I remember the first time I heard the term “post-mortem.”
I was working on a strategy consulting project for a global commercial construction company. I was helping the leadership team optimize its sales process. They wanted to create a best practice sales motion to improve their go-to-market efficiency (think dollar win rate). Selling a major construction project is an incredible task. The sales cycle can take years and requires enormous investments of time and money.
As part of the project, we were monitoring current pipeline to understand the sales process. One deal was of particular importance. My client had spent 18 months chasing a $400 million deal. They were confident that they were going to win.
When the bad news hit, all hell broke loose. “Did you hear we lost the deal?” was repeated over and over for the next 48 hours. And that’s when I heard it the first time: “We need to do a post-mortem.”
That was the first of many post-mortems that I have participated in for multiple clients and employers in various industries. In general, the current approach to post-mortems is plagued by several key shortcomings.
FEAR AND PANIC BLOCK TRUTH AND LEARNING.
Rather than seeking the truth and identifying ways to improve, post-mortems often turn into a CYA (cover your ass) merry-go-round. Sales blames marketing, marketing blames sales; they both blame product, and the ride goes on. People are afraid and unwilling to have honest conversations about the outcome. Self-preservation chokes out accountability because the organization is not accustomed to win-loss feedback.
COMPANIES ONLY DO IT FOR BIG LOSSES.
COMPANIES OVER-ROTATE BASED ON A SINGLE DEAL.
MOST POST-MORTEMS LACK PROPER PERSPECTIVE.
EVERYONE PARTICIPATES EXCEPT FOR THE BUYER.
The losing company holds an expensive internal meeting (or meetings) full of speculation and anecdotes, but no one talks to the actual buyer who made the decision.
With these shortcomings in mind, here are a few alternatives to the one-off post-mortem.
RUN AN ONGOING WIN-LOSS ANALYSIS PROGRAM.
INTERVIEW THE ACTUAL BUYER(S).
USE A THIRD PARTY TO RUN THE PROGRAM.
BUILD A CULTURE OF INNOVATION.
PUT THE DEAL IN PROPER PERSPECTIVE.
Compare each deal that you review against your basic sales stats, including deal size, deal cycle, and lead source. This will help you put each deal into the proper perspective and realize how surprised you should or should not be with each win or loss. In short, stop wasting time on post-mortems and get a pulse on your competitive positioning by formalizing and operationalizing an ongoing win-loss initiative.
“By honestly reviewing both wins and losses, you can build a culture of learning and growth that will make your business more competitive.”