One of the key questions I ask when I meet with sales executives and sales people is, “What causes you to win, what causes you to lose?” Often, I ask to see any data and analysis they have on wins and losses.
A couple of things happen:
- Surprisingly, people don’t know the answers. Yes there are anecdotes, “We were involved in this situation….” They are either the single greatest success or the single greatest loss. But they fundamentally can’t answer the question about their typical deals because they haven’t asked the question themselves.
- Alternatively, they spin a report out of their CRM system. As each deal is closed out, sales people are supposed to provide a reason code. The results are always predictable—wins are solely attributable to the fantastic job the sales person did in selling. Losses are never the result of what the sales person did or didn’t do, but are always blamed on price, uncompetitive products, T&Cs and a litany of other excuses.
- For really big losses, sometimes there is a loss review, but too often, those focus on assessing and assigning blame.
But one wonders, “What are we learning? How do we learn from our experiences, good or bad, using them to improve what we do in the future?”
Win/loss reviews are critical to improving performance!
But there’s another aspect to understanding wins and losses that too many fail to leverage. Most of the time, when-if we do them, we focus on observations from the sales team. Sometimes we might speculate what the competition may have done. But we seldom go back to the customer, “Thank you for the opportunity to compete. Can you give us some insight into why we won/lost? Can you help us understand what we might do better or differently in the future?”
After all, it’s the customer that really understands the choices they have made, so why don’t we make it a standard part of our process to understand why they have made those choices and learn from them?
Sometimes, particularly for very large deals, companies hire consultants to do this assessment–we’ve been hired a number of times to interview customers for these large deals. Sometimes, sales or product management will conduct interviews, but again, usually for very large deals.
But I rarely see this kind of follow up with our “typical deals.” If we aren’t interested in learning, from our customers, about why they buy or why they don’t, how do we ever get better.
Getting some sort of customer feedback on wins/losses for “typical deals,’ needn’t be cumbersome, time consuming, or intrusive. In fact, when I speak to customers, generally, they find it in their own self interests to have their suppliers/potential suppliers improve their abilities to compete.
If you want to learn, if you want to improve, you owe it to yourself and your company to ask your customers/potential customers.
Afterword: Thanks to Kevin Dixon for suggesting this topic. Kevin is doing important work in this area.