The Secret Weapon of Research

Jennifer Berkley Jackson
Marketing Insights
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Key Takeaways
  • Win/loss analysis is "the process of following up with new customers and prospects that chose your company."
  • This type of analysis can also be applied to those who didn't choose your company, whether they chose another vendor or just didn't buy anything.
  • Win/loss analysis can help marketers collect a wealth of data that can be analyzed for opportunities to improve sales processes and your product or service, and better position your company against industry competitors. 

Using win/loss analysis to assess valuable consumer feedback and strengthen your marketing mix

In more than 20 years conducting a variety of research to help organizations better understand customers’ needs, I have found one specific type of research that I recommend all organizations do from day one: win/loss analysis.

Win/loss analysis helps organizations gather a wealth of information that allows them to improve close rates and attract more customers, whether they are a B-to-B organization or B-to-C. Every organization, from startups to established enterprises, needs this kind of ongoing information. It’s helpful for organizations when they first launch their business and are working on the fine tuning, and also once they’re well established, to monitor their target market’s changing needs and the changing complexion of the marketplace. 

What is Win/Loss Analysis?

Win/loss analysis is the process of following up with new customers and prospects that chose your company, as well as those who did not (either they chose another vendor or decided not to buy anything). Through this process, you can collect a wealth of information. Once analyzed for common trends, the information can be evaluated for opportunities to make changes to sales processes and your products or services. It can also provide information to the sales team that will help them better position your organization versus your most likely competitors.

The information gleaned from this process covers many areas that can impact your sales team’s ability to close deals: 

• What triggers prospects to look for products/services like yours;

• Where prospects look to find vendors for these products/services (Web search and specific terms used, referrals, conferences, trade organizations, etc.);

• The criteria prospects used to evaluate these products/services;

• What information and activities are most valuable to prospects (demos, collateral, face-to-face meetings, references, etc.); and

• What other vendors’ prospects evaluated and how you measure up to them (visibility, products/services, selling process, pricing, etc.).

Why Do a Formal Win/Loss Analysis?

The importance of following up on lost sales may sound obvious but often falls into the category of “common sense just ain’t common practice.” Organizations usually rely entirely upon their sales teams’ assessment of why a sale was lost or won, but this is just one piece of the picture.  

Your organization should implement formal, ongoing win/loss analysis efforts, and here’s why:

1. To reduce sales cycles. Customers take longer and longer to make decisions based on their need to make sure they are getting the best bang for their buck. If you are able to differentiate yourself and your products by speaking their language better than anyone else, you can help speed up this cycle and thin out your competitors at the same time.

By having insight into what is most important to your consumers regarding the benefits they hope to gain, the problems they are trying to solve, and what internal resistance they may be facing, you have the inside track and can arm your salespeople to ensure that they are focusing on the right things when talking to prospects.

2. To get the “real” story. Most organizations ask their salespeople to “check a box” in their CRM about why they lost a sale. This is a one-dimensional approach to understanding why a given sale was lost. In most cases, there isn’t just one reason and, unfortunately, if you need the salesperson to come up with one reason, you will likely hear the same one: price.

You do not want to compete on price. You have much more to offer than the other guy. And what if the issue wasn’t really price but was the sales process or the salesperson? Most prospects aren’t comfortable providing constructive feedback to the person they have worked with, so they may not be fully disclosing all of the nuances of what led to their “no.”

3. To gain competitive insights. Customers and prospects have first-hand knowledge of how your competitors are positioning themselves, the pricing they are offering and how you stack up against them. Asking for this input can be very insightful. The answers allow you to prioritize your efforts around which levers you adjust in your messaging, as well as refining your business strategy to help you compete more successfully. It’s not always a pricing issue—sometimes your key differentiator could be that you better understand your customers’ issues, deliver products in a way that works better for them, have better payment terms, offer superior service, etc.

4. To gain internal insights. There is no other way to see how you are perceived by customers and prospects than to get their perspective. You need to know how your organization and your employees are perceived in the marketplace.

By having this information, you are able to compare it to the perception you desire. Only then can you make the necessary adjustments to ensure that you are perceived the way you intend. There are many stories about organizations that have no clue about how they are perceived in the marketplace and how often that leads to their demise. Savvy competitors can take advantage of that vulnerability and not only win sales but actually steal current customers.

5. To fine-tune your marketing efforts. There are many vehicles you are using to send messages to your prospects: your website, e-mail campaigns, ads and more. It’s essential in this world of information overload that you hit the nail on the head quickly and succinctly for the few seconds that you have your prospects’ attention. You need messages that break through the noise and compel them to take action.

Having input from prospects and customers about their pain points when looking for products/services will give you the secret weapon you need to target your messages to the heart of their most pressing issues. If you are able to speak their language and understand their problems better than anyone else, you are much more likely to get them to call, request more information or get the sales process started. And, as mentioned above, you will also differentiate yourself from others, helping to streamline the sales cycle.

6. To stay relevant. Your organization should always be looking for ways to innovate its products/services to ensure that you are offering state of the art solutions to your customers’ problems. All too often, these innovations are coming from design or engineering departments versus the marketplace. Win/loss interviews can provide insights into what customers are looking for, what issues they have with current marketplace solutions, and what supporting services would help them get the most from your products.

7. To make customers glad they chose you (and make those who didn’t regret it). Doing win/loss analysis differentiates your organization from your competitors. As mentioned earlier, it is not commonly implemented by organizations, despite how valuable the insights are. By following up with customers who chose you, you show a commitment to continuous improvement and that you are customer- and market-focused. You provide them with a direct channel to communicate with you. This strengthens their relationship with you from the start.

Following up with lost prospects can seem a bit daunting; however, they tend to be impressed by a company who is interested in learning from “bad” sales experiences, and with the right incentive, are glad to participate. It’s important to handle these conversations tactfully and not come across as pushing any hidden message. Surprisingly, there are many instances where these same contacts come back as highly qualified prospects after their experience with a company of choice didn’t go as expected or if they haven’t made a purchase. By handling a lost sale professionally and non-defensively, your company makes a positive impact and could still get the sale.

Tips for Implementing Win/Loss Analyses

Now let’s look at the details of how to implement such a program, including how to get the best insights by communicating with the right people.

The best way to gather input is via one-on-one telephone interviews that last no longer than 20 minutes. Your new customers will be glad to participate without any incentive. However, you will need to offer a cash incentive to people who did not choose to do business with you. The amount of that incentive varies depending on a person’s level and area of expertise: higher for executives and IT contacts, lower for non-management contacts in the purchasing department, for example. One creative approach is to offer to provide a donation to a charitable organization of their choice.

There are many nuances to implementing a good program and gathering insights. Here are a few tips for building win/loss analysis into your company’s approach: 

• Get top-level support. Having top executives support a win/loss program is key since the results of these programs reach beyond any one department. Having a high-level executive send an e-mail to introduce the win/loss process to contacts and encourage their participation also helps increase the number of people who participate.

• Conduct ongoing interviews with sales contacts you’ve won and lost. Both perspectives will be helpful and important. Make sure to approach these contacts within three months of the sale, and be sure that their memories are fresh and can provide valuable information. Schedule this as an ongoing effort in order to gain insights and early warning signals about things that may be changing in your market.

• Get the most out of your interviews. Develop an interview script that covers the key data you want to understand. It should include both open and closed-ended questions, allowing you to quantify the results. It’s important to look for trends and summarize the information so the organization can understand the implications and take appropriate action.

• Work with an external professional researcher to conduct the interviews. Customers and prospects are much more likely to be forthright about their input and feedback if they are talking to an objective third party. Professional researchers can also help analyze the results objectively and are seasoned at analyzing interview transcripts to look for the trends and golden nuggets that can get lost in the details.

• Collaborate with the sales team. It’s key to have their support and help in developing the interview script and interpreting results. Often, they are suspicious of any efforts to debrief their sales contacts, but once they realize the benefits they’ll get from the process, they are usually willing to help with introductions and other steps to maximize participation.

• Share results cross-functionally in the organization. You will get insights that go beyond sales processes, pricing, etc. Be sure that all trends are shared with the appropriate areas and integrated with data they may already be collecting. This helps ensure that there is a complete view of the customer’s world.

Win/loss analysis is one of the easiest and most impactful programs that organizations can implement to ensure they are staying abreast of key trends, insights and input from the people they interface with. Having input from prospects and customers about their issues when looking for products/services will give organizations the secret weapon they need to target their messages to the heart of their most pressing issues. If an organization is able to speak their customers’ language and understand their problems better than anyone else, it is much more likely to get customers to call, request more information or get the sales process started.   

The information here can help you get started if you aren’t already doing win/loss analysis, or it can help you fine-tune your current efforts to get more impact. 

This was originally published in the July/August 2014 issue of Marketing Insights.

Author Bio:

Jennifer Berkley Jackson
Jennifer Berkley Jackson is co-chair of the San Francisco chapter of the Qualitative Research Consultants Association (QRCA) and owner of the research firm The Insight Advantage. She has a wealth of experience helping B-to-B and B-to-C organizations implement a variety of research to ensure that they understand their customers’ strategic issues better than their competitors. She can be reached at
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