I have had the pleasure of interviewing two impressive Directors of Win Loss programs. Both work for large companies that have done win loss analysis for a long while. Both emphasized the importance of company culture in how they set up their win loss programs; how they conduct win loss interviews—both internally and with customers—and how they write up the win loss analysis.
Culture at a Telecommunications Company
At a large telecommunications firm, the win loss team and sales people work cooperatively. At the outset, the win loss team worked with the various sales organizations and other key stakeholders, such as pricing and product groups, to develop an exhaustive set of testable hypotheses regarding root causes of sales successes and failures. This process had the benefits of buy-in from Sales and other key stakeholders as well as a higher quality analysis.
This telecommunication firm holds a full blown 360 internal company debrief before conducting a win loss interview with the customer or prospect. The meeting is not recorded so people share freely. Lessons learned along the way are noted as well as why those at the meeting think they won or lost the deal.
After the internal company debrief, the win loss person accompanies the sales person to conduct the win loss interview. The win loss team does not want to interfere with the rapport that sales people have developed with the customer. Thus the sales person is a member of the win loss interviewing team.
The win loss process is not a Sales witch hunt. Rather it is more holistic:
- Why did we win or lose the bid?
- What are the gaps in the RFP (request for proposal)?
The aim is not to assess or critique the performance of Sales outside of factual relationship questions that can be tied to a win or a loss:
- Frequency of sales visits
- Executive alignment from the telecommunications company with the client company’s C-levels
This cooperation permeates the win loss report. The win loss team is empathetic and sensitive to company politics and face saving in their reports on losses. The recommendations you make at the conclusion of the win loss report can impact people’s jobs. In this vein, the win loss team interviews those who are criticized during a loss interview to get their side of the story before publishing the quarterly win loss report.
Culture at a Big Four Firm
Win Loss is particularly sensitive since consulting firms only provide services. Thus there is no product to assess like there is at the telecommunications firm, so it’s entirely subjective. It’s all about the people: their skills, expertise, presentation, communication and project management. Professional services work tends to be long term, and the projects major, so wins and losses have the potential to make or break a career.
The lead sales person is an Account Partner, which adds another level of politics to the win loss process. Thus the Win Loss Director realized he needed to be collaborative with Account Partners to gain access to their accounts. Being a Director rather than a Manager gives him credibility with his company’s Account Partners and their senior level clients.
Every win loss interview is a sales job in this culture, so the Win Loss Director reduces the politics around which clients to query. He will ask the Account Partner if he can conduct a win loss interview with his client, just after the Account Partner has pitched the sale. Since this request is put forth before knowing how the deal with close, win loss is seen as less punitive.
Due to the company culture and the high stakes of most sales, the Win Loss Director assures the Account Partners, while letting them know he needs their help to be positioned for win loss interviews with their clients:
- I am an internal third party, but I’m outside of Sales. I need you Mr./Ms. Account Partner to gain entrée to your client
- Remember we work for the same firm so we have consistent client service standards
- The first person I will get back to is you, Mr./Ms. Account Partner. At a minimum, I will go to you first with sensitive information so you will not be blind-sided
- If I find damaging information, I will act with discretion, consideration, and a sense of partnership. We use what we uncover in win loss interviews as lessons learned
Recording Win loss Interviews
The culture around recording is different between the telecommunications company and this big four firm. At the big four firm, the Win Loss Director records every conversation, and asks for permission beforehand. This process gives internal clients assurance that the quoted client verbatim statements are accurate. This also gives the Win Loss Director the ability to pull out the conversation that led up to the verbatim. The report makes a great impact especially from direct client quotes which add credibility and authority to the win loss analysis. Since their conversation is being recorded, the client being interviewed feels important. They know that their feedback is appreciated and that they will not be misunderstood.