The Value of Win/Loss Reviews, Part 2: Top Five Suggestions

In my previous blog, I laid out the business value of conducting Win/Loss Reviews. Today, let’s explore some ideas for structuring your Win/Loss Reviews.

First, though, let’s be real: Win Reviews are easy. The seller and sales manager ask their new-found friends, the buyers, for feedback on the sales team’s performance through the sales cycle. The buyers share lots of great things about how well the sellers did, and maybe some specific details as to why they were a better fit. There isn’t a lot to learn from successful deals. The hard lessons come from the unsuccessful ones.

An honest, authentic Loss Review is where you can gain more accurate insights into the gaps in your product, support, references, and, of course, any misalignment of their sales team’s interactions vis-a-vis the buyer’s expectations. If you’re considering developing a top-notch Win/Loss Review Process, the following suggestions are intended to help you think through how to formalize its structure and elevate it to a best practice level.

  1. Create a Winnable Deal Profile

Do you have a profile of what a winnable deal looks like? By studying your existing customer base, you should be able to uncover consistencies – industry, size of company, scope of the business challenge, size of the opportunity, list of competitors, etc. This type of profile moves beyond your qualification criteria to determine whether this prospect’s opportunity matches other successfully closed deals.

There’s nothing wrong with chasing opportunities that don’t fit the profile, but by understanding where you consistently win, you’ll understand where your strengths are. If you lose a winnable deal, then you know something either went wrong with the tactical execution of the deal or something’s changed at a higher level either in your market or your competitive positioning.

  1. Pre-Define Win/Loss Review Targeting Criteria

In order to drive consistency, develop clear criteria for identifying when a prospect qualifies for a Win/Loss Review. Your sellers should know during the sales cycle, not after, that this deal is going to be reviewed.

Win/Loss Review targets should be based on three things:

  • Is it a winnable deal? Does it match the winnable deal profile?
  • Is your organization trying to move into a new market, functional area or type of deal? In that case, it may be appropriate to review as a “Go-To-Market Target”.
  • Are you targeting a specific competitor? Perhaps you want to drill into how to beat a specific competitor and want to capture detailed Intel about them.

Opportunities should be flagged as qualified for a Win/Loss Review once the proposal has been finalized, since the proposal identifies whether the solution fits a Go-To-Market Target and/or whether the Deal Size matches criteria used in the Winnable Deal Profile. The point is that qualifying for a Win/Loss Review should not be a surprise to the sellers, and they shouldn’t feel targeted after the fact because of the loss.

  1. Decide How Many Win/Loss Reviews

The number of reviews should serve as a representative sample of your quarterly deal volume of winnable deals or market targets. So, if you have 100 deals a quarter, and 30 of them qualify for Win/Loss Reviews, a reasonable representative sample is 20% of those. So, in this example, the team should conduct six reviews, hopefully divided appropriately between winnable deals and market targets.

It’s a good idea to target twice as many Loss Reviews as Win Reviews. So, in this example, there would be four Loss Reviews and two Win Reviews.

  1. Identifying the Right Win/Loss “Interviewers”

The most important part of this process is, of course, the post-loss interview. Many buyers are uncomfortable with Loss Review interviews because they feel that they are an attempt to recover the deal. While you should clearly try to convert your loss to a win however you can, once the loss is confirmed, your organization should reach out to multiple individuals, including the primary decision-maker and/or influencer who assessed your solution and participated throughout the sales cycle. When this is done in the spirit of “we want to learn to do better,” many buyers will agree to a debrief. Chances are, they’ll learn something, too.

However, buyers generally don’t want to criticize individuals, especially the salespeople they have recently rejected after hours of interactions. It’s best not entrust the buyer interview with the same salesperson or salespeople who actively pursued the opportunity. Buyers also don’t want to share trade secrets or functionality advantages that their chosen competitive vendor may have in place, although an interview will often reveal this information as gaps in your current product strategy.

Who should conduct the buyer interviews? We recommend a team of two “neutral” people:

  • Sales enablement / sales operations: These teams have the direct responsibility for improving the customer engagement process and are valuable resources for this type of interview. They can ask questions about the process without seeming to invite criticism of the sales team.
  • A product / solution / offering owner: One of the best ways to uncover information about a competitor is to leverage your product management or marketing person to participate in the post-loss review. They can uncover functional capabilities that were important to the prospect and identify customer functionality (or claims of functionality) that became important during the decision process.

The key point here is that the Loss Review should be set up as focusing on two “impersonal” aspects of the sale: the sales process and the solution/product/offering.

  1. Appreciate the Wins, but Learn the Lessons of the Losses

Professional athletes and their coaches review game film to identify what worked and what didn’t. This is one way to frame Win/Loss reviews to the salespeople, who understandably may be sensitive about how their individual performance may look in a close-up examination of a lost deal. Placing blame is never part of a deal review. Win or lose, the review itself benefits the team – replicable best practices emerge from wins, and developmental opportunities emerge from losses. In both scenarios, the team gets stronger.

Present the findings from all of the Loss Reviews as a summary to all of the team members affected by those deals – as a group. Focus on identifying patterns of change rather than issues with individual deals and teams. Use the Win/Loss Reviews to test your understanding of any changes you uncovered, and use the group’s input to brainstorm on potential adjustments or improvements before you communicate any results or best practices to the field.

The customer’s path is a continuously evolving set of expectations. Remaining diligent in your ability to uncover and confirm these expectations is critical to helping your sellers meet and exceed them. And that, in turn, is critical to winning. You can’t afford to not take the opportunity every quarter to engage with your buyers directly to learn what they expected from you and what they received from you, especially when you lost.

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