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Competitive intelligence using lost deals

Another idea for PMs who lack permission to do win/loss analysis

Many PMs and PMMs complain that they lack the authority to perform Win/Loss analysis. And yet Win/Loss is one of the most powerful tools in the PM's belt. In an earlier post I suggested a few covert tactics, mostly by starting small, finding low-stakes accounts, and begging forgiveness after the fact if trouble arises.

Here's another idea for those who suffer this same problem: Gather competitive intelligence from last year's losses.

You're dead to me

deadpossumSales people rarely follow up once they feel an account is dead. Therefore you are looking to find accounts that sales considers dead, but in which you can get a lot of valuable information. My suggestion is to look through last year's losses and identify large lost deals for which no follow-up has been done for 6 or 12 months. These accounts are dead; if no activities are scheduled, you can bet that sales will never touch them again.

Sales can legitimately protect their accounts if they are sensitive for some reason or have potential for revenue this quarter. In reality they may be protective because they fear what you will find. However it's hard for them to argue that point; it would be hard for them to prevent you from calling dead accounts.

Call these accounts! If you are very fearful or have been given explicit orders not to contact accounts, you may want to ask permission. On the other hand, these accounts are so old and dead that you'll probably get away with calling them. Call 5 or 10, summarize the results, and you might improve results.

What can be learned from dead accounts?

There are two main kinds of dead accounts, and you can learn different things depending on what you find

  1. Accounts that never bought: Why didn't they buy? Did they really exhibit the problem that you solve? Is the problem big enough? Can you see a pattern here that would allow you to find market segments that just don't care about the problem you solve? If so, this is valuable information! Other times, a lot of education or consulting is needed to get a customer project off the ground. Are there SIs or VARs who specialize in those projects? Perhaps these could become a channel.
  2. Accounts that bought a competitive product: I love these. Frequently your competitors don't live up to the promises they made during the sale. The product doesn't do what they promised, or it is so hard to implement, or so buggy, that the customer is frustrated. You probably won't convert this customer (though you might), but you can learn a ton of information in these accounts about the shortcomings of your competitors' products.

Just how dead are you?

Most PMs know that they should start every loss interview with an explicit statement that you are not trying to revive the account, simply learn from the past to improve the future. However, you will invariably turn up accounts where a sales opportunity re-emerges. This can happen when sales has simply not followed up, thought an account was dead, but the customer finally hit a wall and needs a product. Or it can happen when competitors' products fail disasterously.

If you get one or more of these, treat them like gems. They are gifts to the sales team. Deliver them to sales management, not the sales person, and once you have delivered a few, you might ask again about whether you can do win/loss analysis more officially.

Good luck. Let me know how it goes.

And by the way, if you think you don't have time for this activity, I refer you to: "Product Managers: Do the Opposite!"

- Alan

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