Winning by Losing

We are all failures, at least the best of us are. 
M. Barrie

 Baby even the losers
Get lucky sometimes
Even the losers
Keep a little bit of pride
They get lucky sometimes.

– Tom Petty, Even the Losers – Damn the Torpedoes

Like many people, many organizations are not much into reflection. They have some successes, they experience some failures, and they move forward. If you are a true learning organization, you want to spend some time assessing both your successes and failures, and learn from both. As Tom Petty once sang, ‘even the losers get lucky sometimes’.  When you find yourself a ‘loser’ in business, make sure you learn from the experience and increase your chances of future success.

One concrete step is to perform a win/loss analysis for each key sales opportunity in which you engage. You spend much time, effort and expense placed in pursuing new business.  By looking back and investigating the situation, process, and results, you can gain some valuable knowledge to apply to your future efforts.

Some critical data you want to review includes:

  •  Was this a viable opportunity? Could it have been disqualified earlier in the process?
  • Did we take the right actions to win the business? Were the actions timely?
  • Who were the competitors? How did we demonstrate our points of difference?
  • What problem was the client trying to solve? How did we demonstrate our solution to that specific problem? Did we succeed, or fall short?
  • How did the client view our sales process and our people?
  • What final decision did the client make?
    • Chose our company
    • Chose another company
    • Delayed decision
    • No decision
  • Why did the client make this decision? Try to obtain a number one reason
  • What was their view on our key areas of product/service value?
    • Quality, Service, Effectiveness, Cost-efficiency
  • Internally, what were the costs and resources involved in pursuing this business? Were they in/out of the norm?

If you maintain a sales management system, then much of this information should be documented already.  If not, then you need to look at improving the structure and process of your system.   Some of the information, though, can only be obtained by interviewing the client.

I strongly suggest conducting a 10 minute phone interview with the client, win or lose.  When you win the business, this phone interview should be easy to arrange.  I admit, interviewing the prospect after you lose an opportunity can be difficult.  Just like us, they tend to move on quickly and may not want to give you the time, or be forthcoming in their feedback.  I argue that you need to be persistent in securing this time on the phone.  After the effort and cost you have made in pursuing the business, you owe it to yourself – and your company – to take this extra step.

Who should conduct the interview?  The sales person who was involved in the opportunity is not the right person. What if the client did not choose you because they did not like the sales person!  That would be an awkward discussion, or a less than genuine exchange.  Instead, use an objective person within your company, or a third-party to conduct the interview. The client will likely be more frank and open with her feedback.

Use a formal template to document all the information gathered.  Place this information in your sales system and develop a format for tracking and reporting the win/loss information, just as you do your pipeline results.  As you gather enough information on opportunities won or lost, analyze for indicators that may prompt you to improve what you do and how you do it.  Use the information to take positive action.

By learning from your wins and losses, you can do more than, as Tom Petty says, ‘get lucky sometimes.’ Instead rely less on luck and more on knowledge and learning to win more business than your competitors.

–James Casale