The outsider journalist I. F. Stone once quipped that “establishment reporters undoubtedly know a lot of things I don’t - but a lot of what they know isn’t true.” Few quotes can be better applied to the relationship that Sales has with your buyers. Sales has privileged access to exclusive information about your buyers and the sale - but often what they know, or what they think they know, has no relation to the facts. Sales people have their own biases, their own lenses through which they view the world, and often these lenses and biases distort the distort the truth, or give them an impression based on illusions.
Don’t be mistaken: Sales is not comprised of liars and fools. But it is made of personnel who don’t know the whole story - and sometimes aren’t aware that they don’t know the whole story. If you want to understand a sale, you have to see to see through the biases and do what you can do to get a more complete view.
Why Postmortems Matter
The term ‘postmortem’ often puts listeners in a somber mood - understandable, given its origins - but when it comes to a sale a postmortem can and should be so much more than a gloomy recitation of things that went wrong. Too often postmortems become a litany of blame, but that’s a bad way to view what postmortems can be - not only does it wrongly imply that a postmortem is only for losses but it suggests that studying a postmortem is an intrinsically negative experience.
We’ve talked before about the right way to conduct a postmortem - but in brief the practice should be the same whether you’re examining a win or a loss. Create an environment where everyone is willing to learn - one that isn’t about individual blame but a collective willingness to correct team errors and improve future performance.
The goal of these postmortems is to be a compilation of insights - what went right, what went wrong, what wasted time, what proved surprisingly useful and so on. These insights are usually derived from Sales’ experiences - but as we noted, Sales understanding is incompletely. Not only should you fill those gaps with views from your other teams, you need to improve your understanding with insights from your buyers.
Knowing Your Buyer
Sales’ information problem is formed by three factors - inherent biases, a too-narrow perspective, and everything they don’t know they don’t know. Their biggest point of ignorance comes from the intersection between what they think the buyer thinks and what the buyer actually thinks - and an inability to recognize that those two things are not necessarily identical. “Know your buyer” is something of an Eigenworks motto - we’ve mentioned it time and time again, and we’re going to mention it once more. In compiling a postmortem, you have to do more than talk to Sales. You can’t just rely on what Sales thinks it knows about your buyer - you have to go to the source and ask the buyer. It doesn’t mean Sales has no insights on your buyer - outside perspective often catch things insiders might miss - but Sales input is simply an incomplete picture on its own.
Talking to a buyer compensates for Sales’ three flaws - it gives the inside perspective an outsider can’t reach, it avoids sales biases by being an information pipeline of non-Sales people, and obviously the buyer knows the things about themselves that Sales doesn’t know it doesn’t know. But it’s more than just filling ‘gaps’ in Sales’ knowledge - buyer insights are unique across the board. Your buyer saw the whole sale from the other side of the table - they’ve seen your teams in action, and know your product in ways you simply can’t because you’ll never use it in quite the same way they did. Securing buyer insights from the source gives you unparalleled, 360° win/loss analysis view of a sale and your sales techniques.
Where Win/Loss Belongs
It is all well and good to talk about how buyer insights are needed to patch the holes in Sales’ knowledge, but what does the process actually look like? It looks like a properly executed win/loss analysis - which is precisely what all good postmortems need to be. That means an analysis that’s packed to the brim with insights gained from multiple sources - Sales, the product team, the executive staff and, of course, the views of the buyer. It’s an analysis garnered by asking the right questions of the right people - the decision makers, the deciders, and those who most influenced them. It’s an analysis that seeks to get to the narrative heart of a sales process.
More than anything, a good win/loss analysis is one that cares about your F∆ - that fundamental change they sought to execute when they looked at your product. It’s the only way to get that full story that you’re hunting for, the only way to get insights that are valuable and actionable for your teams.
Start Implementing Change
If you want to start implementing real change in your postmortems, start at the beginning. Take a previously-done postmortem back to your team and ask them to try and examine them as an outsider might. Have them write-up a report about their own actions during the sale - what they think they did right, and wrong, and what they can do to improve. As you review the reports ask yourself the questions: can your teams see or identify their own biases? Are they able to recognize their blind spots of ignorance - that they even have blind spots?
When you examine the relationship between Sales and the Buyer, go deeper - Sales, of course, has spent the most time talking to the buyer, and it's their biases that most concern us here. Take a look at the statements the buyer made about the sale (if you don’t have a lot of them (i.e. if you didn’t really listen to your buyer during the process), you’re going to have to do proper Win/Loss - set up an interview date and start getting those insights.) Look at the Buyer’s expressed reasons for why they did what they did - either choosing to buy, renew, pass, or churn. How do their expressed reasons compare with Sales assessed reasons for what went right or wrong?
If these things don’t match up - if there are inconsistencies - than you know that changes need to be made. Are Sales’ biases and blind spots are causing acute disconnect between their understanding and reality? Is the Customer not telling the whole truth - either by omission or purpose? Either-way, you know you’re not getting the full story. This is where you need to start taking corrective action - is this something that can be addressed by training? Is there a need for better management practices? Is it a sales enablement problem? Determining the cause - and the solution - are going to be up to you - but better win/loss needs to be part of your calculations. A win/loss analysis that’s getting the right insights and filling-in the knowledge gaps is one that’s making your whole team informed - and improving your sales going forward.
Knowing the full story is the only way to have a postmortem that’s worth more than paper it’s printed on - anything less is just not worth the time and effort. An ill-informed postmortem is worse than nothing - it can and will mislead your teams, and keep people making mistakes they realize they’re making. That’s why you need to go beyond Sales - talk to your buyer, compare their stories, and hunt for the truth that exists buried in their narratives. It’s time to start filling the gaps in your postmortems.
It is time to start getting the full story.