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Dear Alan: 15 minute interview guide for Win/Loss Analysis?

I recently had a request asking for help to design a win/loss analysis interview. As this topic has general applicability across industries, I thought I'd share some of that exchange with you, dear readers.

Question from PM: "My colleagues and I here are looking for a good but brief 15 minute interview guide for win/loss analysis."

My response (AA): Why 15 minutes? I generally find it takes 30 minutes to get to the real answers. Also what is the ASP for your product? If you work large deals, I again question the 15 minute limit. Are you planning to do a single interview per sales opportunity? How many stakeholders do you generally have in a sale?

PM: 15 minutes is what we were asked to limit ourselves to by the Sales rep I believe. I agree with your point that more would be better. We can try for that.

AA: If all of my earlier assumptions are correct, then a 15 minute interview could actually be worse than no interview at all. It takes most interviewees about 10-15 minutes to warm up to the interviewer and start to open up. I spend the first 15 minutes helping the interviewee get comfortable with me by asking some feel-good questions such as their own professional background, the story leading up to the consideration, and so on. This also allows me to understand the real drivers of the decision as opposed to the final conclusions. I don't ask my high-value questions (about final conclusions) until I reach that tipping point of trust and openness with the interviewee. So if you start with your high-value questions right off the bat, you are going to get the defensive answers, not the open answers. Also you will not have any way to question the answers you get because you haven't studied the underlying drivers.

So in 15 minutes, you will get the same answers that the sales rep already knows. You'd be better off interviewing the sales rep and recognizing that it's sales' opinion. If you interview the client for 15 minutes, it becomes the client's answer when it's really just the surface answer. That's why it's worse to do the interview - it just legitimizes the surface answers and gives them more weight. The sales rep will likely say (to you directly or to themselves), "you see, I knew all that. That's why I don't think you needed to do that interview, and that's why I'm only ever going to give you 15 minutes with *my* customers.

Most of my interviews are 30-60 minutes in length. No sales people allowed on the call. In your situation, I would guess that you need 3 interviews per account (just a guess), and plan on 45 minutes per interview.
Final point: It's critical that you understand who owns the account. Everyone thinks that sales (and more often, the sales person) owns the account. That's not true. The company owns the account and provides almost exclusive access to sales because we delegate revenue production to sales. However the company needs to retain the sense that sales is just the steward of the account. When the company needs information like win/loss analysis to remain competitive, this is something the company has every right to perform. The company needs to do it in a way that does not disrupt sales, but neither can the company be prevented from doing its research by overly-protective sales team. It's a balance, but we need to remember who owns the account.
And if you are not getting access, often only the CEO can fix it. You need to sell the need to the CEO.
Readers, beware: Most of you can probably do a lot with a single interview per account, but 15 minute interviews are worse than no interview at all. 30 minutes is a minimum, and no sales people are allowed to join the call.
Hope that helps.
- Alan

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