Competitive Intelligence Gathering Through Win/Loss

By Rich Nutinsky
August 15, 2016

Win/loss interviews are an excellent tool for gathering competitive intelligence. The interviews…


Win/loss interviews are an excellent tool
for gathering competitive intelligence. The interviews offer a unique opportunity to gather fresh data from a target audience where competitors play a distinct role in the customer decision-making process.

It’s an area ripe for gauging both the market’s awareness and its perception of competing solutions. You want to ask customers not only who they talked to, but why they talked to them and how you compared. You also want to learn about capabilities: the key factors in their decision. For example, do competitors have stronger capabilities? Are you missing key capabilities, or do you offer more than the competition? Finally, what are the key factors? What drove the decision, and where did your competitors shine or expose a weakness?
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Discovering strengths and weaknesses is important, but the key factors are critical. What if you drive your business to add functional capabilities because you think that is what will help you beat the competition, only to learn that the additional functionality won’t change the ultimate decision because that isn’t what drove the urgency? Perhaps your functionality is fine but you should invest more in your technology. Maybe you need to develop a stronger value proposition or ROI story because that’s where you fell down.

Look for Patterns

Many organizations view win/loss as transaction forensics. In other words, they dissect and analyze individual transactions in isolation to determine why they won or lost that business. When we talk about win/loss at Pragmatic Marketing, we discuss it from a market-driven perspective. It’s not about why you lose or win one deal, it’s about why you lost or won the last 10 deals. Even if your sales team does these transaction forensics, populating your CRM system with transaction data, someone unaffiliated with sales needs to canvass for patterns. It could be someone from product management or marketing, as long as it’s someone who doesn’t have a previous relationship with the customer.

With wins, customers have a vested interest in talking to you; they want to create a good relationship with their new vendor. The information you get from wins could confirm and validate all the things that you think make you successful. But you may very well learn that it was your time to market, not your super-duper feature, that clinched the deal. With losses, you may think that
people don’t want to talk to you, but in my experience, when a new person contacts evaluators, the success rate
is quite high.

Ask sales who will be the most open to talk to you. Then reach out and simply say, “I understand you recently made a decision and you’re going in another direction. I respect your decision. I wonder if I could get 30 minutes of your time to understand how we could have helped you better for the next time.”

I’ve had a high success rate securing people with this approach. Many times, the attitude of the person is, “We made you do a lot for us and you got nothing for it. I can give you 30 minutes of my time.”

Remember, you need a large-enough sample to begin to see patterns. And if you make this a regular part of your process, you’ll get better at it. You’ll be sure not to challenge or threaten the evaluators; you won’t ask them to justify their decision and you won’t correct their misperceptions. You’ll remain completely neutral and approach the interview as research. This is a request for help, not a request to dissect their decision. And it’s a numbers game. You must do win/loss consistently to get a sample set that’s large enough.

While it’s possible to find patterns in relatively small numbers, once you establish a pattern it is important to cast a much wider net. Do something more quantitative, perhaps a third-party survey. You want to validate what you think you have learned in your interviews.

Pay Attention to Market Weights

Different markets weight things differently. Use win/loss to figure out what those weights are. I once walked into a win/loss opportunity with a recent evaluator. He explained that the reason we lost was that, despite the great job we did presenting our product, answering questions and creating a positive relationship, the final decision was driven by RFP scores. He then mentioned that he was getting rid of the RFPs, and by the way, would I like to have the responses?

Because I was doing this win/loss with a recent evaluator who wanted to tie things up, I gained unexpected access to a wealth of information. Another time, a client asked if I wanted to read my competitor’s user manual. His company had decided not to buy from my competitor and planned to throw the manual out. Things like this happen when you’re present.

In B2B environments where RFPs and RFIs are an integral part of the process, you can often gain an understanding of a customer’s RFP scoring and development. When customers share how they made their decision, you will see whether your competitors better understood the weighting of common deliverables.

In a third instance, I lost a deal but went in for a win/loss interview and spent 45 minutes talking to the buyer. At the end of the interview, I was told: “You’re the only vendor who lost who contacted us. Everyone else just walked away. You came back and you listened. You asked what you could have done to be better, and it seems as though you’re trying to find ways to provide better solutions for us. You lost this time, but the next time we look for something, you will be first on our list to contact.” This win/loss interview helped my company build a bridge into an account and get a leg up on the competition.

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About the Authors

  • Rich Nutinsky

    Rich Nutinsky is an instructor at Pragmatic Marketing, with more than 20 years of experience in the software industry. He has launched several successful software products using the Pragmatic Marketing Framework. Prior to joining Pragmatic Marketing, Rich served in various product management positions for companies including Arasys Technologies, where he was vice president of product management and development. He has provided consulting services to market leaders such as Microsoft, AT&T, DuPont, NEC, GE and Siemens, working with senior-level executives to improve their product strategy, product management, and marketing processes. He may be reached at

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