Business Competition Best Practices: Win Loss Research

Frequently I am asked “how do you get information about the competition?” Most people are surprised when I tell them that getting useful competitive intelligence is actually the easiest part of managing successful business competition. One of the best methods to gain valuable competitive intelligence is so simple, straightforward, and productive that I have put it on my list of Business Competition Best Practices: Win Loss Research.

The benefits that Win Loss Research routinely delivers include:

  • Increasing your rate of successful wins in competitive sales situations
  • Enhancing your product management and development initiatives
  • Reducing the level of uncertainty involved in sales forecasting
  • Strengthening top and bottom line results for your business
  • Improving the efficiency of your sales cycle process
  • Setting the stage for future business growth

Win Loss Research is a succinct, guided discussion with decision makers and influencers who have been involved in your recent win and loss sales decisions. The goal is to learn what key distinctions they saw between you and your competitors, the importance of those distinctions and the value they assigned to each competitor. While the focus of this research is on gaining insight into how your competitors operate and how you fare in comparison, it is inevitable that you also gain valuable customer information in the process.

Win Loss Research drills down beyond standard pricing issues and gets into territories such as: decision process, sales team approach and professionalism, company reputation, product attributes, service issues, and handling of proposals. Although pricing information is involved, it should not be the centerpiece of the research unless it becomes apparent that it really was the key issue that drove the decision. The goal of Win Loss Research is to provide you with competitive insight you can act upon – actionable competitive intelligence – for sales process improvement and better results.

Typically this research is conducted either over the telephone or in a face-to-face interview. The latter is more common in places and cultures where that is the preferred communication modality. Getting the results that you want out of Win Loss Research is a combination of art and science; art being the skill of the researcher in eliciting the intelligence that you need; science being the development of a research guide that facilitates the discovery of actionable competitive intelligence.

As with almost anything worth doing, focusing on Critical Success Factors (CSFs) increases the likelihood that you will get what you need. For Win Loss Research, focusing on the following CSFs will greatly increase your likelihood of obtaining productive competitor intelligence:

  1. Use professional competitive researchers who are skilled in drawing out actionable competitive intelligence. They will also be perceived as unbiased, thereby ensuring candor.
  2. Selecting the optimal mix of win and loss opportunities to research is a reasonably complex task which must be done correctly to ensure that you are gaining insight from the target markets that matter most.
  3. Development of a stimulating research survey that operates as a guide rather than a questionnaire is the backbone to outstanding results.

Surprisingly, the tone and quality of the initial research request can make or break your ability to get robust participation.

A common pitfall among companies that report doing Win Loss Research is that they have their employees, typically the sales representatives, perform the research. You do need to have your sales people find out what happened. This should precede Win Loss Research which goes beyond the limited conversation from your sales reps’ debriefing. Also, it defies human behavior to think that the customer will feel comfortable being candid with a sales rep who has not met their expectations or that the sales rep will be candid in passing along information that may be construed as unfavorable to them.

An extraordinary thing about Win Loss Research is that any size or category of company should be able to implement this as an ongoing business practice and see steady gains in their customer acquisition and sales. This form of research is not particularly costly or difficult to do, yet it does take a certain willingness to expose yourself to news that may make you uncomfortable at times.

One of the most frequent comments our researchers hear is a compliment to our clients for taking the time to learn and improve from their experience. Once you establish a practice of doing Win Loss Research routinely and take action on the results, your company will realize the benefits of implementing this business competition best practice.