Successful win-loss research programs are built around a well-tailored research tool that collects crucial information from decision makers and influencers who are involved in the sales decision process. The overall goal of the research is to determine what factors are used as decision criteria in selecting a company for a project. Win-loss research not only provides a valuable source of competitive intelligence, it also sheds light on the internal working of a company's sales processes and cycles.
Win-loss research can:
• Improve individual and companywide competitive win ratios.
• Establish clear benchmarks for understanding performance.
• Increase the number of successful sales per employee.
• Build a successful sales organization that is always improving.
• Discover the reasons behind lost opportunities.
• Increase competitive advantage.
• Enhance a company's understanding of competitors.
Unlike pricing research, win-loss research goes further, delving into the decision process of clients, client service issues, and the effective handling of proposals. The end result is a tool that can provide actionable information on competitors and a specific market.
What About Methodology?
Many clients ask which methodology is more appropriate: qualitative (in the form of in-depth interviews) or quantitative? A qualitative approach is best for the client who is just beginning the Win-Loss research process. The qualitative methodology allows for more investigation into what factors are actually at play in the sales selection process.
The quantitative approach is then employed once the dynamics of the market and sales process are understood and can be classified into standard metrics used over time.
In terms of quantitative data collection, much of this research is conducted via the telephone. In most cases this means sales representatives calling the client or prospect and enquiring as to why the company did (or did not) win the business.
Many companies see this as a cost-effective way to learn more about the sales process and sales cycle. While telephone interviewing is a valid data collection methodology, having sales representatives making the calls is fraught with peril.
The second data collection methodology is face-to-face interviewing. For many companies with win-loss research programs in place, this is the preferred method because of the ability to interact with the client, read her body language, and probe for more in-depth responses to questions. Face-to-face interviewing is often used in sales situations where the product or service is expensive and/or complicated and technical.
Finally, online interviewing is also a well-recognized data collection methodology. It provides a timely and cost-effective means of collecting a large number of interviews. And, while a company may be limited in its ability to fully probe on open-ended questions, online interviewing works very well when the audience is technical.
Considering Critical Factors
Regardless of the data collection methodology chosen, creating the right survey instrument is critical. After all, if the right questions are not asked, in the right way, the data may be skewed or simply not informative or actionable.
The interview should last no more than 30 minutes in person, and no more than 15 minutes on the telephone or online. It is unreasonable to assume today's professionals can devote more than 30 minutes to a survey.
Some key areas to focus on:
• The buying process (evaluation and selection criteria)
• Decision drivers
• Multiple influencers and decision chain
• Product/Service features and functionality
• External influences on the decision process
• Branding/Marketing issues
• Commercial issues—pricing, contracts, etc.
Many companies that conduct wi-loss research fall into the trap of using their employees to perform the research. Clients and prospects, however, are unlikely to be candid with the sales representative they've been dealing with for some time and who have failed to meet their expectations. It is also unlikely that the sales representatives will be candid in passing along information that may highlight their weaknesses or be viewed in an unfavorable light.
Many clients have found it virtually impossible to get unbiased, factual information without the help of an outside agency. Many clients have reported that in-house researchers have found buyers unwilling to reveal their real decision criteria for fear of offending the sales representative, or having the representative re-engage them in the sales process. In short, data collected in this manner may not be accurate, thus compromising the decision-making process on critical issues.
Conducting this type of research and analysis in-house can lead to a series of problems. A comparison of in-house versus third-party research reveals the following differences: