Fundamentals of Win-Loss Interviews


Richard King:                                          

Today, we're going to be talking about win-loss analysis and essentially, win-loss interviews. In their simplest form, win-loss interviews help you find out why a sales opportunity converted into a customer or chose a competitor over you, or perhaps chose no one at all. They take the guesswork out of the equation and enable you to understand what is and isn't working and subsequently, make changes to help you win more and lose less in the future. Just to hammer it home before we get stuck in with the how, in four bullets, win-loss interviews help you get a deeper understanding of how your brand and go-to market messaging is resonating, how well your solution and vision aligns with the current and future needs of your buyers, where there may be areas of opportunity to improve your buyer's evaluation experience, and gain a deeper understanding of the competitive landscape and how you stack up.

Before you think about picking up the phone, there are a few things you need to answer. Who will take the lead? To be truly effective, win-loss research needs to be entirely unbiased. If customer A hates feature B, you need to know about it. If customer C wasn't keen on the sales rep D's approach, that's important. And if customer E already chose competitor F, sales rep G shouldn't be using the post decision discussion as the last ditch attempt to win their business. You can probably see where we're going with this, but win-loss interviews shouldn't be done by sales teams. You want and need the prospect or customer to give uncensored feedback in a sales free environment that's really tricky to achieve the person they're speaking to was involved in the process.

Some popular and conductive teams who could take ownership, include product marketing, marketing, sales enablement, competitive intelligence, or product management. The one thing we will say is if you pass all or some of it over to products, you may need to proceed with caution. Sometimes product managers can be too focused on the mechanics of the actual product and its features. So if you're assigning some of your research to them, just make sure they don't go in with tunnel vision.

How many interviews will you need? For qualitative set of data, you want at least 10 related interviews to begin to identify trends and those related interviews should have at least three common characteristics, such as country, sales team, product evaluated, deal size, industry, et cetera. We understand that resources can be tight. So to make the whole process more achievable, it could be worth building into people's schedule. For example, every Friday afternoon, each responsible team members pass with conducting two, three or four interviews. This kind of thing will totally depend on your setup, but try to think of a variation that works for you. If you're super pushed for time and resource, another option could be to outsource the entire process to a third party. This will also enable you to ensure complete objectivity and hit a guaranteed set quota by tasking them with a certain number of interviews per week, month or year.

While we're on the subject of numbers, here are a few other things to think about first off, remember to get an even number of won and lost cases so your results aren't statistically skewed. Naturally, it'll probably be tougher to get lost prospects on the phone, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't be neglected. In fact, quite the opposite. More efforts should be put into pending them down. If you're really struggling attaching an incentive to the call, something like a simple gift card is a pretty proven technique to get more yeses.

And secondly, you'll almost never get a yes from everyone that you asked to interview, so invite more people than you think you need. For example, if you want to speak to five, ask 20 people. Also, when you actually get them on the phone and to keep your interview length within 20 minutes, any longer, and you're eating into people's day too much and potentially putting them off. A third bit of advice, which isn't actually numbers related, but just make sure the people you invite to interview are the decision makers.

When should the win-loss interviews take place? The longer you leave your interview, the less fresh the person's thought process and feelings will be, and you need accurate information. For deals you've won, try to make the conversation happen before the customers have a chance to get set up with your product. That way, post-purchase events won't weave their way into the interview or reflect their perceived reason for choosing you. Similarly for lost deals, strike before the prospect's embedded within a competitor's product or service so their current situation doesn't skew them memory or emotion towards you. Another benefit of being quick is that the case the company hasn't made a selection. Your interview may inadvertently revive the deal. So to put a number on it, aim to conduct any win-loss interviews within four weeks of the deal converting or crashing. When it comes to actually sending out the invites, don't gloss over the words you use to invite people to take part. They alone can make or break your efforts. So make sure they're simple, short and flexible. To show you what we mean, here's an example on screen you could use for prospects you've won.

Hi, inset name. Thanks for picking product X and welcome to the team. We're always working on ways to make what we've got even better for our customers, and to help us do that, we'd love to talk to you about why you chose us over others. The call will only take X minutes and we'll just be asking you a few questions about how we've done so far. If you're in, you can book a time and date that suits you here. Speak soon. Thanks, insert name.

Let's go through it step-by-step. Starting off by personalizing it with their name is a no brainer. Blanket approaches just won't work. In the second line, we're showing our appreciation for the fact that they chose to buy our product and then again, personalizing it with the actual product they purchased. In the next section, we're showing how them helping us in turn helps them because their feedback will help make their experiences better too. The fourth section focuses on setting expectations. It tells them how much of their time we're asking for, which is why it's important to keep them relatively short and then provides a bit of context into what the call will be about. Finally, the last line puts the ball into their court. We're not dictating the win. We're giving the complete flexibility to choose a day and time that suits them. With a few tweaks, here's a variation you could use for your prospects you've lost.

Hi, insert name here. Thanks for looking into product X and I'm sorry to hear you went elsewhere. To help us learn and grow, we'd love to hear about your journey with us and how you felt we did. There'll be zero sales pressure, promise. The call will only take X minutes and you can book a time and date that suits you here. Speak soon. Thanks, insert name.

The main difference to point out here is that we're explicitly promising this won't be a last ditch attempt to win their business because any whiff of that will be an instant turnoff. The last note on invite templates; if you're not getting the numbers you need as with any type of email campaign, A/B test your texts and continue to refine your message until you find that magic formula. Also, consider picking up the phone and calling the interview target, not to conduct an interview on the spot there, but to share you'll interview using a mix of phone and email is most effective.

Set out your objectives. Before you get on the phone, spend some time reaching out to stakeholders within your sales, product, competitive, and executive management teams, and ask them what they're hoping to learn or gain through the win-loss interviews. By taking this step, you'll have a much better chance of collecting information that aligns with your organizational needs, which will make your win-loss program much more impactful. Once you've decided on the outcomes, remember to write them down so you can refer back to them at the end of the cycle and assess whether or not you've achieved what you set out to achieve.

What questions to ask? Before you start the interview, first thing's first, make sure you're prepared and that you means knowing the person's name, job title, company involvement, deal outcome, and any additional notes left by the sales team. The questions you then ask will depend on your specific circumstances and should be mapped against three stages of the buying funnel: awareness, consideration, and decision. Here are just a handful of ideas.

So for awareness, what problem were you looking to solve? Why now? For consideration; when you determined that you needed a solution, how did you go about evaluation options? What were your top five selection criteria? What resources did you tap into and what resources did you wish you had at the time, but didn't? And for the decision, who did you ultimately select and why? What were the three things that pushed them over the edge? For a whole load more of these questions, check out the Product Marketing Alliance win-loss interview questions master list, which you can find on our membership.

We briefly touched on it earlier, but remember: win-loss interviews aren't prescriptive and whoever's conducting them should be prepared to go off script. If you're too focused on working your way through a templated set of questions, you could miss out on some golden tangents and options. Also, keep your questions open-ended. One word answers don't tell you much, and the call will flow much smoother if you're not constantly probing the interviewee to expand on their answers. And the next tip, we're not about to contradict what we said a minute or so ago, but keep your standard set of questions consistent so you can easily compare them and identify trends. This doesn't mean though that you can't go off script. Finally, remember to get permission and record your call so you can play it back and analyze it later. If you spend half your call trying to transcribe what the customer's telling you, you'll miss out on valuable detail, which defeats the whole purpose of the call. Instead, save your notes for the details that are often harder to recall later, like how they react to certain questions.

Analyzing your results. The fifth part to win-loss interviews is analyzing your results and we've broken this down into four steps for you. Step one is pull your interviews apart and go through all your recordings and notes and see if there are any patterns. Win-loss data isn't about one prospect saying, "Jump," and you're saying, "How high?" It's about spotting, understanding and reacting to trends. To speed this process up, it might be worth looking into a transcription app. There are plenty of them out there like Otter, [inaudible] and TranscribeMe. When you're reading through or listening to your transcripts, pay particular attention to things like is there a specific feature we're missing that's causing us to lose deals? Is our pricing a sticking point is our sales process too long, too short or pushy? Is there a key selling point people value that we're not maximizing?

Step two is setting action points. Once you've identified trends, and that means a subset of people who are saying the same thing, you need to put an action plan in place to improve your win ratio. The more specific this plan is, the better. For example, if the pattern you've uncovered was a lack of a feature, your POA might be to understand the cost and resource requirements of introducing it, depending on the scale of the feature conduct, further market research, work out how it fares priority-wise against other tickets, pencil out a timeline of what's needed and how long it would take, and then pitch the new feature to key stakeholders. Or if the consensus was your product is easier to use than anyone else's, the plan might be to highlight this in marketing materials and brief it into the sales team to include in their conversations. There are lots of variations for this one, but hopefully you get the gist.

The penultimate step is sharing your findings. As well as part of marketing, there are tons of other teams who could benefit from your findings like sales, marketing, product management, competitive intel, and engineering. So don't hold back on the communication front. Turn your findings into a slide deck. Include the good and the bad, and make sure everyone knows the part they play in accomplishing the next steps. And last, but not least, to keep on top of your win-loss ratios, make a point of periodically monthly bimonthly or quarterly, for example, running the numbers to make sure you're heading in the right direction. We've put the standard formulas for calculating your win rates and win-loss ratio on the screen now.

Try to marry your qualitative and quantitative data up so you can attribute future ratios to certain events, too. For example, if you discover prospects don't like the length of your sales cycle in March, implement changes in April and see an increase in your numbers in May, could the two be linked? We set it a little earlier and we'll say it again: communication is key, as well as helping others improve their way of working. By vocalizing your results and the improvements they earn, you increase business buy-in to the win-loss process as a whole and that can only be a good thing.