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Is Win/Loss Analysis Too Sensitive To Share?

After a month of interviews, analysis, data slicing, and late nights, your win/loss analysis is ready for release. You send it out with a solemn hope that your keen insights have shaped a report worth reading - but within three hours harsh words are spoken, battle-lines are drawn, and the Heads of Sales and Product Management have sworn to duel at dawn.

Presenting Win/Loss analysis can be a tricky business. On the loss side the pitfalls are obvious: nobody likes to get bad news, and nobody wants to hear how they ‘failed’ to sell a product or add the right features. A loss report can create a lot of bad feelings, but so too can a win report. Success can create just as many issues with egos as a loss.

It is clear that one cannot just release a win/loss report into the wild without making preparations for its arrival. At Eigenworks we have a set of First Principles for how to release a report the right way - a way that not only keeps the peace, but delivers your insights for maximum impact.

[Note: The following article uses Sales and Product Management as its primary point of conflict, but these are not the only teams that may come into conflict. However, the following techniques can be applied to any feuding teams, be it Sales/Product Management, Marketing/Customer Success, or even a CEO struggling with a Board. Everyone has something to learn from win/loss analysis.]

Understanding the Conflict

Ultimately, all of these techniques are about building a foundation of trust - trust that your teams have one-another’s best interests at heart, and trust that the feedback found in a win/loss report comes from a place of honesty. So often, conflict in a company looks a little like this:

Conflict focused between internal stakeholders without win/loss analysis

That tension between Product and Sales is misguided as it is counterproductive - and when the arrival of a win/loss report is mishandled, it only exacerbates the underlying tension. Each team takes the feedback as an attack and responds accordingly - nobody takes anything useful away from the analysis, feelings get hurt, and everyone feels like they wasted their time. So what does one do to prevent this?

1. Change The Culture

You can’t start to take action on win/loss until you change the culture it which it is received. It is essential to treat a win/loss analysis as a learning exercise for everyone. Too often teams see win/loss as a blame-game - who did what wrong and when, but that’s a bad way to think about it. Win/Loss is not about who is guilty and who isn’t - it’s about what’s going right and what’s going wrong for the company as a whole. Take individual blame out of the equation. Mistakes may have been made - but those mistakes were in the past. You move forward not by accusations, but by studying those mistakes so as not to make them again the next time.

If you get your teams to stop thinking the report as about their mistake, you also have to get them to stop thinking about it as a list of other mistakes.  If every department understands that a loss report is about learning and change rather than verdicts and blame, they’re less likely to go to war with one-another. You’ve got to dismantle the idea that there are sides in the first place. If you can build understanding between groups - help them understand who one-another are and what they do - you can start to end pointlessly rivalries before they begin.

To do this you’re going to need to start resolving the debates your team is having. This is where having the win/loss report on-hand is extremely helpful - everything you need is already there in the text. Don’t solve the conflict by trying to guess whose opinion is superior - use the facts your report provides to resolve the issue with real data.

2. Absorb Feedback

Start the process by having each team/department go through the report as a team - i.e. have Sales internally review everything with the win/loss report that relates to Slas - and only Sales. Don’t start by deluging a team with everything - start out by keeping the focus turned inwards, allow each team to focus only the feedback that is relevant to them. Each team should look to absorb the feedback in the report about how their department acted during the last sale - both positively and negatively. Remember: if you’ve reinforced the idea of the ‘culture of learning,’ then your departments should be seeing this as opportunity to learn, not a personal critique on their departments’ skills and talent. So often negative responses to analyses are born of tribalism - a defensiveness towards one’s own team over others because the teams are ‘separate’ from one another. But that separateness is a function of organization, not culture. You’re all part of the same company - departments can’t think of the feedback in a report is as an attack.

One important note here is that the above all relates to collective critique - not critiques against individuals. Before the process starts we typically recommend that such criticism be removed from general distribution and resolved on a one-on-one basis. If, for example, the Win/Loss report notes that Susan the Salesperson was overly aggressive or seemed deceptive, that’s best resolved in private, between Susan and her manager, Remember: this is about team cohesion and team improvement, and issues for individuals should stay at the individual level.

3. Develop an Action Plan

The goal here is to lower the conflict level, and increase engagement across your internal teams. In that spirit, having reviewed the feedback in the report, each team should create an individualized action plan. It doesn’t matter if they agree with the feedback or not - each criticism should taken as valid, and each team should prepare a plan for acting on that criticism: what is it they need to improve on, and will they achieve that change?

4. Presentation

With plans in hand it is time for teams to present their actions to one-another. Before moving forward, make sure that each team has completed their review. You don’t want Sales’ feedback plan to influence Product Management’s - each team should craft their action plan in isolation.

With plans in hand each team reports on the feedback they received, and the actions they’re going to take in response to it. Sales presents their report to Product Management, Product Management presents their report to Sales, and so on. The results here are two-fold - first, and most obviously, it’s a way of not only making your teams confront the conclusions of the win/loss report, but showing that its worthy of being acted upon. Second - and perhaps even more importantly - its a way of encouraging unity between teams. Sales is not being picked-out as the ‘problem department’ and Product Management allowed ‘off free.’ Everyone has something to take away from the report - everyone is in this together.

It’s in the presentation that teams can debate the feedback they received - but remember that this is not about being defensive. In making these presentations everyone should arrive willing and ready to learn.

Going Forward

If you can engender trust, end feuds, and bring peace to your warring factions, you’ll have a company willing to work together, rather than just a group of several squabbling teams.

Conflict refocussed between company and competitors with win/loss analysis

The above diagram shows the ideal end-result of this process: teams who’ve been refocused from conflict with one-another to conflict with your competitors - the real battle your company is fighting. Win/Loss should never tear teams apart - its insights are for unification, not division. Win/Loss analysis can be - should be - a unifier around that common cause. Sales, Product Management, Finance, Marketing - even HR, everyone should be on the same page as to what your company’s goals are: growing the business, helping customers succeed, and crushing your competitors. When you use win/loss to bring your company together, you make your company stronger, and you make your teams stronger, too - and that’s a better victory than the outcome of any interdepartmental fight.

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