Win/loss analysis: the product marketer's most powerful tool

by Steve Johnson

There’s one special form of research that many product marketing managers are neglecting—and they’re missing a great tool. It’s win/loss analysis. Who better to tell us what we do right and wrong in selling than someone who recently tried to buy, successfully or not?

Have you ever had a great buying experience and wanted to tell someone? How about a bad buying experience? You tell all your friends but wouldn’t you prefer to tell the vendor?

Smart product marketing managers use win/loss as a tool to document and measure the buying process. What steps does the buyer go through when making a decision? What information was used—and what was missing? How could we help you make the right decision for your situation?

One product marketing manager shared her win/loss story with me. She did a dozen interviews—some deals won, some deals lost—and wrote a report detailing the product and process problems that were revealed. And then her boss left and was replaced with new VP. So, uh-oh, now everybody has to interview for their jobs. She went into the new VP’s office and saw her Win/Loss Analysis on his desk. He said, “This is the only document I’ve seen from this department that I trust. Everything else is based on opinions.” Hmmm, couldn’t you make better marketing decisions if you talked to some people in the market? It’s so crazy it just might work.

But wait! Shouldn’t sales reps do win/loss analysis?

Absolutely not! They’re terrible at it and furthermore, it’s not their job. At best, they do won/loss reporting. But a sales team’s job is to sell more of your product to more clients. And their focus is on a single deal or perhaps two. Product marketing managers should be looking for the patterns in all wins and all losses for all buying cycles, not the results of individual deals.

Another product marketing manager found a pattern in all wins. Every deal the company won had one thing in common: the buyer participated in a non-customized demo in the company briefing center. Amazing! You’d think the buyers would want a demo tailored for their specific needs but such demos are often prepared at the last minute and even then, often miss key points because they rely on input from the economic buyer and on the salespeople’s understanding of the issues.

The solution was to standardize the selling process around a standard demo. The company hired a kid from college, gave him the demo room, and said, “It’s yours. Have it always ready for a standard demo.” He built a beautiful demo, based on the primary message and key features from the product’s positioning documents. He set up a scheduled image restore that ran at midnight so every morning the demo setup was pristine, no matter what was done to it the prior day. And he was always ready to do a perfect demo. After all, it was his actual job, not an interruption of his real work. In the end, he ran the demo center as a marketing program—with a dedicated staff and a dedicated facility.

Do you know your customer’s buying process? A little win/loss analysis will tell you plenty about what you do right and wrong in your selling. Win/Loss provides the facts needed to overcome opinions. 

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