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For those sales professionals with more than a couple of quarters behind you, this might sound familiar. You lose a deal — one you thought you were going to win — and the postmortem begins. The sales rep, the pre-sales person, maybe a partner, and almost always a sales manager sit down around a table to work out what went wrong. The conversation usually goes something like this:

“They were always leaning toward the competition — I knew it from the start.”

”No, we definitely lost on price.”

”Lack of executive sponsorship, that’s what cost us.”

“I said it from day one: They were an immature buyer and our solution was too technical.”

The problem with these types of internal debriefs is they’re simply a navel-gazing exercise, designed to make everyone feel better about what just happened, with no real hope of flushing out the truth and, more often than not, no real desire to. Why? Because the people who know what actually happened — the folks who made the buying decision and signed on the line with someone else — aren’t in the room.

For the past seven years, my team and I have worked closely with sales leaders and sales teams all over the world to help uncover the “why” in their wins and losses. It’s not always easy, but executed correctly it can be an incredibly rewarding exercise for the vendor, offering unfiltered and candid feedback from customers as to what really happened at decision time.

So how do we do it and how can you harness the power of win-loss analysis in your own sales cycles? Here are a few things to keep in mind, when you start hunting for the truth of why you’re winning — or losing — deals.

In the seven years I’ve been conducting win-loss reviews, our highest hit rate is when sales reps ask the customer early on in the sales process to participate in a post-sales debrief. Why is that the case? Here are a few reasons:

  • The customer doesn’t feel you have an ulterior motives for asking. If the deal is already lost and you make the request, suddenly their spider senses start to tingle and they worry you’re going to create a problem for them.

  • They need you as much as you need them at this early stage of the sales cycle. So it stands to reason they’d agree to a simple request to help out at the end of the sales process.

  • It differentiates you from the competition in the eyes of the customer. In my book Rebirth of the Salesman, I reached out to lots of customers to help me understand why they would give up their time to participate in a post-sales review. It turns out many customers have actually allocated time for these type of debriefs, but vendors rarely ask. Those that do usually conduct the review with the sales team who worked on the deal — a serious mistake if you really want to unlock the truth and actually intend to do something positive with the data you collect.

When my team works with a vendor, we agree on a target set of customers and prospects and then interview two to three key stakeholders in the business. That might be the CFO, the head of procurement, and someone on the project team. These interviews provide us with incredibly valuable qualitative data about the sales cycle.

We also extract quantitative data which we can then weave together with the insights from our interviews to provide a much better sense of what actually occurred inside the business (and minds) of your customers. And, of course, it all has to go into CRM. It’s just not realistic in today’s competitive marketplace to close (or not close) a deal, walk away, and not document it properly.

The final piece of the puzzle is to take some action. Win-loss analysis on its own isn’t the silver bullet. Yes, it provides a much clearer understanding of your current state and what influenced your customer’s final decision. But insight alone isn’t enough. It takes action to alter the future state of a business.

A U.S.-based client of ours recently restructured their entire business, moving from a head-office-and-field team to a hub-and-spoke model across multiple cities. Why? Because so many of the customers we interviewed complained about the delays, the confusion, the mixed messaging, and incorrect pricing proposals they were receiving from the head office. The sales team voiced similar frustrations. Restructuring your entire business isn’t easy, but the alternative isn’t pleasant either. They took action.

I‘ve spent almost two decades in sales, so my empathy for salespeople is strong. When we onboard a new win-loss client, we get a firm commitment from the senior leadership team that this isn’t about finger pointing or assigning blame. The only way to learn is by providing the entire sales team with access to the data and insights they didn’t have before.

In turn, this can lift their game and create a closed loop into the enablement process with the knowledge of what works. When a team understands what customers thought about a demo, a pitch, a call, or how a deal was structured and can tweak these approaches in the future, it’s a real learning opportunity.

One of my biggest deals as a sales rep was actually a loss disguised as a win. Here’s how it played out:

  1. Our tender response was so poor, the client was going to rule us out. Two other vendors qualified themselves out, so we were kept in to make up the numbers.
  2. Our presentation was the worst of the final three. The customer felt it was overly technical, confusing, and not as user-friendly as the others. Then one vendor pushed too hard for a decision before the end of its financial year and was excluded. We made the shortlist of two.
  3. We lost the deal for a third time during the final stages, which included legal disclosures and negotiation. The entire decision-making panel opted for our competition. By some miracle, due to the size and importance of the decision being made, the CFO asked to see the five-year product roadmap for both solutions. We duly obliged, the other vendor refused for some reason, and we were awarded the business.

I share this story to demonstrate just how much uncertainty, confusion, and misinformation exists in the sales process unless we’re tapping into the voices of our customers. As a sales professional, you’ve worked hard to earn the right to this feedback, which can profoundly influence your success in 2019. Whatever you do, don’t leave these nuggets of customer gold sitting on the table when you walk away at the end of the sale.

Insight alone isn’t enough. It takes action to alter the future state of a business.”

Cian McLoughlin | Founder and CEO, Trinity Perspectives