You’ll always win some and lose some. But every lead you have is an opportunity to learn, whether they convert or not.

More often than not, businesses let the leads they lose slip away without any analysis or followup. But while losing a sale always feels like a negative, you can turn it into a positive for your company by conducting a through win/loss analysis through interviews.

What is a win/loss interview program?

Win/loss interviews are meetings you set up with past leads—both those that became customers and those that didn’t—in order to learn why they made the decisions they did. Setting up a win/loss interview program means taking a methodical, strategic approach to identifying the best leads to talk with, gleaning the right insights from your interviews, and ensuring you put what you learn to use.

5 benefits of conducting win/loss interviews

With the right approach, developing a win/loss interview program can be immensely valuable to your business.

1) You learn more about your customers.

You have to know your customers to be able to effectively sell to them. The best way to get to know them is to actually talk to them. Win/loss analysis and interviews provide valuable information about how your audience makes their purchasing decisions and the kind of language they use when talking about your product and the problems it solves.  

These interviews equip you with the knowledge to build more accurate buyer personas based on the specific details real customers (and almost customers) provide. Through them, you’ll be able to provide everyone in your company a detailed picture of the people you’re all working to reach and help.  

2) You learn more about your competitors.

More to the point, you learn about your competitors from a customer’s perspective. You can pick up on intricacies important to your audience that you could never gain from looking at a competitor’s website or monitoring their social feeds. Understanding your win-loss ratio compared to your competitors will provide you with useful information on who you’re losing sales to, and why customers choose them instead of you.

3) You’ll gain insights on the positioning you have now.

Much of your marketing and sales strategy hinges on your company’s unique value proposition. You need to understand both how your product helps your audience, and what makes it different from their other options. Win/loss interviews will help you figure out if you’re taking an approach that resonates with your audience now. And if not, it will help you gain the insights you need to create an updated positioning that does work for them.

4) You’ll learn the current strengths and weaknesses of your product.

Win/loss interviews aren’t just helpful for sales and marketing, they help you understand what your product does well now and areas where it could use some work. You’ll gain information about what your audience most wants and needs that you can pass on to your product development team, ensuring that future updates to the product take into account feedback on what your customers care about most.

5) It will make you more competitive.

If you use the information you learn in your win/loss interviews, you’ll know how to better position yourself against the competition and start winning more of the time. None of your leads are making a purchasing decision in a vacuum, you need to understand the larger marketplace of products they’re researching and considering to understand your place within it. These interviews help you do that, so you can craft a better business strategy.

7 steps to complete a win/loss interview program

Creating and implementing a win/loss program requires time and resources, so you want to make sure you do the competitive analysis right. These are the most important seven steps to completing a successful win/loss interview analysis.

1) Identify leads to interview.

You probably have too many leads to talk to them all, so hone in on the ones that make the most strategic sense to reach out to. Start with a list of all the leads who have made a purchasing decision recently. If they have their reasoning top of mind, it will make for a more productive interview.

Talk to your sales team to get any recommendations they might have. They’re the people who worked with the leads most directly and should be able to tell you something about them each. Try to identify leads that match each of your different personas, so you can gain insights on the range of types of customers you work with. And aim to talk to roughly the same amount of people that didn’t choose to buy from you as those that did.

Anticipate that a good number of the people you contact won’t respond, so start with a long list of prospects to contact.

2) Plan out your questions in advance.

Before you work on setting up interviews with the leads you’ve selected, know what you’ll say to them. You may not stick entirely to a script, and that’s OK. But having one is still smart. You want to cover as much territory as you can in a short time, planning out what you’ll say leads to a more efficient use of your time.

Consult with your sales and marketing teams in this step to see what input they have in what to cover in your interviews. Some good questions to consider are:

  • How did you first learn about our product?
  • Who at your company was involved in the decision-making?
  • What was the decision-making process like?
  • What was the main factor you considered in making your choice?
  • What main challenges did you need the product to solve?
  • What materials did you review in your research process?
  • What was your experience with our sales team like?
  • What did you like about the product? What didn’t you like?
  • Which competitors’ products did you consider?
  • What did you like and not like about them?
  • What do you see as the main difference between us and the competition?
  • Why did you decide to buy (or not)?
  • Did you read reviews during the research process or talk to current customers? What did you learn from them?

You want to be able to chart out what their buyer’s journey looked like so you can better understand how your marketing and sales processes are working. And most importantly, you want to gain insight into the main thinking behind the decision they made.

3) Contact them with an incentive for participation.

Once you’ve mapped out your plan for the interviews, contact each person on your list with an invitation to talk. Emphasize how short your interview will be, people are more likely to commit to a 15-20 minute conversation than giving up an hour of their time.

Suggest specific times, to make it easy for them to agree to one and reduce the amount of back and forth required. And offer something in return, like an Amazon gift card, to give people a reason to say yes. Your audience is busy and you want to make the time commitment worthwhile.

4) Set up your meetings

If some of the people on your list are local, see if they’re willing to meet up in person with an offer to provide lunch. But make it clear a phone call is also fine, since that’s less of a time commitment and more likely to receive a yes. For everyone else, suggest a phone or video call. Get specific times onto the calendar for each of them, and determine who will conduct each interview.

When deciding who should do the interviews, make sure it’s someone who knows how to be a good listener. They should know, going in, to leave emotions at the door. You want to encourage total honesty from the person being interviewed, even (or especially) if that includes criticisms of the company.

5) Listen carefully.

When actually conducting the interviews, remember that the whole point is to listen and learn from your leads. Keep responses unbiased—this isn’t the time to explain to a prospect why they were wrong to choose a competitor. Stay focused on learning from them, rather than communicating anything yourself. Take careful notes in every call, and consider recording them so there’s also an exact record of what they said.

6) Analyze results.

After conducting your win/loss interviews, commit time to reviewing them strategically. Focus on analyzing each competitor mentioned and identify the main takeaways. Look for trends across the interviews that point to important insights on how people interact with your products and marketing. Figure out which responses confirm, and which contradict the assumptions you hold now about your business.

7) Incorporate insights into your business strategy.

Now put what you’ve learned to use. Make sure you get the right insights to the right people in your company. Create new battle cards so your sales team has a more accurate picture of what their leads are thinking.

Update your marketing personas so your team is creating campaigns based on the most thorough and up-to-date information available. And pass any relevant product feedback along to your product development team so they can take it into account when working on future updates.

The way to turn even your losses into wins

While winning every sale would be nice, as long as you have competitors, losing some is a part of life. By creating a win/loss interview program, you’ll make sure that even the leads that go in another direction can provide value to your business that makes you stronger moving forward.

To get a head start on building out your win/loss interview program, download our win/loss battle card template. It will make it that much easier to pull out key insights and share them with the right stakeholders in your company.