Understanding Why Good Sales Teams Lose in Competitive B2B Opportunities

Sales losses are hard. And they’re especially hard when the engagement has been long, difficult, and complex. Sales teams often feel as though they’ve given their best proposal, their best price, their best value proposition. But sometimes, that just isn’t enough to seal the deal.

After a loss, it’s tempting to walk away and not look back. After all, looking back can be painful. Better to start over with a fresh opportunity, right? Not necessarily.

Using Win Loss Analysis to Learn From the Past and Win in the Future

It’s true that understanding losses can dredge up painful memories. But looking back and analyzing what went well, and not so well, can also provide insights for the next competitive opportunity. Not understanding what caused you to lose will cause you to repeat past mistakes.

In Win Loss Analysis, loss drivers—reasons for losing those hard-fought competitive deals—can be broken down into several different categories:

1. Sales Effectiveness:

  • How effective was the sales approach in convincing the buyer that their offering was better than that of the competitor’s?
  • How well did the sales team know the product or service they were selling? Could reps answer questions about the product’s functionality? If not, did they enlist the help of a technical expert to fully address the buyer’s concerns?
  • Was the sales team responsive when the buyer reached out for information or follow-up detail? How quickly did sales get back to the buyer?Was the response in the medium in which the buyer prefers to communicate (email, text, live call, etc.)?
  • How well did the sales team understand the buyer’s needs? Did they take the time to do Expanding Revenue Helping Clientsdiscovery with the buyer to really understand their pain points? Or did sales lead with a discussion about their own solution’s capabilities without fully understanding what was relevant to the buyer?
  • How well did sales demonstrate the product and company’s capabilities? Was the presentation personalized to the buyer’s company, such as using their company logo? Or was the presentation generic, unpolished, or too high level? Was an online presentation offered when the buyer really wanted an on-site visit?
  • Did the sales team facilitate the purchase transaction for the buyer, including transitions between groups within the vendor organization, contract discussions, and legal hurdles?
  • How well did sales understand the buyer’s industry? Did they research macro environmental forces shaping the buyer’s environment? Did they dive deep into the buyer’s firm, as well as competitive pressures, to better understand the operating environment?

2. Solution Capabilities:

  • How effective was the solution that was proposed in meeting the buyer’s needs? Did it address key pain points highlighted by the buyer?
  • Was the solution intuitive? Did it have a good look and feel? An easy-to-use interface? What was the buyer’s first and last impression?
  • Was an explanation given for different configurations, options, and customizations that are available for the product? Can customers scale up or down as business needs change? How easy or difficult is this to actually accomplish?
  • How well did the solution compare to competitors’ offerings? Were key differentiators of the solution described by segment, vertical, and/or geography?
  • Is there a partner ecosystem for customers who may fall outside of traditional solution fulfillment? How was this positioned to the buyer, including responsibility for service and support issues that may arise?

3. Company Impact:

  • How solid is the company’s reputation? Is the firm recognized as a leader in the market? A laggard? Why does that perception exist and B2B Vendor Success with B2B Buyershow can a good reputation be leveraged and a poor reputation be improved?
  • How effective is the organization’s service and support capabilities? How long are hold times when customers want to talk or text with the support team? What’s the abandonment rate for service requests? Are SLAs consistently being met?
  • Were customers provided with solid customer reference accounts that underscore the benefits of the solutions being offered? If prospects ask reference accounts for additional references, will those customers also provide positive feedback?
  • How well was the organization’s long-term financial viability demonstrated to buyers so that prospects are assured the firm will be around over the long term? For start-up companies, this may be of particular concern for buyers.
  • How much experience can be cited in the buyer’s industry? Are there specific accounts that can be highlighted in which industry-specific problems were solved similar to what the prospect is facing today?

4. Pricing Model:

  • Was the price of the solution higher or lower than theother short-listed vendors?
  • Was pricing higher in some areas and lower in others (i.e., low licensing fees but higher professional services
  • If your price was higher, is pricing causing you to lose deals?
  • If your price was lower, are you leaving money on the
  • Did the buyer see value in purchasing your solution?
  • How did you demonstrate that value?
  • How understandable is your pricing structure? Do you intentionally try to obfuscate pricing to fool your buyers?

As you can see, there are many potential reasons for losses. While sales reps and sales leaders sometimes shy away from loss reviews because they assume any negative feedback will be targeted at them, buyers frequently cite factors outside of the sales team’s immediate control that can negatively impact the final selection decision. Feedback is not intended to point the finger at sales teams, rather, feedback should point to
how they could win more deals.

Understanding Your Market Position Measured Against Competitors

Understanding where you stand in these different categories is important. But equally, if not more critical, is understanding where you stand vis-a-vis your competitors. By understanding your performance in relation to other firms, you’re more accurately understanding your relative areas of strength and weakness, leading to success or failure. When asking for feedback, most Win Loss interviews will request (and buyers will provide) feedback about all short-listed vendors, thereby providing competitive comparisons and differentiation.

Turn Data into Action

It’s also important to act upon buyer feedback, particularly when it’s constructive in nature. Most B2B buyers, after going through a multi-month (in some cases, multi-year) evaluation and procurement process, will gladly give their input. Not only were these buyers heavily invested in the details of their firm’s evaluation, they also have a genuine desire to see the greatest number of vendors survive and thrive, providing buyers with the highest number of choices for future consideration.

Outcomes 2016One way of putting findings into action is to conduct 360 reviews, asking not just buyers for their feedback, but account teams and those in supporting roles as well. At Primary Intelligence, we help clients put feedback into action by conducting 360-degree review sessions. After talking to buyers to collect their feedback from the evaluation, we then talk to account teams and others involved in the proposal (such as pricing, product, and support groups) to understand likely reasons for buyer perceptions.

When sales teams tell us what they did that was so effective and contributed to a “win,” we help them put those best practices into place throughout their organizations. Likewise, when buyers identify a root cause problem that pushed an opportunity into the “loss” column, we help clients understand what led to those outcomes as well.

Bringing It All Together

Having a greater understanding of loss drivers—factors that caused you to lose against other shortlisted vendors—is critical. While it’s hard to get over the initial disappointment and shock of a loss, taking a deep breath and asking for sincere feedback will help you and your teams to improve over the long term. And that’s what makes winning organizations consistently successful.



This article originally appeared in the May/July 2016 edition of SCIP’s Competitive Intelligence magazine.

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Carolyn Galvin
Director of Partnership Marketing at Primary Intelligence
As Director of Partnership Marketing, Carolyn Galvin works with referral and strategic partners to extend Win Loss and Customer Experience programs to a wider community of B2B buyers. She also produces syndicated research reports highlighting current trends and best practices in Win Loss and Customer Experience Analysis. Prior to her current role, Carolyn served as a Program Consultant and as Director of Industry Insights at Primary Intelligence since joining the company in early 2013.

Carolyn has nearly 20 years of market research, customer satisfaction, and competitive intelligence experience working for large corporations and research agencies, including Alcatel-Lucent, Juniper Networks, and Frost & Sullivan. Early in her career, Carolyn worked as an Intelligence Officer at the Central Intelligence Agency.

Prior to joining Primary Intelligence, Carolyn owned her own consulting firm, where she provided custom and syndicated research to clients worldwide on disruptive IT and telecommunications technologies.
Carolyn has two master’s degrees, one from the Thunderbird School of Global Management and a second from Georgetown University. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Hood College in Maryland. Carolyn has also taken advanced Competitive Intelligence, Strategic Planning, and Strategic Marketing courses at the California Institute of Technology, as well as Digital Marketing classes at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Since 2007, Carolyn has taught online global business and management classes part-time at the University of Maryland.
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