The Win-Loss Witch Hunt

By Melissa Short
November 04, 2015

One of our clients recently concluded a win-loss program. Because the sales team wasn’t…


One of our clients recently concluded a win-loss program. Because the sales team wasn’t fully on board with the idea, the team readily submitted wins for review but declined to share losses. They held the most basic and prevalent sales concerns about win-loss analysis: Who will see the results, and how will they use the information? Left unanswered, these questions tend to prompt resistance to win-loss programs. In the case of our client, the sales team resisted by submitting only their best performances for review. This compromised the validity of results and left our client with an unbalanced dataset that couldn’t accurately speak to its strengths and weaknesses, much less its competitive positioning.              

Even win-loss programs with the best of intentions can experience reluctance from sales teams. The aim of our client’s program was anything but a witch hunt: They viewed their win-loss program as a tool for improvement, not a means to identify weak links. The program leaders had established exactly what kind of information would be shared, how results would be disseminated and who would have access to the findings. They also had implemented measures to remove negative feedback that singled out a sales representative.         

Unfortunately, the program leaders committed a common yet impactful error. They did not openly share this information with their sales team or provide an opportunity for that team to ask questions about win-loss interviewing.

The lesson from this client’s experience is two-fold:

  1. Sales teams need to trust the methods of collecting and sharing win-loss findings
  2. They also need to recognize the value they stand to gain from win-loss analysis

Once our client addressed these areas, their program improved significantly. Their sales team no longer hesitated to submit opportunities for review; they began asking to have their deals reviewed. And, sales representatives were among the first to read interview transcripts and spark a discussion about the findings. With enthusiastic backing of the process, program leaders could shift their focus away from managing the process and spend more time analyzing the data and helping their organization respond to the findings. This level of interest may seem difficult to achieve, but there are easy steps you can follow to help the process.

Set a Positive Tone

Clients that see the strongest ROIs in revenue and sales performance approach win-loss interviewing as a way to improve, not to spotlight poor performance. These programs share a common theme: Their executives, directors and managers maintain a positive attitude toward their sales teams even when interviews reveal a weakness or lapse in performance. When respondents describe a negative buying experience, these leaders push aside a fault-finding mentality and replace it with a commitment to learn from the event. They abandon the question, “Which individual is responsible for this lost opportunity?” and replace it with, “What can we learn from this, and how can we avoid this mistake in the future?”                  

A client’s CEO demonstrated this behavior firsthand to his team when a buyer criticized their interactions with him in an interview. Many leaders would turn a blind eye or discard this kind of response as a one-off finding, but this CEO said the “rocky feedback” was his cue to change the relationship with his buyer. His constructive response not only helped save the account, but also gave his company an example to follow. The CEO summed up his perspective, saying, “If you did something great and you got some accolades [in a buyer interview], good for you. If you did something bad … well okay, let’s learn together.” Instead of trapping his team into repeating mistakes, this firm’s CEO took the first step to creating a competitive advantage by interpreting a rough patch as an opportunity.        

Your response to negative feedback is the crux of your win-loss program. Without a focus on learning and improvement, negative feedback is simply negative feedback. It will weigh your team down. But your sales team will eagerly engage in win-loss analysis if they understand how the process will aid their success rather than obstructing it. Just like the CEO, you become a safety net for your sales team when your positive attitude and interest in learning are a predictable response to difficult buyer feedback. And when your sales reps are confident that even their bad days won’t be subject to harsh criticism, their outlook on win-loss interviewing will shift from defensive to receptive. This receptiveness allows your team to act on buyer feedback and accelerates their success—and yours.

Manage Negative Feedback

“I think we have become pretty adept at getting our people to realize that even though the feedback may be humbling, or even, at times, embarrassing, nobody ever gets punished for it … We always derive something valuable from it.”
                                             – vice president of marketing, consulting firm

One of the most sensitive topics in win-loss analysis is how to handle harsh or non-constructive comments gathered in phone interviews. Open-ended discussions often reveal the most actionable intelligence and allow respondents to critique a buying experience or sales representative. However, when a respondent’s feedback ceases to be constructive and becomes overly critical, it’s time to act. A best practice is to remove fault-finding comments that target a specific person or group unfairly or in excess before circulating to a larger audience. When filtering out harsh feedback, ask:

  • Does it name or isolate a single person?
  • Is it personal? (“I just didn’t like the sales representative.”)
  • Is it easy to identify whom the respondent is referring to?
  • Would sharing this information have a negative impact on this person’s reputation?

If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, remove these statements from the interview transcript. If you’re unsure, consider how sharing this information would impact your efforts to set a positive tone. Then err on the side of caution. Attributing blame or ostracizing poor performance will be counterproductive to your win-loss program and to the morale of your sales force. Keep in mind, there is usually a back-story that prompts unfavorable feedback. Instead of pointing fingers either at your representative or customer, approach the situation by asking, “What could we do to avoid that perception in the future?”

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About the Authors

  • As vice president of product management, Melissa Short leads the roadmap for software and services at Primary Intelligence which delivers increased revenue and retention through win-loss and customer experience analysis. An advocate for using data to tell stories and drive results, Melissa has earned Bachelor of Arts degrees in Political Science and Spanish and a Master of Science degree in Law Enforcement Intelligence and Analysis. She celebrates Pi Day every year and never misses Shark Week. For more information, visit

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