Monday, October 01, 2007

Turning a "Capital L" Loss into a "Small w" win

Let's face it. Nobody likes to lose. Even in those sales situations where you (oh, mighty marketing) have predicted that there is no way in the world that your company stands a chance of winning the deal, there is little satisfaction in saying 'I told you so.' Even the most jaded and I'm-so-right marketing person wants the WIN.

But ya win some, ya lose some.

Once the Closed - Lost stamp is on a deal, it's easy to surrender to the urge to just keep on moving forward, on to the next - forget about the opportunity just lost. That loserama deal: it is so yesterday. Let them go with the competitor. Their loss. (Well, not really. It's your loss...)

Marketing should let Sales go ahead and move on. Sales is the 100% worst group to ask why they lost the sale. If sales is doing the asking, you can almost guarantee that the answer is going to be the survey says: our product stinks. (Or the runner-up response, if we were playing Family Feud: our marketing stinks.)

No, it's up to marketing to get in there and start asking the one-that-got-away a few questions before the door closes on them.

Obviously, your not going to expend a lot of effort on a small, telesales opportunity worth a few thousand bucks. (Maybe an e-mail survey followup is worth a shot.) I'm talking about the BIG, light a cigar with a ten dollar bill deals that you lose, the ones in which you've invested a lot of time and effort. Putting just a little bit more time and effort can yield information that can help you improve your product, improve your marketing, and improve your sales process.

A few tips when you're doing Win-Loss analysis:

  • Get in there quickly: You don't want to call the minute the Sales guy hangs up the phone with the prospect, but you do want to have the conversation within a week after you lose. (This assumes, of course, that you don't find out about the loss months later, when you find out about it in a quarterly sales report and/or an accidental hall conversation with the rep.
  • Get to the right people: You may never have access to the ultimate decision maker, but you absolutely want to have a conversation with someone who was intimately involved in the actual decision process. If your sponsor was not part of this, you were probably selling too far down and doomed from the outset. Ideally, you'll want to talk to your sponsor, someone who was in on the decision from the business side of the house, and someone who was in on the decision from the technical side of the house.

    This may seem like you're asking an awful lot, but - especially if the sales process has been protracted and involved a lot of work on your side, your ex-prospect might feel bad enough that they'll be willing to spend some time with you.
  • Make it worth their time: Amazingly, there are still some people out there who are generous and kind, and do not approach every human encounter as if it were a transaction in which the first question they ask is "What's in it for me?" In truth, there's not much in it for them beyond the pious abstracts of "helping us make better products that may someday serve your needs better." So, offer them something for their input. Everybody likes a $25 Amazon gift certificate. (And you might want to follow that up with a personal note and maybe even one of your corporate tschotkes - something that the person might actually use like a pen or pad.
  • Ask good questions: Well, duh, this is kind of an obvious point, isn't it? But really think about what you want to get out of the time you're spending with the prospect. It may be that what you really want to do is go through a product features tick-list to help figure out what you need to do to make your product more competitive. Or you may want to cover more (and more general) ground about the entire process. This can be fairly structured - and with any kind of structured approach, you can report back on those all important metrics. So if you find that 98% of your losses are directly attributable to the fact that your product only runs on OS/2, or that 75% of the losses stem from dislike of the fact that Britney Spears is your spokeswoman, you'll have evidence that will help you make your case to management. (Maybe most of your potential customers prefer Kevin Federline.) A benefit of having structured questions is that someone can answer them via e-mail or on-line. You'll miss out on something by not having a direct conversation, but you may gain in having a lot more respondents.

    For my money, I prefer to go the every open question route, in which you really get someone talking. With this method, you have to be a very good notetaker or ask permission to tape the conversation, which I'd try to avoid. If you follow the notetaking path, have someone else in the room for the call who's also taking notes, which will let you pay more attention to listening and picking up on queues that will guide your 'move the conversation along' questions. Transcribe your notes and really go through them. It's amazing how many gems you might find. Maybe this company has never and never will make a buy decision when they can make a make decision. Maybe they never buy from companies under a certain size. Maybe they will reveal something that will yield product ideas that will give your an opportunity to sell them something at a later date - maybe even a sooner date. Open ended is not to everybody's liking - or everybody's ability to
  • Don't be offensive (or offensive, for that matter): Who among us does not have the tendency to get defensive when someone is telling you something that is at least implied criticism of your company, your product, or your sales and marketing efforts. Hard not to jump in and defend yourself. But unless someone says something that is factually erroneous, don't bother. (And even when you make a correction, take this approach: "It's interesting that you weren't aware that our product ran on platforms other than OS/2. I'll make sure that we spell this out more clearly in our collateral and sales materials.")

    And, however condescending or nasty or jerkish the ex-prospect is acting, NEVER go on the offensive. If they're really that hostile, just thank them for their time and hang up. (And while you may think spitefully about not sending them that $25 gift certificate, don't give into that impulse. Unless they were really, really hostile....)

The bottom line is that you do want to salvage something from every big loss, and the only way to do so is to swallow your pride and your anger and find out why they don't think you're smart, funny, nice, and beautiful.

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