Why I like Company Transparency in Win Loss Interviews

Why is it that companies don’t want to disclose who they are in win loss interviews? Is it fear? Transparency versus blind win loss interviews is a question that plagues many in marketing.

Many feel if they don’t identify who they are, they’ll get a more objective interview. They are also afraid if they let the customer know who they are—especially when they lost the business—the customer won’t take the interview or if they do, they won’t tell much. A third common reason is they don’t want their sales force to know that they’re conducting these interviews since some of the questions assess the effectiveness and quality of the sales force.

Do these reasons make sense? Let’s explore each separately:

Get a more objective interview: I don’t find that interviews are any more objective when the company’s identity is blind. People are opinionated period. When you conduct blind interviews, where the client doesn’t know the identity of the company behind the call, they usually can guess. So often, it’s the market leader who is going to take the time and has the resources to research deeper. Often enough there are only 2 or 3 companies competing for the business. Customers are not stupid. While they may not let on that they know who is behind the call, they usually figure it out sooner or later.

Sometimes those I interview try so hard to get me to tell them who hired me to telephone them. When they think they know, then they’ll start sharing more. It’s an ego thing: they want to know who is asking. I think it’s also decency: they deserve to know.

Rather than feeling threated by identity disclosure, smart companies realize that a win loss interview is another marketing touch point, even if it’s conducted by a third party. It’s an opportunity for connection with customers and prospects to let them know you value their business enough to ask and listen to what went right and what went wrong, and then take corrective action.

If the customer knows the company which is behind the call, they won’t agree to an interview: I have found that just the opposite is true, even when Sales botched up the deal or it was won by a caustic competitor. Even if another service provider won the business, people will agree to an interview, unless they don’t have time. Time is the biggest enemy to getting the interview, not company identity!

Don’t want Sales to know we’re checking up on their customer relationships: This is one I just don’t get in a society where we are surveyed to death. Even after a cashier rings up a sale in a retail store, they ask us to fill out a survey on the Internet on his or her performance. It’s ridiculous: how can we assess the performance of this person when we barely had a touch point!

However, responsible companies that have a direct or indirect Salesforce and want to keep winning deals for the right reasons, should want to know how effectively and professionally Sales is representing their company and its products and services. There is a relationship here to protect, and you want to keep it ongoing. Too bad if Sales doesn’t like the win loss process.

You come out ahead if you are straight with Sales and let them know you follow up on some sales events. In fact, I like to involve Sales in creating the questions to ask customers. I get better questions and they feel less threatened since they are part of the planning process. Likewise if you share customer communication with Sales, they have an opportunity to learn what they are doing well and their shortcomings. They can feel good about what they do well, and can make improvements where they are weak.

I still like how Rick Marcet, author of Win/Loss Reviews: A New Knowledge Model for Competitive Intelligence, considers the win loss analysis process to be an advanced sales skill. Responsible sales people want to know how they’re doing. They want to improve and close more deals. In fact, best in class companies let their customers know that as part of the sales process, they may be contacted post sale for a win or loss interview as part of doing business.

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2 thoughts on “Why I like Company Transparency in Win Loss Interviews”

  1. Hi Ellen

    Good post. There are also very good reasons for companies to do their own win-loss interviews. It’s something I always stress – for both win and loss.

    In the case of wins, the win-interview becomes a way of building a relationship with the new client and so becomes a customer service type function. The design should focus on this e.g. to gain information on the sales experience, why they switched or chose the new supplier (i.e. the company), any problems experienced, who they were using before (i.e. the competitor) and any issues with this company (including pricing, service, quality….). If drafted properly, it can show a company that cares about the customer and a company that really wants to build a relationship. Gathering competitive intelligence thus becomes a hidden benefit – in that the customer will share information but won’t see this as a key purpose in the interview. It’s a golden opportunity – and outsourcing this sort of interview is foolhardy as it misses the chance to really build relationships beyond the sales aspect. (The sales person should NOT conduct such interviews – part of the aim is to gain a comparison and so the sales person won’t be sufficiently objective).

    Loss interviews are harder – but much of the same information can be gathered. The aim is to put across to the ex-customer that the company is sorry to see them go but accept their decision. The stress must be that this is NOT an attempt to woo them back. Instead it’s an attempt to understand why they didn’t satisfy or meet the customer requirements and what they need to do to improve. As a result, asking to compare them with the new supplier becomes understandable.

    By not pushing to regain the customer, you can get respect from the ex-client and may still be in the picture when they next need to make a purchase as the company is seen as respecting the customer decision and not being desperate to make a sale by trying to win them back.

    The exceptions for loss interviews (I can’t think of any good ones for wins) is where the relationship was poor at the end OR where there are disclosure aspects that prevent discussion. In such cases the ex-client may not wish to talk at all and you should know the problems anyway. A different design for loss interviews can take place in this case – using standard marketing research type techniques. (NOT CI elicitation). For example, you can call the ex-client and ask about whether they are familiar with a list of companies including the company. (You know that they are). Ask them to rate each of the companies they know on a scale (1-10, 1-5). Ask about other aspects on each. The aim is to keep the survey objective and not weight it to any particular company – just the ones they know, use or have used in the past. By doing this as a survey – you can even mail it to them with an incentive to complete.

  2. Hi Arthur,

    I agree that there are good reasons for a company to do their own win/loss interviews.

    However, there is a danger in win interviews. While it is a good customer touch point, I have learned that customers often tell company employees what they think they want to hear. So it’s easy to have a blind spot relationship. Since consultants don’t have a relationship with the customer, they often tell us things that the customer might not want to hear. We also tend to be more trained at giving these type of interviews.

    These points are even truer for loss interviews. I have found that open ended questions often render the best intelligence rather than stacking up a list of companies. You want to learn what went right and what went wrong whether it’s a win or loss interview. People are surveyed to death in the US for so many things, even by cashiers in a retail store as mentioned in the blog. Maybe that is a cultural difference between doing win/loss in the US and the UK.

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