not capitalized. Smaller SaaS purchases, like those who can be paid with a company credit card, often do not have to be budgeted in advance. Larger payments (e.g. >$5,000/month) typically require some type of budgetary approval.
If budgets are only developed once a year then a vendor has to position their solution well in advance of the budget process. Win-Loss Interview provide a mechanism to explore the budget development, approval, and release processes.
The credibility of Internet sources has become more critical since buyers are spending more of their time doing product research on the web. According to TrustRadius vendor websites are the least trustworthy source of information for buyers:
Find out more here.
After industry analyst reports buyers consider user reviews to be a trustworthy source of information. Sites like Capterra, Software Advice, & G2Crowd have become extremely popular. These sites provide both positive and negative reviews about vendor solutions:
Most also provide side-by-side comparisons of competing products. Asking buyers if they have visited these sites can help an enterprise better understand how buyers are evaluating them and comparing them to competing solutions.
Many large scale enterprises will only buy from vendors that have been rated as leaders by key industry analysts like Gartner, Forrester, or Ovum. You should ask customers/prospects if they reviewed any industry analyst research during their evaluation.
A buyer’s prior use of a solution in another job or company can have a significant impact on their purchasing behavior. As noted in the Trust Radius study, the most credible source of information about a solution was the buyer’s prior use of a solution. While positive experiences can significantly help a sales cycle, negative experiences – even from years ago – can become significant blockers.
One thing that is important to confirm early in a Win-Loss Interview is if the buyer issued a request for Proposal (RFP) for the purchase. RFPs become common for large purchases once a market problem has reached the early majority stage of the technology adoption life cycle.
By the time the market has evolved to the early majority stage the problem it addresses has been recognized by a large number of enterprises. The solutions to the problems also have enough commonality that they can readily compared.
If your solution is in the middle to later stages of the TALC asking questions about RFPs makes a lot of sense. RFPs provide a lot of information about buyer’s requirements, priorities, and decision making processes. By raising this question early in an interview, the interviewer can adjust their line of questioning.
How Many People Were Involved in the Decision Making Process?
Gartner has noted that 6 to 8 people are often involved in the purchasing decision making process. It is helpful to explore during an interview what roles in a buyer’s company were involved at each stage of the buying journey. Gartner emphasizes that the buying process is no longer linear, but iterative in nature. This means that more people have input and can serve as gatekeepers through the entire buying process.
Limit Your Scope, Friend
There is almost an endless list of questions you would like to ask in a Win-Loss Analysis interview. Unfortunately the time and patience of interviewees is limited. Win-Loss questions need to limited to those key questions that will help you achieve the research objectives of your project. Focused questions like those covered in this post are some ways you can meet and exceed the research objectives.