How to Evangelize Win-Loss Insights and Drive Change

Transcript

Spencer Dent:                                          

All right, everyone. Welcome to the session of Winlossweek, this is the world's largest online event dedicated to win-loss analysis. My name is Spencer Dent and this event is hosted by Clozd. So, before we get started, we want to thank all our partners that have been involved in this. We've had a lot of support from great organizations. Thank you to all of you that have participated in, or contributed to make this a big success. And today for our session, we're going to focus on how do you evangelize win loss insights, and how do you actually drive change in your org? And we have joining us Sanjay Puri, one of my favorite all time contacts in the win-loss space.

So, Sanjay is a VP of product marketing at Avalara. He's a senior technology product strategists leader. He's worked with brilliant entrepreneurs. He's also worked in incubators and helping in the venture capital community, in the Seattle area. So he's seen a lot of really successful businesses. He's helped build a lot of business strategy and been on a ride at Avalara that maybe, we could start out and have you tell us a little bit about that. I think the company has probably grown by five to 10 times in the few years that you and I have known each other, let alone all the other success you guys have had. So he's had a lot of success. So Sanjay, thanks so much for joining us today.

Sanjay Puri:                                          

You bet. Absolutely. I'm by the way, very impressed with this guy, Sanjay.

Spencer Dent:                                          

Yeah, he's a great guy. He's a great guy. He's a great guy. So, you know I won't embellish it anymore. I want you to tell us. Let's start kind of big picture and give these guys context and give our audience some background about who you are, what Avalara does and how win-loss fits into it. So tell us about your role at Avalara. What are you, what's your remit? What are you responsible for? What has sit in your wheelhouse over the last few years?

Sanjay Puri:                                          

Yeah, absolutely. So I started with Avalara about three and a half years ago as a VP of product marketing. Avalara was founded in 2004. We are the category leader in sales tax automation. We work with ERPs, invoicing, CRM, e-commerce carts, and all kinds of systems to be able to provide sales tax calculation capabilities for our customers. But then we do a number of other things. Returns, tracking exemptions, doing VAT and GST taxes, cross border customs duties and imports. What was interesting was that when I joined the company, there was no product marketing. And one of my key challenges was to come up to speed very, very quickly with the products, the organization, but most importantly to me, what do customers think about our products and our capabilities.

And the challenge with joining a company when it is already doing well, growing extremely rapidly is, people won't know what they don't know and you learn through tribal knowledge. But there's no documentation. There is no good way of learning about the customer perspective on your products, on your sales, on your marketing. And to me the best way to do something like that is go talk to customers.

Interestingly, that's how I ran into Clozd, because what I was doing was, I would go into a salesforce database, pick a customer, call them up and talk to them about how they decided to pick Avalara as their sales tax automation solution. And as I was doing those interviews and learning to get better at them, I read the blog post from... I don't know if it was you Spencer, or was it somebody else, but I read the blog posts around how to conduct win-loss interviews. And I started using some of those guidelines around doing those win-loss interviews myself. It was less important what those win-loss interviews were about, whether it goes win-loss or something else. What was important is I wanted to understand the customer's perspective on what they thought about Avalara. So, that was the beginning of my win-loss journey.

Spencer Dent:                                          

Got it, got it. Love it. So you started out kind of starting from scratch actually, which is beautiful. We work with a lot of product marketing managers and a lot of folks in the marketing realm. And product marketing is a very loosely defined role, depending upon who you talk to. And so hearing... I think you nailed it. When you come into these roles, you need to figure out, who's the buyer, what do they want, how do your products line up, because that's ultimately the core goal to help you drive the go-to market strategy for the org. So we're focusing... One thing that... I should have put this earlier, so people could see two versions of your beautiful face.

So one thing that we're going to focus on today, right, is how do you evangelize win-loss insights? So you've now been doing this for several years. You've gotten really good organizational buy-in. You've been able to drive a lot of impact. And I think that's something that a lot of companies... You know, whether it's win loss or anything else, how do you actually get people to digest, internalize, act and change behavior? So, you know, the history here on win-loss... You started doing it, you began using a third party. How has that approach evolved over time? What are some of the things, as you've gone through this journey over the last several years, before we talk about driving change... What are some of the biggest insights and impact and "aha" moments you've had doing win-loss?

Sanjay Puri:                                          

So our win-loss strategy has evolved substantially. I wouldn't use the term evolve more than we've changed, and I'll explain what the difference is. We have changed our strategy based on how the business has evolved and how the thinking around the business strategy has evolved. When we started off, I just wanted to understand why we're winning or losing deals. So we started off with interviewing a broad cross section of buyers. A majority, I would say, 60-40 wins versus losses. As we started looking at those transcripts and learning about what people were saying, we felt like we could potentially learn more from the losses than from the wins. So, we completely flipped our ratio, if you recall, Spencer. We flipped our ratio to, I would say, 70% losses and then 30% wins. We did few more interviews, and we'll talk separately about how we shared the results inside the company. But we did, especially with the sales teams, because they were one of my primary co-conspirators in this win-loss loss journey.

Then we started to feel a little pressure around the compete stuff. And for any product marketer, honestly, what you realize is that sometimes the noise around competition can get pretty high. And so we said, "Why don't we shift our focus on just competitive wins and losses, not just generic wins and losses?" So, we evolved that. We changed that to focus on competitive wins and losses. The focus of the company changed slightly more. And then we decided to focus on one competitor for some time, I would say almost 12 months. Nine - 12 months, we focused on just one competitor in all of our wins and losses, primarily losses against them because we wanted to learn. Come beginning of this year, and as we were digging into this data... And by the way, we've been tracking some of this data for some time. What we realized was that the number of deals we actually lose to a competition is minuscule compared to the number of deals we lose to status quo.

And that was an insight that led us to say, "Why not focus on why customers are not picking any sales tax automation products?" Not us, not our competitors. Let's focus on addressing the preponderance of the reason why people are not picking automation. So as you can tell, we started down a path. We looked at the data, but we were never hesitant to change. And I feel like that is very important. Its don't get stale, run a specific strategy for some time. And as soon as you feel like the results that you have are good, a set of results that you can share with your peers and your management teams inside the company, then move on. Get that feedback because people aren't going to ask you, "Hey, what about switching to competitor Y versus X?" So anyway, that's been our journey to the two and a half, two years that we've been with Clozd.

Spencer Dent:                                          

Yeah, I love it. I love it. And it's actually one of the things that I've found the most effective programs have strong leaders that are clients. Where they're in tune with the business needs and they're not rigid. They're not overly rigid. What they want to do is, they want to make sure they're focusing us, pointing us like a cannon at the problems that they're trying to solve. And so, those are always the most effective outcomes because they do adapt, they do move over time. So, you go out, you get these insights against a specific competitor, against status quo losses, where they're saying, "Hey, we're not going to do anything. We're just going to stick with what we have."

So, what do you do to drive change? What do you do to share the information? How do you share it? How do you think about engaging the other parties that are involved? How do you feel? How do you really manage through change and help the company evolve, in particular, I think you have a great relationship with sales it sounds like. So, I'd love to hear your advice for other folks on that, because sometimes win-loss can be hard for sales. So, as it comes to this change management concept, what are the best practices you've learned as a practitioner and a leader in a hyper growth tech company?

Sanjay Puri:                                          

I think the first step needs to be that you need to be in step with sales. And what are their big barriers? What is preventing sales from being most effective? What is preventing them from selling more, converting better, increasing ESP. That's what sales cares about. And so building that relationship with sales is just critical. Hypercritical. I look at product marketing... Just to take a step back. I look at product marketing as a venn diagram, the three primary circles. There's customers, there's product and then there's sales. So, our job is to understand our products, understand what our customers want, and then combine those two insights to provide what sales needs in order to be effective. And this is clearly one of them. But going back to sales, one of the things that we've done right from the start is making sure that sales has access to every single one of those deals, those interviews that are published on a weekly, sometimes more than once a week basis.

What I find is that that, definitely brings up some good discussions every once in a while. People will forward me one of the reports. This one said, "You know, this was pretty interesting. I've been trying to communicate this to my management team, but this kind of bubbles it up, bubbles of exactly what we're talking about." I would say the general tendency for people is to start ignoring some of those regular win-loss transcripts that are published on an ongoing basis. But what does bring attention back to win-loss is the quarterly reports that you guys, by the way, help us write and publish. So, the idea is not just to take that PDF report that you guys help us do on a quarterly basis. What we do is I work with, Spencer you in the past, but then our new account manager now, to really make sure that those reports actually cater to the specific pieces we had at the beginning of the period around what to do. Around what we are trying to prove or disprove.

And then, while those PDF reports are published on the Clozd portal, which by the way is a phenomenal resource. What I do is... It's not sufficient to publish those PDF reports on the portal. I will take that quarterly PDF report, I will attach it to an email, but in that email, I will summarize the key areas that I want, my exec team, my peers, the broader leadership team at Avalara to focus on. And that by the way, serves as a great reminder on a quarterly basis, that on the one hand, we are focused on some of the key strategic problems for the business. But on the other hand, it also shows product marketing, being engaged at that strategic level, in some of these important questions for the company. Because very frequently it can appear while product marketers do see themselves as being one of the most strategic groups inside a company from a technical perspective, from a business, from a revenue perspective, that fact can get lost on the rest of the company, just because there's only so many of us.

But, sending some of those reports with some of those key strategic areas bubbling up, does help bring attention back to the fact that we are looking at these. And that's also what ends up stirring up discussions yet again, around how should we change our strategy. Should we be asking a different question? Should we be asking that differently? Or should we be looking at a different thesis entirely for the next quarter or next year or [inaudible 00:00:15:17].

Spencer Dent:                                        

Yeah, love it. Love it. Tell me how accurate this is, if I were to repeat it back to you. This is kind of the workflow, almost that I heard. You're in lockstep with sales. You fundamentally, as a product manager, believe your job is to enable them and help them be successful. That's step one. So then, you go out and you focus on a pocket of the business, where if you can understand better, it will help sales get more traction.

And you transparently share the feedback with them throughout the quarter, throughout the time period that you're doing this. Then, when it comes time to get that next layer up, right? Not the frontline sales rep, not the frontline sales manager, but the next layer up in the organization involved, having a solid, crisp summary of what you've heard with the key bullet points and the implications to be a talking point. Then, you just evolve the process again. "Hey, so we learned X, that means we should go focus on why this next quarter sales. Let's talk about why. What do we need to go do to address why?" And then you kind of repeat it. Is that your kind of a fair assessment?

Sanjay Puri:                                          

Yes, that's well summarized.

Spencer Dent:                                          

Beautiful. And it's beautiful because it gets everybody kind of rowing in the same direction. One of the things that I love, that I think from my experience working with a lot of companies, win-loss is dead on arrival if you don't have this relationship, like you have with sales. It starts to feel like a witch hunt. The reps feel like you're there to get them in trouble. And they really, really don't like it. And they'll block you from talking to their customers, they'll block you. They won't fill out their pipeline correctly, et cetera. And prevent the whole process from starting. So that first step is really, really key.

Sanjay Puri:                                          

Yeah. And I just say this, that will also be a function of the quality of your sales leadership. I mean, we are very fortunate to have a phenomenal sales leader at Avalara. And he is so committed to the idea of continuing to improve. Whether it is processes, productivity, talking points, collateral, and that's what makes for a great relationship, which is, you know you have people who are trying to get better at their craft and trying to make their organization better at their craft. And that's just a winning formula.

Spencer Dent:                                          

Love it. Yeah, it's so true. The best sales reps always want feedback because they want to know how they can win more deals. Right, they're obsessed with crushing their quotas.

Sanjay Puri:                                          

Yeah. And I'll say one more thing though. I was talking about that venn diagram with sales, with product and with customers. Now, what we're finding is there's a huge pool, even from product management on reading these win-loss reports and that momentum has been growing as... Again, we purposefully try to evangelize win-loss analysis within the company, right. It goes out to our product management leadership, they see the results and somebody sees it and they tell their person. And then the person reporting to them, "Hey, you should read this report. This had some really interesting insights about how the customer thought our product was too complex or, was not product priced right." Or whatever else. Right? Yeah, that's super value.

Spencer Dent:                                          

I love it. And so, I love that you went there because I was actually going to ask you this question. The DNA of a sales org is often very different from the DNA of a product org in certain companies. And how you might think about engaging with those different parties, maybe different. Do you see big differences in how you work with the product org versus how you work with the sales org in this process? Or is it fairly similar? Do you kind of, "Hey, product team, we think we need to go learn more about XYZ functionality in win-loss. What color can you add there that we should go drill into?" Do you see a big difference between how you engage with those teams and you have any advice for people on how to effectively engage with those teams differently?

Sanjay Puri:                                          

Yeah, our engagement on at least win loss has been very different with sales versus product management. I would say until this point, product management has primarily been a consumer of this information. I can totally see a day where they will be strategic drivers along with us as being owners of figuring out where to take this next. So far, win-loss has been very much focused on more of our outbound processes, our outbound messages and around a lot of the outbound stuff. But I can totally see a point where this could go in a different direction and we're totally open to it.

Spencer Dent:                                          

Yeah. It's interesting that we see it's valuable to make sure everybody's in and is getting the output, because one danger zone that you get into is, it's isolated to sales and marketing, product finds out it's going on, but they're also doing something else and they feel like it contradicts and you're stepping on their toes and et cetera. So, at a minimum at least, allowing them to be consumers and involved is super, super valuable. What are some watch-outs you'd advise other people that are... You know, you're trying to get cultural engagement, you're trying to get your teams excited about win-loss, you're trying to get change driven into the org. What are some watch-outs or some bear traps that you think are likely for people to run into?

Sanjay Puri:                                          

I think I mentioned one of those, which is getting into this trap of becoming stale in terms of sending out the same set of reports for same thing, quarter over quarter. If you're not growing in terms of the insights you're gaining, then your program has gone stale and you've run out of ideas and that's never a good place to be.

I think the other trap is to not be plugged in, either to the strategic drivers for the company or for sales. I think you have to figure out who your focal customer is going to be in this process. For us, it turned out to be sales. It could be product management for a different company and that's okay. But you have to understand who are going to be your supporters in this journey of win-loss analysis, because doing win-loss purely for win loss analysis is not interesting. You have to go into it with a hypothesis, disprove or prove it, and then, figure it out another hypothesis again. Consistent and aligned with where the company is going and what do the leaders in the company care about. I'd say those are my biggest takeaways.

Spencer Dent:                                          

Yeah. The staleness is huge, right? If it's the same set of questions, every time you have to adapt. And that starts at the very top with what you're talking about, a hypothesis driven approach. What am I trying to understand here? How do I adapt my approach to help me answer that question and then refine that and move on to the next step? The not plugged in is interesting too. I think that's huge. I've seen companies kind of fall on their face when it comes to win-loss. When it comes to... They're treating it more like a homework assignment, than like a... This is an operationalized part of our business. We are doing this in an ongoing way and strategically using it to drive us forward as an organization. To win more deals, to make more money, to hit quota, et cetera. To fulfill our purpose as a business.

And sometimes when companies treat it more like a, "Hey, I just have this academic assignment to put together this report and I send it out once and it's the same thing every time. And nobody's involved in what I do or how I do it, or as input, I just do it over and over. Dead on arrival, people aren't going to consume it. They're not going to trust it.

Sanjay Puri:                                          

Yeah. And what I think, related to that is as a leader, as a product marketing leader, who's driving this, make sure that you yourself are reading those reports. And then with your... You could take a few of those and editorialize them and send to a certain set of leaders within the company and say, "Hey, you know what? We were discussing this the other day. Here's something that actually is talking about the same set up of the areas that are of concern to us." So that goes a long way in just again, raising the visibility for some of these initiatives.

Spencer Dent:                                          

Yeah, totally love it. And how many executive conversations occur a day, where nobody's actually talking from a customer data point, right? And so when you can bring that, you bring a lot of power to the conversation. And so...

Sanjay Puri:                                          

Absolutely. I remember this phrase, one of my dear friends, Adel [inaudible], he runs buyer personas, said to me... My favorite quote is, "Your opinions while interesting are not useful to me." Right, and this is what this process provides us data around specifically from customers.

Spencer Dent:                                          

Yeah. I love it. Love it. Especially when you can come... One danger zone that companies get into, as they do an anecdote. And then... So, I have one anecdote, but when you can come with, example, this element around pricing, our pricing model is a challenge and here's three different deals.

Sanjay Puri:                                          

That's right.

Spencer Dent:                                          

In the last three months, where a buyer is mentioning this, that not only gives it validity, but it reinforces it and can get that much more momentum. So, that's awesome. So, culturally, what do you think are the ingredients that you need to instill in your culture to help drive this? I think we've covered a little bit of this, but I really want to... This is something I want to reinforce, because things I'm hearing you talk about are like transparency, engagement upfront and on the back end of reading things out. What elements of the Avalara culture have made win-loss successful there, that other companies should think about trying to replicate?

Sanjay Puri:                                          

You know, there are a couple of areas that I would point to. I think one is around this commitment to improve, which comes from a place of humility. Which is, "Yeah, I know I need to do a bunch of things. I know I'm not going to know the answers to all of them. But you know what? I'm very well going to go out and figure it out." And so that's, I think, definitely one of those areas and that commitment, to excellence and commitment to improve comes from a deep place of self-awareness. Right? Which is, "Yes, we don't know the answers. Here's the areas that are blind spots for us, but we have ways to address that."

That would be one. And I think the other part culturally, that is key, is trust between organizations. There is so many places that I've been at, or I have seen where sales and marketing look at each other with suspicion. And if you have that type of a situation, it becomes harder to work on this. Because again, unless goals are aligned, it is going to be hard to make this program, or honestly, anything else succeed.

Spencer Dent:                                          

Yeah. I love it. And actually that's a beautiful... Like, I've actually not heard somebody explain it in such a simple way. The humility around, "We want to improve, we're willing to recognize we don't always get it right from a sales standpoint, from a product standpoint, from a pricing standpoint," and trust that it's okay. It goes back to Maslow's hierarchy of needs. If you don't feel safe, you can't actually grow. And so, you need to have a culture of a little bit of safety, where there's trust, humility, and people want to grow and learn. So, awesome.

Final question for you. We've covered a ton here. Is there anything else that you would tell somebody... You've been successful doing this now for a long time, is there anything else that you would tell somebody that they should be thinking about as they go out to run and try to get value from win-loss analysis in their org? Is there any two or three pointers that we haven't covered that you would tell somebody to absolutely think about?

Sanjay Puri:                                          

Well, I'll give you an anecdote around how doing this has actually resulted in a three year outcome of some sort. I spoke to you about status quo, and how we've gone down that path of doing win-loss interviews around status quo. And we had a hypothesis that a lot of what was happening is people do not see the return on investment around sales tax automation. We had that hypothesis. We started the win-loss interviews, there were other internal discussions, but as a result of that, as we were starting to think through this, what we felt was we needed to give sales and our marketing teams a way to evaluate that return on investment or ROI around sales tax automation. And again, as we read to the interviews, it was clear. People needed some type of a calculator, a simple calculator for calculating ROI. And that's what we've done based on everything that has happened.

Internal discussions, conversations with sales, win-loss interviews, you see a version of the ROI calculator. We call it the cost of manual compliance calculator up on our website. That's available to every one of our prospects that's coming top of funnel. And there are other tools that you will see on our website, which kind of refine that further to a place where we want to be. But all of that happens because you are again, making this win-loss analysis, part of your all up strategy. It's not a single thing that's going to determine success or failure, but it's going to be one other tool in your arsenal to be able to achieve success.

Spencer Dent:                                        

I love it. I love it. It's not a one-time project, it's an evolving program, part to steer the org. I love it, that's great. Sanjay, I can't thank you enough. You're awesome, man. Thanks so much for taking time. I'm going to do a plug for you here. Avalara is a great company, they're growing really fast. I know that Sanjay's, team's gone from what like two or three people to decent sized org. And I think you're looking for people. So...

Sanjay Puri:                                          

I'm looking very aggressively for people. So, please product marketers. If, if you're interested in working for a phenomenally growing company, great culture, amazing leadership do hit me up.

Spencer Dent:                                          

Yeah. Great organization, been super successful and only sky's the limit, especially in today's world that's all going digital. Companies need to figure out how to collect taxes when they don't have a till anymore, right. So, awesome. Well, thanks Sanjay. I appreciate you taking the time. Have a great day and appreciate everybody joining us for Winlossweek.

Sanjay Puri:                                          

Thank you guys.

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