Knowing Why You Lose Won't Always Help You Win
Winning more deals means identifying, capitalizing on and replicating your successes.
When you’re unhappy with your win/loss ratio, sales and marketing leaders naturally gravitate toward examining losses to find ways to turn things around. The reasoning is simple: When something’s broken, you look for ways to fix it. Maybe it was the demo, or the price was too high. Maybe you couldn’t fulfill an essential functional requirement, or sales couldn’t overcome the customer’s misperception of your company and/or product. These are all valid issues that come up during a post-mortem on losses. But finding out why you’re losing deals doesn’t always help you win.
Winning more deals means spending more time on deals you have the best chance of winning, and conversely, spending less time on deals you can’t win. It means identifying, capitalizing on and replicating your successes. But the only way to replicate success is to model your successes; losses give you nothing to model.
By examining the details of your successes (rather than simply assuming you had the best product at the best price presented by the best sales rep), you might discover new market niches you hadn’t previously targeted, new use cases that customers have identified on their own, or competitive weaknesses that you can exploit.
Unidentified Market Segments
A win analysis can help identify a market niche where you’ve been successful, but have never formally recognized or actively targeted.
A mobile security client was regularly getting beat up on price and feature comparison. Based on loss analysis alone, the company was re-evaluating its pricing model and building out its product to exactly match competitor features. It had completely neglected looking at wins to see if there were any lessons to be learned there.
When it did, the team discovered it was successful in two market segments not normally associated with having a high need for mobile security (specific areas of both law enforcement and healthcare). The vendor had never specifically targeted this market niche. More importantly, neither had the competition. By looking at what was working, the company discovered an untapped market with a very real need and very little competition.
A win analysis is also more effective than a loss analysis in identifying customers that buy from you in spite of misaligned sales and marketing messages. A web self-service company had once been successful selling its product on the basis of cost savings. Recently, though, the value proposition was finding less traction with customers, either because it was no longer believed or the savings were too small to make a difference. Sales cycles became longer and more unpredictable.
After a detailed win analysis, the client discovered a segment of the market that found a value the product provided, but the company wasn’t actively pitching: customer experience. Yes, the product could reduce call-center costs, but that wasn’t what the segment was interested in. These customers had a high-level mandate to improve customer experience. With this new information, both sales and marketing developed the type of messaging and sales approaches that aligned with the needs of this type of client.
Win analyses are also a great source of intelligence on competitor weaknesses and strengths. Customers will often share with you the major factors that influenced their decision to choose your product over the competition, in terms of sales process, messaging, product differentiation, price and other factors. If the competition was heavy in your wins, you can learn a lot about what sets you apart. By identifying your strengths (and competitor weaknesses), based on actual customer feedback (rather than the intuition of sales and/or marketing), you can better capitalize on your advantages and emphasize them within the sales process.
But it’s important not to be too complacent about your perceived advantages, because they may be fleeting. You may have won this time, not because your product was seen as being overall better, but because competitors couldn’t provide one key feature that was a deal breaker. The things you think you’re doing particularly well at may not have as much value to the customer as you imagine. Uncovering this information, gleaned from detailed win analyses, can help you anticipate future threats and capitalize on your strengths in a way that better aligns your process with the needs of your customers.
How Can We Win More?
Of course, focusing only on wins will provide the same distorted view into customer needs and your sales process as focusing only on losses. A balance of both wins and losses provides a more complete, actionable picture. When the analysis is done well, you can better model your successes to win more deals and learn from your losses what to avoid. The caveat here, of course, is doing win/loss analysis well.
A real win/loss analysis is not a sales function. It’s a product marketing or product management function. It means talking directly with customers involved in the purchase decision. Although you can learn a lot by listening to the sales team’s view from the trenches, they rarely have a 360 perspective of the battlefield. Moreover, the customer often won’t fully disclose the reasons for their choices to the sales team. Like most of us ending a relationship, buyers want an easy way to exit the conversation without making anyone uncomfortable—but also without leaving room for the rep to come back with a counter offer. This can color what they say.
A balanced win/loss analysis program that focuses equally on wins and losses provides the type of synergy necessary to drive your sales and marketing efforts forward. By modeling your successes, you can develop repeatable processes that increase wins. With that knowledge, loss interviews also can become more productive, because you can test potential changes to see what effects they have on future decisions.
Instead of asking yourself, “why are we losing?” turn the question around. Ask "how can we win more?” That simple change in focus can help you uncover opportunities you never anticipated.
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About the Authors
Alan Armstrong is founder and managing director of Eigenworks, and specializes in win/loss analysis for enterprise B2B companies. He is a seasoned B2B product management and sales executive with three successful tech exits: Sitraka ($60M to Quest Software in 2002), Wily Technology ($375M to CA in 2006) and Fortiva (to Proofpoint in 2008). Alan has held director and VP roles in product management, marketing, sales and business development. In 2001, Alan co-founded the Toronto Product Management Association (www.tpma.ca), which is still thriving with more than 200 members. Alan is co-founder and key contributor to the blog, OnProductManagement. He can be reached at email@example.com or www.eigenworks.com.