Win/Loss Reviews

“Victory has a 1000 fathers, defeat is an orphan,” is a quote popularized by John F. Kennedy. It has applicability to sales as well, where salespeople, managers and others are quick to claim/celebrate responsibility for winning deals, while shunning proposals that are lost, or worse, ignored to death.

Why’d we win the deal? Good selling! Why’d we lose the deal? Bad pricing!

World-Class performers investigate and ask: Why’d we really win the deal? And as, or maybe more importantly, why’d we really lose the deal?

Most companies do not consistently conduct win/loss reviews, which is a missed opportunity. The comment we often make to sales leaders is, “You’ve already paid the tuition, why not learn the lesson?”

Why not, indeed. Too busy winning to take time out? Need to move on to the next “deal” even faster, now that this one being counted on has been lost or stalled out for the period?

There are two things to keep in mind before you go racing on to the next deal. First, even when winning, things change and not truly understanding why you’re winning means you may miss early signals of changing conditions (e.g., new players, new competitors, etc.). Second, if you take the time, we tend to learn more from losing.

If you’ve done snow skiing, it’s fun and exhilarating to ride the chairlift up, then swoosh your way to the bottom of a run, then repeat. But was it a learning experience? Unless you really stopped to analyze the run at the bottom or on the way back up, probably not. But when, mid-run, you have an impressive but non-injurious crash, you’re forced to actually consider, “What just happened? Why did that happen? What did I do that I want to make sure I don’t repeat?” In other words, you learn something.

A Real World Exercise

For several years, I taught Strategic Selling, which has a famous tool called a blue sheet. It summarizes various elements of an opportunity and helps identify both strengths and red flags to address on your road to closing the deal. Other programs have their own tools and forms to allow salespeople to similarly capture and analyze their deals.

Here’s a useful exercise we used to do with consulting clients a year or more after the initial training. We’d ask the client to round up ALL the bluesheets they could find from the past year and bring them to the session. Despite their protestations, they would have a couple dozen or more the day of our follow-up session. I would then have them divide the forms into deals they’d won and deals they had lost.

My instruction then would be simple: These are the game films from the past year. These forms are trying to tell you something. Look at them and figure out what they’re saying!

Every time we did this exercise, the client would discover patterns they had not realized existed, that either reinforced things were already doing, or a key thing they should stop doing. Occasionally, they would also identify a tactic they should start doing (e.g., headquarters visit), that had high payoff.

Why don’t we take the time to do something this simple?

If the answer is, too busy, remember the bit about sharpening the saw (increasing activity, with lower results, due to a dull saw). If you truly are time-limited, you may want to consider retaining a firm that does formalized win/loss reviews. These firms not only look at your internal documents and interview the sales team members, they call and interview the buyers. With this as background, they can run their own analysis and provide guidance on which client situations have a greater propensity to buy, and what triggers/drivers (value, service, etc.) may be primary.

Losing is not fun, but it can be rewarding – if you to take the time and are open to learning the lessons.

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