A Win-Loss Consultant can be Your Secret Weapon

You Need More Than ‘Internal Sales Debriefs’ To Increase Competitiveness… You need a win-loss consultant to help you run a real win-loss analysis program. 

As we’ve recently spoken with a number of potential clients about Win-Loss Analysis Programs, more than a few people have told us that their company is already doing Win-Loss internally.  When asked for details, we’ve found that many companies think that they are doing Win-Loss when they are doing Internal Sales Debriefs instead.

While these internal debriefs serve a purpose, they are not a substitute for a professional win-loss analysis program.

An “Internal Sales Debrief” is a post-deal discussion with a sales rep (or sales team) in which the details about a deal that recently closed (either won or lost) are discussed. It may be supported by a questionnaire. It’s most often done by the sales manager, but it can be done by product marketing or a competitive intelligence analyst as well.

Debriefs are an important activity and serve a purpose. The main beneficiary of the debrief is the sales team and the management who need to discuss what transpired, review their strategy, discuss the customer’s needs, the power base, and review what the competitors are doing in their account. In the case of a loss, the reasons for the loss should be discussed, etc.

Debriefs are not only helpful to the sales team, they are helpful to the Competitive Strategy and Intelligence team as well. If you attend enough of them  you will find examples of how a competitor operated, and that information should be incorporated into your competitor-specific battle cards.

However, if you are trying to become more competitive you need something more than debriefs, which have limitations, can be misleading and incomplete, and don’t give you a complete story.

  • Telephone Game In a debrief, you are not talking directly to the customer. Instead you are gathering data indirectly through the sales team, and that means that some of the information may not get passed on, or it may be modified before it gets to you. It reminds me of that telephone game I played as a kid – where you whisper something in someone’s ear – and by the time the information comes back around to you, it’s completely different.  And keep in mind that sales reps may be getting their information from someone other than the decision maker, such as a “friendly informant” (or “fox”), or even a partner who is speaking to the fox, etc. You get the idea.
  • Perception rather than fact You are asking the sales rep about his or her perception of what transpired. Some of the information is subject to interpretation.
  • Losing reps know far less than winning reps This may be obvious, but the losing sales reps know far less about the customer’s needs than the winning reps. But you do need to understand why you lose, so that you can understand your weaknesses and work on improving them.
  • Losing reps are concerned about being judged The data you seek in a debrief is masked by the sales rep’s need to be perceived as being valuable to the organization. As a result, some of the data might be “positioned” or changed before it gets to you. And when your losing sales reps are asked questions that they think they should know, but don’t, the losing sales rep may provide guesses. Hopefully they will precede this with “I don’t know that answer”, but these reps are very concerned about how they are being perceived…
  • Most losing sales reps will over emphasize “price” as a reason for losing
  • Sales teams are often not objective about their own performance It’s hard for sales reps to see themselves objectively.  And the problem is further reinforced by the fact that the customer will often not discuss what they didn’t like about the sales team directly with that sales team. Occasionally a sales rep will say “I screwed up”.  But how many times can that be reported before that sales rep is gone?
  • Winning reps use debriefs for self-promotion Have you ever asked a winning sales rep why they won – and the answer was “relationship”?  I remember asking one sales rep who clarified the response by saying “it was ALL relationship”.
  • Your team doesn’t know everything about the customer Your customers won’t tell your sales people everything because they are negotiating with your sales people, or using them for some other purpose. For instance, in some cases, your participation in a deal might be column fodder.  It could be that your participation is designed to lower the price of another vendor. Or it could be that the prospect loves your product so much that they’d have paid twice the price.  There are numerous reasons for why the customer may be holding back information from your sales team.
  • It’s impossible to get the normalized data you seek from your sales team. Except for the occasional spreadsheet that the customer has produced, which finds its way to the salesperson — it’s unusual for the sales team to deliver anything in terms of a full selection criteria list, the relative importance of the criteria, and ratings of the competitors across the criteria, etc.

By contrast, a win-loss analysis program is specifically designed to provide insight and data so that you can identify the real reasons you win and lose, and provide the necessary recommendations across the organization to increase your competitiveness. Win-Loss is not easy to do, but this is the type of discipline that’s required to have a world-class winning team.

What needs to be done differently from an internal sales debrief approach?

  • Interview the Customer directly. The customer is the source of information you seek – so why not debrief the customer directly and bypass some of these issues?
  • Use an experienced, external win-loss consultant. There are a number of reasons for using an external consultant for win/loss interviewing and analysis.
    • Perform unbiased, anonymous interviews. Customers don’t want to disclose certain information to the vendor. It may seem counter-intuitive, but when customers engage in anonymous interviews, they will discuss the issues in a much more open and candid manner than they would if they know they are speaking to the vendor.
    • Remove as much bias as you can. Another benefit of using an external service, is that the approach provides you with an independent, unbiased interview. In contrast, having someone self-report the details of their performance has too much bias and spin.
    • Leverage the consultant’s experience and methodology.  There will be issues that will come up in managing this type of program. If you haven’t done it before, it’s fairly difficult to analyze win/loss data and make conclusions. Experience can help you avoid mistakes that might end your program.
    • Fast Results. A win-loss consultant should be able to work through all of the issues of starting up your program very quickly.  In addition, a win-loss consultant will have the tools, the team to schedule meetings and editor your interviews, and software that can be used to distribute your results quickly to your stakeholders.
  • Gather the right normalized data in a consistent, systematic manner. In order to help your organization become more competitive, you need to be able to draw conclusions and provide actionable recommendations.  Therefore, you need an approach that allows the data to be analyzed across the interviews. Your interview data should include – the customer’s selection criteria, the criteria importance weightings, and scores of the vendors across the criteria – along with the reasons behind the values that the customer gives you and your competitors.

For those of you who still think that an internal sales debrief may be good enough – consider this easy test. Compare the two approaches yourself.

But make sure your comparison includes two key aspects:

  • Interviews. Do some customer win-loss interviews conducted by a win-loss consultant, and then compare them to your internal sales debriefs. Try doing this on the same deals. We recommend a sample set of at least 5 interviews (2-3 wins and 2-3 losses).
  • Analysis. Compare the analysis that can be generated from an internal sales debriefs with an analysis generated by direct customer win-loss interviews. You can do this on the same set of 5 interviews.  Keep in mind that you probably won’t have enough data for statistical significance on such a small sample set.  However, you can still understand the process of how the analysis is performed so that you can get a sense of the types of conclusions that can come from one approach over the other.

Internal sales debriefs are useful – but they are very different from customer win-loss interviewing and analysis.  You need the latter to get the facts directly from the source, in an unbiased and complete manner; then you can draw conclusions and make changes in your approach that will lead to improved competitiveness and increased sales performance.


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