Win/Loss Analysis: What to do if you’re not allowed to call customers

Pragmatic Marketing’s 2008 survey revealed that only 20% of its 1100 respondents are personally performing Win/Loss Analysis. We followed up with a straw poll to ask why; Why are you not doing Win/Loss?

The responses varied, but when we aggregated similar responses, the biggest categories were:

  • I’m too busy
  • I don’t own Win/Loss

For those who don’t own Win/Loss, frequently the sales team is responsible for it.

What’s wrong with this picture? I imagine that most of you would object to sales performing win/loss analysis, yet when I speak to PMs and PMMs, they are commonly unable to persuade executives to change the situation. What’s a person to do?

Too often PMs will argue on principle, but I recommend a different approach. Start by diagnosing the current attitudes, and look for the real impact of those attitudes.

  1. Diagnose the situation with management. If you don’t own Win/Loss, why is that?
  2. Determine your commitment to this company. Think through your diagnosis of management attitudes, and assess their willingness to consider a change. You may be pleasantly surprised that management has just been waiting for someone to step up to the plate, and you will be given a pilot project. But beware, dear reader. Changing cultures is hard work, may be unsuccessful, and may divert your career path unnecessarily.
  3. If you’re committed or have other reasons for staying, there are ways of starting small and showing some success you can build on.

Diagnose management’s attitude
You need to register your difficulty in performing your job without doing win/loss analysis. Beware though, too much complaining can weaken your position significantly. Once you register the problem, tell your boss that you’d like to have a discussion, and dissect the issue into a few distinct questions:

  1. Clarify the importance of Win/Loss analysis data. Does the company even agree that Win/Loss is important?
  2. If it is important, why? If not, why not?
  3. What function does management perceive for Win/Loss? What decisions should the data inform? Does your management see it as informing sales tactics, marketing messages, product direction, specific product requirements, or a combination of the above? For each task, ask why or why not, and whether your management views the current information as effective or sufficient.
What function does Win/Loss data play?

What function does Win/Loss data play?

After this management discussion, ask yourself whether the information coming out of Sales is effective at informing the activities above.

I won’t pull punches here: In my experience, Win/Loss is important for all of the above. There are, of course, other crucial sources of input for these decisions and strategies, but Win/Loss is among the most powerful and direct sources, and much less open to interpretation than other, less direct, sources such as analyst reports, competitive analysis, or industry articles.

Look for gaps in the information above, but you can also play on the “yes” answers. If management sees Win/Loss as important for messaging / positioning, then you can look at the Win/Loss information collected by Sales, and ask whether it is helping you do positioning.

Finally, look at the “no” answers. If management does not see win/loss as important for product direction, ask what sources they do think should inform product direction.

At this stage you are diagnosing the situation, not pronouncing judgment. If you remain open do diagnosing the situation, you will also be viewed as a team player and trying to do good for the company rather than yourself.

Consider each reason why, or why not, in the table above. Are the reasons valid in the current situation, political in nature, or simply a vestige of how the company grew? You may also be able to engage your management in the same discussion.

How committed are you?

With the information above, you should have some idea of whether change is possible at this company. You can now think clearly about your own commitment to this company or your current job. It is not easy to change a company’s culture or influence ownership, and it might be much easier or better to look for a company in which product management has a full mandate.

Affecting change

If you’re committed to sticking with it, at least for a while, you can start thinking about ways to influence change. Remember, this will take time, and probably more time than you would like. Wasn’t it Napoleon who first said “Change is a process, not an event?

The key is to start with something fairly small. Here are some ideas:

  1. Ask for the Win/Loss reports that sales is producing. If you can’t get ahold of these, the situation may be worse than you realized; you’re not viewed as a “need to know” person on win/loss, much less having the mandate to perform the analysis yourself. Time to revisit your diagnosis and question of commitment.Assuming that you can get this analysis, read through it. My prediction is that the “wins” will talk all about diligent sales people, while the losses will talk all about product deficiencies, customer budgets, lack of need, or high prices. If these are the reasons, pick two or three accounts, and get permission to perform your own analysis. Get buy-in to the questions you’ll be asking, and publish your results narrowly to your senior management.
  2. Look back through your past releases. Often you put out a major feature that the field called a “must have” last quarter or last year, but once released, the resulting sales are disappointing. Create a backward-looking release chart that shows what sales asked for, what we built, and the resulting impact on revenue.
  3. Produce a discounting chart, and ask the question whether sales would like to reduce the need to discount. Plot discount vs. deal size, and compare the data to the standard rate card. Ask whether you can examine a few of the most highly discounted deals and some of the least discounted deals. What differentiates them? Were the discounts necessary? Money talks.

My bottom line is that proper win/loss analysis is crucial to a company’s revenue, profit, and decision making at all levels of the company. If you are responsible for product decisions, but you don’t have authority to do a good job of the analysis, you are flying blind, and doing a disservice to your investors, your customers, and your own career.

Please leave your comments, or feel free to contact me.


Previous Articles in this series:

What’s the deal with Win/Loss Analysis?

How NOT to do Win/Loss Analysis (Part 1: CRM Reporting)