Tuesday 29 August 2023

Top 5 Tips for effective win/loss reviews

Having spent a large portion of my near 40-year career closely involved in various forms of research, analysis and business intelligence, I have over that period accumulated first-hand experience of many different methodologies. When I reflect back on the relative merit of these various approaches, I am struck that, of all of them, the one from which I believe I (and others) have derived the greatest business value is from conducting win/loss reviews. This observation is especially relevant in the current climate of lengthening deal cycles and increased scrutiny around IT investments.

Some SITS vendors may spend many (£) millions pursuing a single large bid and so the stakes are high, as is the value of any lessons learned. Thus insights that help a vendor to improve their win rate and/or client satisfaction can potentially deliver a significant RoI. Sometimes a vendor may win a bid but do certain things badly during the sales process that on another day might have been more costly. Similarly, there may be pursuits where a vendor does certain things really well that impress the client or prospect, despite ultimately missing out on the deal. The potential insights learned from both these scenarios can be extremely valuable and that’s why I believe it is so important to routinely conduct win/loss reviews.

During my time with CSC (now DXC) I was for a number of years responsible for managing the win/loss review process for the company's financial services business in EMEA, and then subsequently globally. As well as designing and managing the process, I also conducted many of the reviews myself. The research process typically involved a short qualitative email survey, followed up by a 45-minute discussion with the client conducted either face to face or over the phone.

Of course, perhaps the most important element of any research is not the fieldwork/data gathering but what is actually done with the information once it has been collated. This is especially true when carrying out win/loss research as the insights can potentially be worth millions if you improve your win rate as a result. For my part, I provided a monthly high-level management dashboard to the Exco and made available a longer form narrative summary of every qualitative review conducted. Lastly, for all bids over a defined (£) value, we convened a review involving all relevant in-house teams. (Typically, sales, legal, finance, and product/delivery).

My own experience of conducting win/loss research was that, almost without exception, clients and prospects were very willing to participate in the process. Often they were impressed that the company was investing the time and effort to try to improve. In fact, so much so that, on occasions clients or prospects were demonstrably grateful for the opportunity to provide their candid feedback.

So, what did I learn and why do I believe win/loss reviews are so valuable?

Here are my “Top 5 Tips” for an effective Win/Loss review programme:

1.  Ensure that process is not owned or run by the sales team.

Apart from ensuring that you have a win/loss programme in place, this is perhaps the most important and for many the most sensitive and controversial. The sales team will almost certainly rail against other folks having insight into their performance in this way. However, the value of the insights gleaned from the research will inevitably be greatly diminished if they do not come via an independent source. In part this is simply down to human nature. Even senior executives within client/prospects may deliver the message with less candour when they are talking to those directly involved than if they had been talking to an “independent” review team not directly involved in the sale.

2.  Establish the “facts” first-hand.

To emphasise what I have said in point one, it is important to always speak to the client or prospect wherever possible and not to rely on what you might be told internally. I can recall several occasions where I reviewed lost deals for which the sales team had already conducted their own internal review and submitted the finding to the sales director. In each of these I found that the reasons the client provided to me for the decision were very different to those offered by the sales team.

3.  Try to promote a “blame-free” culture.

My third suggestion follows naturally from my first two. Whatever the reasons for a lost bid, it is important to see the win/loss review process as an opportunity for shared learning and process improvement. It should almost never be about holding individuals to account and even less so a “witch-hunt”! If you work with the sales team and reassure them of the spirit in which the reviews are being conducted, you will probably find that they will come to value the process. Afterall, it should help them to successfully close more deals and earn more commission.

4.  Never preach, when delivering your analysis.

When it comes to the internal debrief, it is vitally important to offer your findings up for debate. Provide your analysis as suggestions and ask the individual teams to validate your thinking and to contribute to the discussion on how to improve the process going forward. Remember, you were not directly involved in the pursuit and the interpretation of those that were is vital in fully understanding the client feedback.

5.  You rarely lose on price alone.

I have one final observation that has stayed with me from conducting win/loss reviews worth in total many (£) hundreds of millions. Despite what more simplistic review processes may often indicate, my many discussions with clients demonstrated to me that typically, whilst you may lose on value, it is actually extremely rare to lose on price alone. In my own personal experience, this was almost certainly always true in respect of non-commodity type products and services. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking otherwise!

If you do not currently have a structured win/loss review programme in place, I strongly urge you to consider implementing one. If done properly this process will potentially pay for itself many times over!

If you would like to discuss any of the points made in this HotViewsExtra or offer your own perspective on win/loss reviews, do please feel free to get in touch with me directly.

Posted by Jon C Davies at '15:45'