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The Interview Process Part 1: Know Thyself

Doing your own win/loss analysis or churn analysis can seem like a daunting task. We’ve already discussed some of the prep work you need to accomplish, not to mention the theories that drive our understanding of the interview process, but moving from theory to practice is still a big step. In this series of primers we plan on covering the client interview – what it looks like, how to do it right, and what can go wrong. Our experience has been gained through working with over a hundred clients in hundreds of projects, conducting interviews and analyzing thousands of buyer decisions. It has helped us create a systematic and reliable process - and we’re keen to share that process with you. We hope it serves as a valuable guide to starting your own win/loss or churn program – so let’s get started.

Know Thyself


Γνῶθι σεαυτόν: Know Thyself (The temple of Delphi)
All win/loss and churn analysis begins by following the ancient philosophy of the oracle at Delphi: ‘Know Thyself.’ James tells me this is actually spelled and pronounced “γνῶθι σεαυτόν.” You cannot begin examining others – that is to say your customers – unless you first understand who it is you are as a company. Just like you might map a buyer’s journey, you need to map yourself - you need to understand your own story. For the purpose of analysis, you need to know the biggest fears you have as a company, what you think your biggest opportunities are, and the largest risks you face trying to achieve them. This map will serve as a guide for how you should eventually frame your questions to your customers.

"For the purpose of analysis, you need to know the biggest fears you have as a company, what you think your biggest opportunities are, and the largest risks you face trying to achieve them."

When you analyze wins, for example, you’ll try to discern what made your product or company appealing to the customer, and compare that answer to your map. How do your wins look when placed against the opportunities you want to achieve? Is the way you are winning mitigating your risk, or heightening it? The same is true of losses and churn: do you see your fears reflected in the answers of your churned customers, or are you fretting about the wrong things, and losing customers for reasons you’re not even thinking about? You need to ‘know thyself’ in order to make the answers your customers give you matter in the final analysis.

When crafting the initial, internal story of your company it’s important to be brave, and even ‘brutal.’ It’s vital that you don’t try and soften the things you say about yourself as a company. This isn’t about feelings, it’s about an objective assessment of yyour strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats. You have to be as honest and blunt as you can be, because honesty is what’s going to make the analysis part of win/loss and churn analysis worth reading.

It Pays To Be Bold

When considering the story of your company, be brave, be honest, be bold.

Being brave is most important when naming fears. Let’s use an extreme example to demonstrate. You are examining your company’s fears, but you don’t want anyone to think your company has any weakness. Eventually you claim that “Our only fear is our product being too awesome!” Does this seem like a useful critique of how your company thinks? When it comes time to review your interviews and reflect on what they say about your company, will a question like really shape meaningful analysis?

Of course not.

That’s why you’ve got to be honest, brave, and brutal - even though you might feel you have good reasons to be cautious in your truth-telling. If you’re a mid-level player, you probably fear upsetting your CEO by saying negative things about their company. If you’re a CEO, you’re probably not keen on exposing weaknesses that might threaten executives or startle your board. Staying ‘nice,’ however, and shying away from honesty is only going to make things worse. If you’re not willing to be honest about where you’re coming up short, then your win/loss interviews will never help solve your problems.

When you interview your buyers, they are going to tell you the story of their company – their mission, their trials and tribulations, and how your product helped or hindered what it wanted to do. You need to know before you place a single phone call what your internal beliefs are, as this helps you direct questions and categorize answers.

Going Forward

The steps you take now in making an accurate map – in telling an honest tale – will give you a story of self-identity worth analyzing. Your customers’ stories may challenge your self-narratives, it may support them - but you won’t know how if you don’t understand that story first.

There’s a reason that “Know thyself.” has been passed down through the millenia. It is a crucial place to start, at least.

So how do you go about knowing your company? Start with the question: “What are the stories we tell ourselves about why we win, and why we lose?” Ask that question to colleagues, to your board, and to yourself. Keep track, and see if you all agree. Notice differences and similarities. Take special notice of the stories that you tell, but you fear are untrue. Then use these revelations to guide you when you start thinking about the questions you’re going to ask your customers.

Let the stories of your buyer help you understand, and correct, your own.

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