The birthplace of Win-Loss Analysis

Stu Perlmeter

It was a hot June day in New Orleans in 1999 – you could have fried an egg on the pavement. It was the site of the annual conference of the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals.

Past conferences focused on gathering competitive info on competitors, in order to leapfrog them in the marketplace. A lot of chatter about creative ways to spy on foes to gain an edge on product development, as well as other elements of the marketing mix.

But, that year, the buzz was about a keynote by some forward-thinking members presenting what seemed like a novel idea:

The best source of actionable competitive insight was through the eyes of customers, not competitors.

But specifically, not just target market participants – that’s the stuff of market research – instead, customers who just made a major buying commitment to one company’s offering, leaving the others asking, “why”?

Thus, the discipline of Win-Loss Analysis was born.

Of course, it was not a panacea – as a practical matter, it only works in select situations – usually involving complex technical solutions, always with B2B, with the value of the sale being high enough to merit the necessary investment. And in those situations, the decision maker was usually a busy, senior executive who was hard to schedule for an interview.

This stellar opportunity for learning created both a consulting opportunity and a set of challenges for providers of this service. Not only was it difficult to schedule these interviews and overcome any reluctance on the part of the key decision maker to open the kimono, it also ironically presented another challenge.

One would think that if a company that had invested considerable time, money, and effort to land a large contract would be keenly interested in the chance to do a deep dive to find out, in the case of a loss – precisely why they lost, and how the competitor who won managed to come away with the contract.

Indeed, losing is painful, but denial is strong. After pursuing this specialty successfully for 25 years, we marvel at the tendency of companies to resist placing the most relevant deals on the table for analysis. Key account reps are afraid of looking bad, and fear that an independent inquiry will reveal their negligence of missteps. On a more benign level, they often come from the always naive point of view that they already know what drove the deal.

Usually, their beliefs are based on a misguided attempt to get ‘the truth’ gleaned from a call to the former prospect, who in their extreme discomfort, will almost never provide any useful insights to the desperate and wounded sales rep who spent months in pursuit of the deal. Unfortunately, leadership will almost certainly rely on this distorted ‘story’ as the official explanation for the loss.

Moreover, a fuller understanding is not just about the sales interaction – it’s almost always a much more complex scenario, involving many factors involving internal influencers, and competitors seeking to re-define the ideal solution.

So that’s why we’re grateful to be part of the solution over the past 25 years, and thousands of interviews later.  More than ever, we’re convinced that it does take a thoughtful, careful, and methodical approach by a skilled third party to get to the insights needed to inform a disciplined effort to improve performance – across the marketing and sales spectrum.

Happy Birthday, Win-Loss Analysis.

About the Author

Stu Perlmeter

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Stu brings 30 years of marketing and research experience to 1st Resource, which he founded in 1996. Stu’s primary expertise is in understanding the market insights that tie to success formulas for companies seeking to grow their business in strategic ways.