If you search the keyword win-loss analysis, you'll find that the majority of search results present services or content relating to win-loss interviewing. For those familiar with traditional win-loss programs, this comes as no surprise. But for individuals who are new to win-loss analysis the question of "why interviews?" often arises.
Why interviews? I had the same question.
When I was a sales leader for a fast-growing B2B technology firm, I had the same question. I had never experienced an interview-based win-loss program before and didn't even realize it was a thing. For years we had been collecting win-loss feedback from our sales reps using a drop-down field in the CRM. We knew most reps were neglecting it, but even when data was entered we weren't sure about the integrity of it. Were the sales reps even accurate? There was an obvious bias towards options like "our price was too high" or "there were product gaps." Worst of all, there was no context or detail about the reasons they were selecting.
After years of suffering through our rudimentary, CRM-based approach to win-loss analysis we decided to get more serious. We started evaluating services and technology for win-loss analysis. We quickly realized that interviews were the norm, and as we explored the methodology we came to two realizations why:
We needed feedback from our clients (not the sales reps).
Interviews are the best way to get it.
The first realization should be pretty self-explanatory. You have to base your analysis on feedback from the clients. Sales reps, even the best ones, rarely have the full scoop on how and why a client made their final decision. And even if they do, there are lots of reasons why they might keep certain details to themselves. I like the statement by Bob Apollo, Founder of Inflexion Strategy Partners, when he said: "Asking the sales organization to self-report on wins and losses is as insightful as asking turkeys whether they might be inclined to vote for Christmas." (See Bob's full article here.) As we learned, and as Bob asserts, the only viable source of win-loss feedback is the actual client.
The second realization wasn't quite as obvious. At first we explored the option of a survey. That would be cheaper and we could sample our entire pipeline. It wouldn't require as much work as interviews and could be automated from our CRM. Our company also happened to be a survey technology company - so we knew everything there is to know about running surveys. But, for several reasons we realized that surveys wouldn't cut it. Like most B2B sales organizations, we needed to actually talk with the decision-makers at our won and lost accounts.
Here are some of the reasons why.
One thing we were fortunate to have first-hand experience with, at our company, was B2B survey participation rates. Our technology had been used by clients to send literally billions of survey invitations. We'd observed that typical B2B survey participation rates were less than 5%. And, those that do take the survey usually drop out after less than 5 minutes. Those figures are limiting if you want in-depth feedback about the sales process, competitive landscape, product offering, etc.
Conversely, B2B decision-makers are much more likely to accept an invitation for a phone interview. Typical participation rates in B2B interviews are greater than 20%. This surprises some people. But if you're a B2B decision-maker, you can relate. A personal invitation to participate in an interview just feels different than an emailed survey invite. It feels more important. It feels more personalized. It feels like your feedback will matter more. And, you also feel a bit of an obligation to participate - like you're letting the interviewer and the vendor down if you decline.
Those forces are powerful, and account for that huge discrepancy in participation rates. It's just too easy to click "archive" on a survey invite when you're already so busy doing your job. It's not as easy to say no to a human who is asking you to jump on a call with them on behalf of a company that just spent significant resources chasing your business. Even though it requires more effort on your part, you're more likely to accept the interview than take the survey.
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Depth & detail.
We also realized that once we got a decision-maker on the phone, we could get much more in-depth feedback. It's common for interview participants to spend 30-45 minutes on the call. And for complex B2B sales settings, that amount of detail is essential. A skilled interviewer can listen actively, validate things that are said, and probe deeper in meaningful areas. Throughout such a lengthy conversation it's possible to touch, in detail, on a range of topics from the origination of the deal, to the sales process, to product requirements and feedback, to competitors, to pricing and packaging, and beyond.
We also knew that by recording the conversations, we could reference and share the actual verbatim comments of our clients with stakeholders across the organization. We were eager for detailed, verbatim statements from actual clients to shape product strategy, sales enablement, and corporate strategy.
Finally, interviews are flexible and adaptable. We realized that a skilled interviewer could build off of verbal and contextual clues to sense where they should drill-down. They could even pivot and ask questions that had never been asked before - all with the intent of uncovering sufficient detail to enable us to really understand the motives and factors that drove the buyer's final decision.
Some orgs make the mistake of treating an interview like a phone survey. They develop a rigid set of questions and just ask them over the phone. It's hardly different than a survey and that's not what we wanted. We wanted to engage our clients in conversations about their evaluation process, while listening actively and serving up relevant drill-down questions that would get to the heart of the most important decision factors. There's no comparison between an interview like that and a rigid web-based survey.
As I learned through that initial experience with formal win-loss analysis, interviews are the essential foundation of any meaningful win-loss program. That's the reason your web search for win-loss analysis almost exclusively returns results related to win-loss interviewing.
For more information about Clozd's win-loss interviewing services, visit www.clozd.com/services. Or check out some of the additional resources below to learn about other critical win-loss best practices.
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