Primary vs. Secondary Data Sources in Win-Loss Analysis
By Ron Sathoff, Director of Learning and Development at Primary Intelligence
In the classic 1950 film Rashomon, director Akira Kurosawa presents the details of a crime through the eyes of the various witnesses, all of whom have their own unique perspectives on what occurred. This technique has been used many times since, including in the films Gone Girl, The Usual Suspects, and The Last Duel, as well as in television episodes of Star Trek, Leverage, and M.A.S.H. While some take the meaning of this approach as an argument that individual accounts can be unreliable, it is more useful to see them as showing the importance of understanding the nuances of personal experience and how their unique aspects create a complete picture of what has occurred.
This same concept is relevant when discussing the use of primary and secondary sources when performing Win-Loss Analysis for your company. The question that arises is:
Whose perspective do we need to utilize to get actionable Win-Loss insights?
The buyers’? The analysts’? In other words, what source of information is going to be the most beneficial when trying to help your sales team improve performance?
What is the difference between primary and secondary sources?
Before we can begin understanding the benefits and limitations of primary and secondary data sources, we should make sure we are clear on what these categories mean.
A primary source gives a direct account of the involvement in an event or subject being studied. In the case of Win-Loss Analysis, this includes anyone that was part of the business decision that you’re interested in understanding, such as the decision-makers, influencers, or evaluators in the buying committee. This could also include third-party consultants or even your own sales representatives—the key here is that the source of information was directly involved in the buying process (or at least a direct observer of what occurred).
In contrast, a secondary source involves an indirect or post-occurrence interpretation of the subject being studied. Anything that analyzes, interprets, or describes primary sources is considered a secondary source of information. In a Win-Loss scenario, this might include case studies by the winning vendor, secondary sales intelligence reports (ie. CRM data, conversational intel, etc), or other market reports explaining what may have influenced the decision. In all these cases, someone has taken primary information and then reviewed, revised, and refined it to try to make sense of it.
What are the advantages of using primary and secondary sources in Win-Loss?
There are advantages and disadvantages for primary and secondary data sources in Win-Loss analysis.
Primary sources have a level of authenticity that cannot be matched. Getting information “from the horse’s mouth” ensures that the perceptions being discussed are truly those of the participant, whether it be a member of the buyer’s evaluation team or the seller’s engagement team. In addition, having access to these primary sources intact is the best way to understand the emotional tenor of the participant’s experience, as the actual word choice and syntax can be as significant as the topics they discuss.
However, primary sources on their own are also harder to understand and disseminate so that your organization can take action to improve. And, by their very nature, they will only provide one side of the story, rather than a 360-degree view of the sales opportunity. If you rely solely on primary sources, you might end up getting just a one-sided opinion rather than an understanding of the entire picture.
In contrast, secondary sources are usually designed to be understandable, providing context and interpretation that allows the reader to ingest and act upon the information without having to go through their own lengthy analysis—in other words, secondary sources often do the work, so the readers don’t have to.
The issue with secondary analysis on its own is that you have to trust that the findings presented are in line with the various perspectives of the various participants. Analysis and interpretation always have a subjective component, and without the primary sources, you just have to take the source’s word for its accuracy. In addition, summary and analysis always result in a loss of detail, which might mean some factors that might be extremely useful to particular stakeholders are overlooked.
Using a hybrid approach
Since there are significant disadvantages to using either primary or secondary sources solely on their own, we have found that a best practice for organizations is to leverage both sources of information in conjunction when conducting Win Loss analysis. Some key aspects of doing this effectively are:
- Provide the primary information that has come from the sales opportunity’s participants: Make the direct sources of information available to your stakeholders. This includes survey responses, transcripts of interviews conducted with participants, and recordings of those interviews. Having these records available will allow any interested stakeholders to dig deeper and get a direct conduit to the participant’s responses.
- When possible, try to get multiple perspectives: It is important to remember that there is always more than one participant in a sales deal; there are usually multiple evaluators, influencers, and decision-makers for any purchase decision, and getting data from different personas will help you get a comprehensive view of your deals.
- Remember that YOUR organization is a participant, too: The buyer is not the only side to a sales deal; your teams, including your sales enablement personnel, sales reps, marketing teams, and technical teams will also have important information that can help you understand what went on in the deal. We have helped companies leverage these insights by conducting “mini-interviews” with the sales reps, moderating debrief/discovery sessions with stakeholder teams to gather relevant information, and providing ways for stakeholders to leave their thoughts in the profiles of interviews conducted with buyers.
- Provide analysis and interpretation to make the information actionable: This is where creating and leveraging secondary information sources becomes important. You do not just want to have the raw data by itself; you will want to have a way of summarizing that data and presenting it in such a way that the key decision factors and findings can be readily accessed and used to improve future performance. This could be in the form of insights, recommendations, takeaways, or case studies—the important lesson here is that you have a way of transforming the data you have into a tool that can be used by your team.
As anyone in sales knows, it is vital to get a clear picture of what is happening when your teams engage with their buyers. To conduct a Win-Loss analysis that is insightful and actionable, you should rely upon both primary and secondary sources of information. The accuracy and authenticity of primary sources will give you the unique perspectives that will help you better step into your buyers’ shoes and see the world from their viewpoint, while the ability of secondary analysis to synthesize and summarize will allow you to take those perspectives, find the core learnings, and share those lessons with your organization to have greater success moving forward.
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