Ray Collis

Why Win-Loss Reviews Should Be Written

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Our deal narratives – the stories we tell ourselves and others about stalled deals – have the power to either limit or boost long term sales success. However new research highlights the importance of writing and then editing the narrative of the lost deal.

Win-Loss Reviews

The Narrative Of The Lost Deal

How a seller explains a stalled or lost deal is very important, not only to closing that deal but to future deals. However, an off-the-cuff or facile explanation of why a deal was lost is not enough. Writing and editing the narrative of the lost or stalled deal is vital to long term sales success.

Diaries are not just for teenagers – they are also for salespeople determined to continually improve win rates. Writing out the narrative of a lost or stalled deal is key to really understanding what has happened or what needs to be done.

Writing out, or in this case sketching out the deal can be very enlightening. Take the example below – the quality of the image is not great, its just a photo by phone of a deal sketched out by a salesperson.

The Narrative of the Lost Deal

Editing The Narrative Of The Lost Deal

As salespeople we have all developed theories of the deal – why it was lost or won. Yet these theories often undergo little external scrutiny. Indeed because their purpose is often to simply make us look or feel better, they may have little explanatory value. That is a problem because without an accurate rationalization of the events leading to a lost or stalled deal they are likely to be repeated.

A flawed explanation of why a deal was lost, or stalled, results in a flawed strategy for dealing with both the deal in question and future deals too. Indeed it can even lead to bigger mistakes in the future by giving rise to maladaptive responses such as:

  • Avoiding rather engaging with procurement – where procurement policies and procedures are blamed for a lost deal.
  • Spending less rather than more time on a deal, or RFP – where the competitive tender is blamed for the lost deal.
  • Giving up on access because of procurement procedures, rather than seeking new ways to engage with the buyer.
  • Avoiding the issue of price, rather than engaging with the buyer in building the cost-benefit analysis.
  • Side-stepping, rather than bringing the issue of supplier and other risks for the buyer into the open.
  • Waiting for the PO and then accepting the buyer’s stated requirements as set in stone, rather than looking for unidentified need.

What do you tell yourself when a deal is lost?

Learning From Lost Deals

We can learn more from a lost deal than from 10 deals won. It is however a costly and painful way to learn. That means it should not be wasted. So just like an author’s first draft of a new novel, the salesperson’s narrative of the lost deal needs to be edited and rewritten.

The exercise is not just concerned with how the seller feels about a lost deal, but why it happened and how it can be explained. In particular the focus is on the lessons it reveals.

Does your organization fully extract the learning from all lost deals?

Editing the narrative of a lost deal can, according to the latest research in modern psychology, change the fundamental sales behaviours and strategies of the salesperson. In this way it can have a sustained impact on long term sales performance.

The Objectives Of Editing The Narrative

By telling the narrative the seller can better get to grips with with the lost deal and move beyond it. He, or she can transform disappointment and perhaps disillusionment into learning and even hope.

The objective of the win loss review is to progress towards a more helpful narrative or rationalization of events, in the following ways:

  • Shed the light of examination on our behavours and strategies.
  • Alter the explanation of the challenges involved.
  • Change the salesperson’s explanatory style.
  • Tackle any self defeating views or behaviours.
  • Move beyond defensiveness and hiding behind excuses.
  • Get to the root of the problem – shedding new light on what is happening on the buyer’s side.

Changing Patterns of Deal Behaviour

Changing deal attitudes and behaviour is not easy. Sales managers who see salespeople repeating key mistakes that lose deals certainly know this is true. However, research points to a surprisingly simply yet effective way of changing deal patterns.

It has long been assumed that affecting change takes much introspection and analysis. That is why the image of the psychologist’s long couch is such a familiar one. However that image is fast going out of date as the emphasis shifts from the analysis to the narrative – that is from how we feel about an event to how we interpret it.

Are their patterns in respect of deals that are lost?

How we explain events to ourselves is particularly important in shaping our attitudes and behaviours. Moreover it can be changed relatively easily. Psychologists have discovered that writing and re-writing the narrative not only changes the narrative itself but the attitudes and behaviours associated with it. So we can correct our deal behaviours by working on our narrative.

Transforming A Lost Deal Into Something Positive

We can edit the story of the lost deal in a way that not only makes sense of it, but transforms it into something that is empowering – that changes behaviours and strategies in a way that offers the prospect of greater future success.

So, to affect change, rather than simply working on the deal, the manager must work on the salesperson’s narrative of the deal. Even small changes in a seller’s narratives about a lost or stalled deal can have a fundamental lasting impact on behaviour and success. Much more so than a lecture for the sales manager, or a sales training workshop.

What deal behaviours do you need to adjust?

Rewriting the narrative could save or revive the deal in question. Moreover it has the potential to boost the long term efficacy of forecasting and closing generally. That is why win-loss reviews, to be powerful, should be written.

Some Tips On Rationalizing The Deal Narrative

1. Write it out – Diaries are not just for teenagers – they are also for salespeople determined to continually improve win rates. Writing out the narrative of a lost or stalled is key to really understanding what has happened or what needs to be done. However writing it out once is not enough to change the narrative – write it out several times over a week or more. Then watch how it evolves into a more helpful rationalization.

2. Involve others in the process – The salesperson writes out what happened in respect of a lost, or stalled deal and as he/she recounts the events are prompted in their interpretations by their manager, or coach.

3. Keep it positive. It is important that the narrative gives the salesperson:

  • Meaning – looks to make sense of the event by learning from it.
  • Hope – tackles the sense of powerlessness by focusing on what can be done in future.
  • Purpose – it is forward looking.

4. Keep the process future-focused – It is about strategies and scenarios – for example:

  • ‘If this happened again what approach would we adopt?
  • ‘What might be happening behind closed doors in the buying organization?’
  • ‘What do you think the buyer is thinking and saying?’
  • ‘What is likely to happen next?’
  • ‘What are the different ways this could play out?’

5. It is important to work the deal through – to go beneath the superficial answers such as ‘they already had their mind made up’, or ‘the buyer was simply looking for 3 quotes’. To do this it can be helpful to use the following buyer-focused headings in the narrative:

   A. Buying process – the steps and procedures that the buyer must follow.

   B. Buying logic/rationale – the economics, politics, risk and so on.

   C. Buying team – the stakeholders and decision makers.

6.Keep good notes in the CRM or sales database for your opportunities. These will help in constructing and indeed sense checking the narrative. One of the most obvious indicators of the richness of the deal narrative is the level of detail available.

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