Insights

Knowing Why You Lose Won’t Always Help You Win

Person holding a 'I'm a winner' buttonAlan Armstrong – founder and CEO of Eigenworks, gives you his point-of-view on winning how winning more deals means identifying, capitalizing on and replicating your successes.

Winning more deals means identifying, capitalizing on and replicating your successes.

When you’re unhappy with your win/loss ratio, sales and marketing leaders naturally gravitate toward examining losses to find ways to turn things around. The reasoning is simple: When something’s broken, you look for ways to fix it. Maybe it was the demo, or the price was too high. Maybe you couldn’t fulfill an essential functional requirement, or sales couldn’t overcome the customer’s misperception of your company and/or product. These are all valid issues that come up during a post-mortem on losses, which is typically a conversation between the buyer and sales rep.

A real win/loss analysis is not a sales function. It’s a product marketing or product management function. It means talking directly with customers involved in the purchase decision. Although you can learn a lot by listening to the sales team’s view from the trenches, they rarely have a 360 perspective of the battlefield. Moreover, the customer often won’t fully disclose the reasons for their choices to the sales team. Like most of us ending a relationship, buyers want an easy way to exit the conversation without making anyone uncomfortable—but also without leaving room for the rep to come back with a counter offer. This can color what they say.

Winning more deals means spending more time on deals you have the best chance of winning, and conversely, spending less time on deals you can’t win. It means identifying, capitalizing on and replicating your successes. But the only way to replicate success is to model your successes; losses give you nothing to model.

By examining the details of your successes (rather than simply assuming you had the best product at the best price presented by the best sales rep), you might discover new market niches you hadn’t previously targeted, new use cases that customers have identified on their own, or competitive weaknesses that you can exploit.

 Misunderstood Needs

A win analysis is also more effective than a loss analysis in identifying customers that buy from you in spite of misaligned sales and marketing messages. A web self-service company had once been successful selling its product on the basis of cost savings. Recently, though, the value proposition was finding less traction with customers, either because it was no longer believed or the savings were too small to make a difference. Sales cycles became longer and more unpredictable.

After a detailed win analysis, the client discovered a segment of the market that found a value the product provided, but the company wasn’t actively pitching: customer experience. Yes, the product could reduce call-center costs, but that wasn’t what the segment was interested in. These customers had a high-level mandate to improve customer experience. With this new information, both sales and marketing developed the type of messaging and sales approaches that aligned with the needs of this type of client.

Competitive Intelligence

Win analyses are also a great source of intelligence on competitor weaknesses and strengths. Customers will often share with you the major factors that influenced their decision to choose your product over the competition, in terms of sales process, messaging, product differentiation, price and other factors. If the competition was heavy in your wins, you can learn a lot about what sets you apart. By identifying your strengths (and competitor weaknesses), based on actual customer feedback (rather than the intuition of sales and/or marketing), you can better capitalize on your advantages and emphasize them within the sales process.

But it’s important not to be too complacent about your perceived advantages, because they may be fleeting. You may have won this time, not because your product was seen as being overall better, but because competitors couldn’t provide one key feature that was a deal breaker. The things you think you’re doing particularly well at may not have as much value to the customer as you imagine. Uncovering this information, gleaned from detailed win analyses, can help you anticipate future threats and capitalize on your strengths in a way that better aligns your process with the needs of your customers.

How Can We Win More?

Of course, focusing only on wins will provide the same distorted view into customer needs and your sales process as focusing only on losses. A balance of both wins and losses provides a more complete, actionable picture. When the analysis is done well, you can better model your successes to win more deals and learn from your losses what to avoid. The caveat here, of course, is doing win/loss analysis well.

A balanced win/loss analysis program that focuses equally on wins and losses provides the type of synergy necessary to drive your sales and marketing efforts forward. By modeling your successes, you can develop repeatable processes that increase wins. With that knowledge, loss interviews also can become more productive, because you can test potential changes to see what effects they have on future decisions.

Instead of asking yourself, “why are we losing?” turn the question around. Ask “how can we win more?” That simple change in focus can help you uncover opportunities you never anticipated.

About the Author

Alan Armstrong is founder and CEO of Eigenworks, and specializes in win/loss analysis for enterprise B2B companies. He is a seasoned B2B product management and sales executive with three successful tech exits: Sitraka ($60M to Quest Software in 2002), Wily Technology ($375M to CA in 2006) and Fortiva (to Proofpoint in 2008). Alan has held director and VP roles in product management, marketing, sales and business development. In 2001, Alan co-founded the Toronto Product Management Association. He can be reached at alan@eigenworks.com or www.eigenworks.com.

 

 

Answer those crucial questions you have about B2B product marketers

This is what Robert Rose, Content Marketing Institute’s Chief Strategy Officer, had to say when asked the crucial content questions that determine marketing success with B2B product marketers.

(Q) First and foremost, we’re interested to hear your perspective on what role a Product Marketer plays in a B2B organization? 

(A) Well, interestingly, I think there’s two questions implied in your one. The first is “what role does a Product Marketer currently play in a B2B organization?” And, the second is “what role SHOULD a Product Marketer play in a B2B organization?” In answering the second one – I think the role is one of the most important in the company. This is truly the role where the Product Marketer should have his/her finger on the pulse of the job their customer is trying to get done; and when I say “job to be done” I mean it in the Clayton Christensen “jobs to be done” approach. The Product Marketer should inherently have a great understanding of the customer’s needs; not only from how they use our product or service – but from what it is they need and want more broadly.  This plays into both, how the Product Marketer can provide insight back into the development of the product or service , and in how they can also help to optimize the thought leadership, inspiration and other content that would layer over the product to help differentiate the brand in the market place.  Too often (and this answers the first question) we see Product Marketing and Demand Generation Manager merged into one job – where the role is simply to help develop the “description” of value of the product being developed, and to focus on how many leads can be drawn in for that product. In this case the Product Marketer simply becomes the “Chief lead generator”, unable to focus on developing greater insight, or developing powerful content because they’re so focused on feeding the sales teams with cleverer brochure copy.

(Q) To that end, how relevant and important is content marketing to a Product Marketer’s role? 

(A) I think Content Marketing can be a critical aspect to what a Product Marketer can be focused on. Our experience is that they are certainly passionate about it – and are interested in doing it. The challenge (with regard to my answer above) is how much time are they allotted to focus on developing content that is valuable in and of itself. In other words, how much of their day can they actually devote to developing content that is helpful, inspirational, educational etc., separated from the product or service they actually work on, because that is content marketing.  The risk is that product marketers are so focused on developing sales materials, that content marketing simply becomes an alternative form of collateral. Maybe it has a bit less logo, or less call to action or looks like a thought leadership piece. But in reality, it’s just a marketing brochure disguised as something different and used to support some other kind of direct marketing campaign.  I think Content Marketing – done really well – can be one of the major focal points of the Product Marketer’s role within the business.

(Q) It’s been well documented that Product Marketers are struggling to stand out in today’s increasingly noisy marketplace. What should they do to earn the attention of buyers and influencers?

(A) In three words: ACTUALLY EARN IT. As we’ve been discussing, the Product Marketers are definitely struggling to stand out because they are forced into this role where the only thing they CAN talk about is the product or service that they work on. And this, of course, means that they – by definition – can’t rise above the noise of everything else out there. If they’re going to earn the attention of buyers and influencers they must deliver value through content. This means getting beyond simply describing the value of our product or service in ever clever ways and actually delivering content that is valuable in and of itself. This is a change in focus, not a talent thing. Most product marketers I meet are extraordinarily talented – and would LOVE to talk about something valuable. They just quite simply don’t have the avenues to do it.

(Q) Members tell us that they’re producing more content than ever before, and utilizing more marketing channels to distribute their insight and thought leadership with less than stellar results. Are they not in tune with their buyers & influencers? Is today’s B2B buying journey more complex than ever before?

(A) The buying journey is not more complex (despite what the analysts say) – it’s just more opaque than it used to be. There’s been a shift in capabilities. It used to be when customers were researching B2B products, (which are almost always a considered purchase) the content they needed to educate themselves to the change they wanted to make was simply unavailable. So, they would contact the business (or a few of them) and speak with sales people. This was the beginning of the “consultative sales process”. Our enterprise (or inside) sales personnel would help to educate the buyer as to the change that was desired and we could manage the stream of information to these buyers through the sales channel.

Now, it’s much less clear. The customer can research, and become as educated as the sales person if they desire prior to ever coming out of the darkness of an anonymous web browser. By the time the sales consultant gets a call, the customer is not only educated, but has moved well along their process of either building a business case, or working through the details of the change this B2B product will bring to their organization. This has predicated the need for content, and – unfortunately falsely – created the impression that the business needs to fight the loudness wars for getting more and more and more content into the marketplace.

So – it’s not that Product Marketers are not in tune with their Buyers. It’s that they are finding it so difficult to keep up with ever fragmenting audiences and channels, that they feel like they have to be filling every content gap for every channel.  This is the mistake. You’ll never scale that. Product Marketers MUST get out of this pattern of quantity over quality.

(Q) To ensure that Product Marketers are true Architects of Growth, please advise how we can enable sales most effectively, and consequently enable buyers to make informed and expedited decisions? 

I love this question. The best way to arm sales is to give them things that AREN’T available anywhere else. There are two patterns to this. The first is to help them understand what content we’ve created, and (more importantly) what content we are GOING to create. In other words – when a sales person gets a prospect on the phone, I want them to get the prospect excited by not only talking through the White Paper they just downloaded, but also by talking up the White Paper or Webinar that’s coming down the road.

This is something I say to VP of Sales at B2B organizations all the time. I tell them – if your sales guys can’t deliver any information to a prospect that’s not immediately available on the web site or through a Google search, then they add no value.  The Sales Channel can be your BEST strategic delivery of content – or your worst. We MUST arm them with great content.

Now, in many cases this is over their objections – they may say “all I need is a better one sheet or a better brochure”. But what they REALLY need is great content that will create trust in the mind of the prospective customer.

Robert Rose is the Chief Strategy Officer for the Content Marketing Institute, leading the client advisory, education and technology practices for the organization. His book with Joe Pulizzi, Managing Content Marketing, is recognized as the “owner’s manual” for deploying a content marketing process. His second book Experiences: The Seventh Era of Marketing came out in 2015.