How to get a lost account to speak with you

One of the most difficult things in Win/Loss Analysis is getting someone from a lost account to speak with you. Why would they spend the time, and why would they reveal anything to you? Once an evaluator rules you out, they have absolutely no time for your company, or so it seems.

Many of our readers have told us that they would like to do win/loss analysis but lack the authority to contact customers and lack the time to focus on this task. As I’ve written before, you need to make the time for this – do the opposite and carve out time, or you limit your career potential. And for those without the authority to call customers, I recommended that you contact lost accounts; the ones that sales is finished with. Avoid asking for permission; just do it.

So what happens if you’re motivated, willing to take a small risk, and you play hooky for a day to call losses? You still face a big challenge, i.e., getting the lost accounts to take your call.

Earlier I gave some advice on how to approach lost accounts. All of that advice still stands; the preparation work is essential to get the information you need.

Once you’ve done all the prep described in the earlier article, try this approach:

  1. Email and call: People will usually listen to your vmail if it is well scripted, but can easily ignore or delete your email. Email is overwhelming, but in a sense people feel they need to listen to their voicemail, regardless who is calling.
  2. Script your call: The first 10 seconds of the voicemail script (or the phonecall if they actually pick up and answer) is decisive. I offer a script below that works well for me.
  3. Be up-front: I admit up-front what I am doing … I tell the target that their team evaluated my company’s product but we did not win their business, and I am seeking to learn from that experience. You’re not a call-center market research firm; you’re involved and you’ve already spent resources to help this person.
  4. Never sell: Emphasize quickly that you’re not selling anything, simply trying to learn from experience.
  5. Don’t waste their time: If you score a call, be hyper-efficient with their time. You can run over 10 minutes unless they cut you off, but if you are very targeted, they will start to open up. Remember to do the prep work I outlined in the earlier article on this topic.
  6. Offer a benefit, part 1: Tell the target that you are trying to improve the products available to them and people like them; by helping you, they are helping the industry.
  7. Offer a benefit, part 2: Offer something to them directly. Some ideas:
  • A $50 gift certificate from Amazon. The drawback to this is that you need budget, and some people are not allowed to accept gifts.
  • A draw for a larger gift. I have offered Bose Headphones or an iPod.
  • A donation on their behalf. This one is working well right now, perhaps because of the present economic situation. For 10 minutes of someone’s time, they can feel they’ve helped someone else. Interesting thing about this one is that they never ask how much you’ll donate. If they do ask, say $50. Don’t be dishonest, but also you don’t have to give $50 for every interview. When I am done my interviews, I make the contributions as promised, and I determine how much I will donate based on budget or personal generosity.

Here’s a sample script. You can use this for both phone and email with minor modifications:

Hello NAME

My name is Alan Armstrong. We have not met, but my client presented their product to your team last year and did not win your business. They have asked me to speak with you to get your feedback and input.

I promise not to try to sell you anything. My goal is simply to get your input to help my client improve their products and services.

If you would agree to a 10-15 minute phone call, I will make a donation on your behalf to one of the charities listed below.

* American Red Cross
* Children’s Hunger Fund
* Feeding America
* World Wildlife Fund

If you have another organization that is not listed, I can probably direct the donation to them.

Your views will remain confidential and used only for this product research.


If you compare this to the earlier script I suggested, you’ll note a significant difference: In this version I am very up-front about my purpose. People respond well to this; they know what you’re doing, and they are more likely to help.

Final point:

  • Persist: Keep calling and emailing. Eventually they’ll take the call just to get you off their back. Don’t be discouraged; remember that they don’t really care about you, but that’s ok. You just need them to agree to speak.

Let me know how it goes.

– Alan
Previous posts in this series:

  1. Competitive intelligence using lost deals
  2. Contacting lost accounts
  3. Product Managers: Do the opposite!
  4. Win/Loss Analysis: What to do if you’re not allowed to call customers
  5. How NOT to do Win/Loss Analysis part 1: CRM Reporting
  6. What’s the deal with Win/Loss Analysis?
  7. No Win/Loss? Blame…
  8. Win/Loss? Anyone?

10 responses to “How to get a lost account to speak with you

  1. Seems like I read this exact article, bullet for bullet, on another blog just a few weeks ago. An article that this blog linked to earlier, in fact. What gives?

    • Hi Omega – Thanks for the link. You commented so quickly after the post that you must be a big fan of both blogs! I’m sorry you didn’t identify yourself so that we could send you a t-shirt!

      The articles are similar for sure and have some of the same advice, though some differences too. My article is based on my own experience doing Win/Loss Analysis for my clients and constantly looking for better ways to connect with clients. Harvard Business School uses successful cases to teach its curiculum. When asked why, the dean once wrote, in essence, that “there are many ways to fail, but successes have a lot of things in common.” So the fact that Sue and I are offering similar advice shouldn’t be surprising. I got the charitable gift idea from Steve Johnson after a presentation I made on Win/Loss Analysis at Product Camp Toronto!

      Anyway, the advice is freely given in both cases. Do you like the ideas given? How does this approach work for you? Can you offer any modifications that would help our readers?

  2. Great advice, Alan! Win/loss can be scary to some people, because it involves talking to those that rejected their product or company in the first place.

    But it’s all good – and should be thought of as a plus, not a negative. The feedback will generally be some of the best you get due to the lost prospects candor.

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  4. Hey omega,

    Thanks for watching my back, but I am fine with Alan’s article.

    I think both Alan and I are cataloging best practices for Win/Loss based on our own experiences. Neither of us are exactly revealing novel, top-secret, ground-breaking research on the topic. Thus, I’m not surprised that our approaches, and thereby our content, are similar.

  5. Oh yeah, I want my T-shirt.

  6. Alan: maybe I missed it, but isn’t one of the most critical part of doing a win/loss analysis (or as I call them an “after action review”) to have an internal huddle?

    I’ve always found that the various teams (sales, proposals, PM, executive) generally have all the info that you need to know. Sure, contacting the customer can be a good thing to do also, but having the “team” talk about what happened is much more important.

    After all, they are the ones that will be doing it the next time!

    – Dr. Jim Anderson
    The Accidental PM Blog
    “Home Of The Billion Dollar Product Manager”

    • Jim – I hear this view frequently from sales people … many of them think they know why they lost a deal. Rarely are they correct, or do they have a complete understanding of what happened and why. The views of internal people, while interesting, really don’t substitute for speaking with the evaluator. I can give you numerous examples where internal people concluded that they lost because of one thing but the evaluator and business buyer have totally different reasons.

      Some sales people, on the other hand, KNOW that they don’t have a full picture, and the (IMO) best sales people like to get objective input from the prospect.

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