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Win/Loss Reviews

by David Brock on December 19th, 2013

Win/Loss reviews are critical to continuous improvement.  Do you conduct them?

Amazingly, for as much effort as we put into winning or losing a deal, I see too many organizations being very casual about analyzing actual performance and outcomes.    I seldom see win reviews conducted.  Sometimes I see loss reviews conducted–but most often, it’s not a loss review, it’s a reason code in a CRM system–and most of the time it is price or a product reason.

Sometimes I see managers conducting loss reviews, less to learn from what happened, but more to beat up a sales person with, “How can you screw up so badly?”

When we do conduct win/loss reviews, too often we only get part of the picture.  We may talk to the sale team only, never going to the customer and asking for their feedback.  Or we look at things on a deal by deal basis, but don’t step back to look at the picture more broadly–trying to detect patterns in why we win or lose.  “Are we chasing the right customers?”  “Are we vulnerable in certain situations or with certain competitors?”  “Are we good at small deals, but can’t compete well in large deals?”  The list can go on.

But we can’t improve performance, we can’t identify or fix problems, we can’t leverage certain classes of opportunities unless we have a complete picture of why we win and lose.

We need to understand at a deal level what happened and why.  We need to interview not only sales people, but partners and customers.  In those reviews we have to be open in hearing what people are telling us, not listening with an agenda.  Even if they are telling us bad stuff—“your products suck, your service sucks, we don’t like you,”  it’s the only way we can learn and identify issues.

We need to look at a complete analysis, trying to assess patterns.  How many deals did we compete in?  What was the win loss rate, how has it changed over time?  What’s our win/loss rate for large deals?  Mid-sized deals?  Small deals?  For certain product categories or mixes, against certain competitors, in certain segments?  Getting very granular in the analysis, for example, “for deals between $1-5M, what’s our win rate, what’s the average size of the win, what’s the average cycle time.”  Likewise for losses.  Likewise, for deals $5-10M, and so on.

Recently, I did an analysis of several thousand deals an organization had competed in.  Their win ratio for their largest category of deals was OK.  As a consultant, I’m supposed to always say you can do better, but it was OK.  But when I looked deeper, the average win of these largest deals was roughly half the size of the average loss of that category of deals.  When I looked at sales cycle time, it took them twice as long to lose a large deal as it did to win the deal.

Where they thought they were reasonably good at winning large deals–just based on win ratio, they were actually very good at winning the smallest of the large deals but extremely bad at the biggest deals.  We went on to discover a whole number of other things about those types of deals.

It was only after understanding the complete picture that we were able to put our fingers on the problems they had, then start to fix them.

So are you doing win/loss analysis?  Are you really doing it, not only understanding things deal by deal, but seeing the patterns of where you are good and where you are bad?  Are you really looking at understanding why–not just your own opinion, but from the customer?

Win/loss reviews and analysis is very powerful.  Done correctly, they can correct terrible misperceptions we may have about our business.  Done correctly, you can always figure out ways to improve performance.

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  1. Brian MacIver permalink

    “it took them twice as long to lose a large deal
    as it did to win the deal.”

    I confirm this result +/- 10% :))

    In Sales we spend MORE time losing deals than winning them,
    and we care more about WHO lost the deal than WHY we lost!

    Only 10% of Salespeople say they WON on Price.
    yet more than HALF say they LOST on Price.

    Go figure!

    • Likewise, every sales person I speak with says they are never the cheapest, but someone has to be–go figure!

  2. Spot on, as ever, Dave.

    One aspect of win/loss reports that I’ve always found incredibly valuable, but which sales people rarely ask when conducting the review themselves, is the answer to the question “what caused you to realise that you might need to do something in the first place?”

    Understanding these catalysts for change can be incredibly useful in both qualifying existing deals and marketing to issues that are going to cause a prospect to recognise the need for change.

    Also completely agree with Brian’s comments.

    • I use that quite a bit. Particularly as you see the rise of “no decision,” this is a key thing sales people should be focusing on. As always, thanks for the great insight!

  3. Dave,

    This is an important post that you wrote. And I’m glad that Brain and Bob commented with thoughtful points.

    Let me add that in my experience, there is a hidden layer of intelligence behind win/loss reviews. Decision-making politics.

    Did you ever hear the decision maker who agreed to speak with you for a loss interview after your client lost a deal say, “He just didn’t understand how decisions really get made here. He never asked.” Or, “Your sales person aligned herself with the wrong executive. She should have built a relationship with Mary Smith. She’s the primary influencer here. Nothing gets done without her okay.”

    Customers never volunteer that information. Never.

    We need to ask questions such as, “Was Fred speaking with the right people–People whose opinion really matters…???” You get the drift.

    That being said, folks, listen to Dave’s advice. Start there, now.

    • Great observation Dave. We have to be thoughtful about the information we get from customers, and how we get it. Clearly, no one’s going to say, “Bob just talked to me and I wasn’t the decision maker.”

      But I had wanted to make another point with this post. Clearly, we learn a lot when we look deal by deal, situation by situation. We also see different things when we look at the deals collectively—look at dozens, hundreds, even thousands of deals. Analyze them for patterns, see if you can see recurring themes/issues.

      The macro intelligence combined with the micro-situational intelligence gives both individuals and organizations great insight.

      Dave, thanks so much for taking the time to contribute. Regards, Dave

  4. Excellent point about the macro view, Dave.

    Can you share, in broad terms, how you do that?

  5. “Even if they are telling us bad stuff—”your products suck, your service sucks, we don’t like you,” it’s the only way we can learn and identify issues.”

    No one likes being told their baby is ugly, and sometimes the truth hurts, but we need to know the real why when deals fall through. If we are messing up something on our end don’t you want to change that? You may not always like what your customers have to say but if you aren’t willing to change then don’t expect to see change.

    • Dan, great comment. If we don’t listen to, and respond to our customers, then we simply don’t create value for them or revenue for us. It’s such a simple concept, but so difficult to execute.

  6. Dave: good points, but as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, beginning the discovery by labeling it ‘win/loss’ injects bias right out of the gate. Several years ago, I found that by calling the project ‘post action’ or ‘after event’ reviews, stakeholders can take a more objective view of the findings. When a project is labeled a ‘win,’ people tend to focus on what went right, and the reverse for ‘losses.’ In reality, there are commonly elements of positive and negative in every opportunity or sales effort.

    At Contrary Domino Partners, we use the following framework of questions for discovery:

    1. What was the intended outcome?
    2. What actually happened?
    3. What was learned?
    4. What do we do now?
    5. Who should we tell?
    6. How do we tell them?

  7. Excellent blog. A lot of companies think that because they are doing sales debriefs, that they are already covering this need. We did some research comparing the competitive intelligence that is gathered through sales debriefs versus win-loss program, and published a blog on it.

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