The Center for Strategy Research, Inc. Vol 2 Issue 9   September 2006


Summer may be over, but quality market research continues to shine its warm light on the world (or is that just the way we feel?).

In any case, this month we explain why it’s so important to systematically research and understand the causes behind your sales wins and losses.

Please click here to send us your thoughts and comments.

Julie Brown

Mark Palmerino
Executive Vice President

The Sales Instant Replay

I have to confess, I’m not a huge tennis fan. That said, it was hard to miss the awe, respect and sheer volume of press coverage that accompanied the retirement last month of tennis star Andre Agassi. In 20 years as a professional, Agassi won every tennis competition imaginable, earning an astounding $31,000,000 in prize money along the way!

As I watched the highlights of his career flash across my television screen over those few days, showing him progress from long-haired young upstart to skin-headed elder statesman, it occurred to me that as a professional tennis player, there’s little question as to which of your actions contributed to winning or losing a given match.

If the ball you hit touches the line, you lose the point. If you hit the ball past your opponent, you win the point. The points add up, the score is tallied and the winner emerges. Certain things win points and certain things lose them, and while in the end a player may wish things had gone differently, there’s never any question as to why a point was won or lost.

Not so, I’m afraid, in the “sport” of selling. Sales people play the game, just like athletes — writing proposals, preparing statements of qualifications, making (often multiple) on-site presentations, contacting and following up with prospects, etc. And, just like athletes who invest in years of training, learning, and staying at the top of their game, good salespeople, and the companies behind them, invest huge amounts of time and expense in every serious sales prospect.

However, unlike athletes, salespeople often do not know many of the real reasons they win or lose.

It’s a bit shocking, really. Imagine Agassi playing an entire match, going home, and receiving a phone call a few days later with the results: “Congratulations Mr. Agassi, we’re pleased to inform you that you won Wimbledon the other day.”

The irony is that many companies, while perfectly willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and thousands of hours chasing the business, often invest very little after the fact to systematically delve into the factors that helped them win or lose:

Why did we win? What could be replicated next time? What did we do wrong, despite having won? How close was the match relative to the competition? Was there anything we could have done to have won the business faster, or less expensively? Could we have won even more business?

Why did we lose? How close did we come? Was there one particular thing that cost us the sale? What did we do well despite having lost?

Conducting a “Wins & Losses” Study

A “Wins and Losses Study” is simply that… research to understand the driving factors behind your sales successes and failures. It involves contacting prospects on both sides of the aisle (those who hired you and those who didn’t) with the following invitation: “We really want to make our efforts better and would like to interview you regarding the sales process we’ve just been through together.”

As always, some do’s and don’ts to keep in mind…

  • Do it promptly. Doing research once a year in the hope of understanding the successes and failures of your selling process is better than not doing it at all. That said, the more time that goes by after the decision is made, the more likely you are to get vague generalities regarding strengths and weaknesses (e.g. “Their sales presentation was very good”).

    When you query people immediately following a sales process on the other hand, the information is still fresh in their minds and you’ll receive much more actionable information – information that you can use to make specific adjustments to your approach (e.g. “Their sales presentation was much better tuned to the issues we said were important, like service reliability, international capabilities, and sensitivity to our internal culture, than their competitor Jones Company, who really focused on low cost.”).

  • Use a third party. Despite the risk that this suggestion will appear self-serving, I can’t not include it. It’s a fact that people are not as up front with their thoughts and feelings when giving you feedback about yourself, and it’s only by taking your team out of the research equation that you’ll get underneath what’s really going on.

    For example, we did a sales follow-up study a little while back where it was revealed that a sales team member’s comment during a presentation was poorly received by several executives making the decision, who perceived the comment as off-color and sexist. At that precise moment, the sale was lost. No objection was raised however, either when it happened or after the fact with the presentation team.

    During the internal briefing (when the salesperson asked about the reasons for the loss), the lost prospect said only “Well, some of our team members just ‘clicked better’ with the other team.” (Not untrue, but also nothing to act on.) With some probing, we were able to uncover specifically where things got off track, which allowed the sales team to take corrective action.

  • Keep the questions for wins and losses as parallel as possible. To move beyond a collection of anecdotes and identify trends, you need to:

    1. Systematically conduct interviews for both wins and losses.
    2. Do this in such a way that you can compare the responses of wins to losses.

    The best way to prioritize any action on the survey data is by isolating what really makes a difference. By asking those who hired you and those who didn’t the same questions in the same way, and by coding and comparing the responses, you’ll see patterns… places where one group consistently says one thing and the other group something else. That’s where the success gap may exist.

    Conversely, you may find that both winners and losers say the same thing about various aspects of your salespeople, presentation and materials, indicating that some things (often the things you’ve been working so hard to improve!) are not particularly relevant to closing the sale, or, distinguishing you from your competition.

  • Beware of survey bias. With a study of this type, you’re reliant on your own salespeople to give you the names of companies and individuals to call. Make sure you’re getting everyone – not just a “cherry-picked” list of opportunities that satisfy a particular individual’s agenda.

    For example, if a salesperson wants finance to come up with a more aggressive pricing structure, he may decide to only give you the cases where he thought price was the key issue in losing a sale. In our experience, the best “Wins & Losses” research is conducted among a comprehensive list of all opportunities; no option for choice is left to internal team members.

In selling, as in so many other aspects of life, the lesson is clear: It’s not just whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game. Unless you have procedures in place to understand how you play – and use that information to improve your game systematically and ongoing – you’ll likely spend more time out of the winner’s circle than in.

— Julie

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Mixology (Putting research into practice)

One way in which companies invest in gaining a better understanding of their target market is by participating in syndicated studies – research commissioned by a number of (typically competing) companies with a shared market, or interest in a given topic.

This can be a cost-effective approach, and by joining together with others of similar needs, you may be able to accomplish some of the objectives of a tailored “Wins & Losses” study for a reduced price.

Bear in mind, however, that syndicated studies only give you half the story. Because while this approach may reveal what clients and prospects want to buy, it gives very little detail regarding how your particular company performs.

Certainly, the ability of studies like these to “get below the surface” and identify issues such as our example of the off-color comment above are extremely limited. And, moreover, these studies generally share pretty much the same information with all members of the syndicate, meaning everyone has access to the same feedback and no one gains a competitive edge from it.

Conducting “Wins & Losses” research as a systematic, unbiased program, tailored to look at each client case individually and as part of a comparative and/or tracked effort, on the other hand, will benefit your sales team in ways that anecdotes and syndicated studies can’t even approach.

And any additional costs of such a program are not only minimal when the effort and expenses of winning large sales are taken into account, but also, the dollar benefits that accrue from faster and larger sales that result from improved knowledge can be quantified and recognized.


The Sales Instant Replay

Mixology (Putting research into practice)

Twist and Shout

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Interested in how CSR’s unique methodology and coding technology work to combine qualitative and quantitative research data?

Click here to read a brief case study from the Consumer Package Goods industry, and to get a first hand look at how many of the things we discuss here each month are put into practice.

“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance; it is the illusion of knowledge.”

— Stephen Hawking

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The Center for Strategy Research, Inc. (CSR) is a research firm. We combine open-ended questioning with our proprietary technology to create quantifiable data.


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