Too often we assume that price is the determining factor in which supplier a client decides to use when, in fact, there are other factors to consider such as pre-sales support, presentation content and the presenter’s enthusiasm and effort to follow-up.These are the factors that become critical when providers offer similar pricing.

How can you pinpoint the factors that came into play when a client decided to go with another supplier? By providing direct feedback from the client on your company’s performance in pitching their business, Sales Win Loss Analysis (SWLA) can be a helpful tool. The following article explains SWLA, and through a mini case, provides tips to help you conduct this research.

What is SWLA?
In a nutshell, SWLA provides companies with a clear understanding of how well they performed on a new business opportunity, whether it be a face-to-face presentation, proposal submission or quote.

What Are The Benefits of SWLA?
SWLA will help you:

  • Focus on companies most likely to buy your products or services versus prospects less likely to become clients.
  • Improve the effectiveness of your sales presentations.
  • Uncover the reasons behind lost opportunities.
  • Gain objective and accurate information from the client that your representative is unable to provide.

As an example, when asked why he lost the pitch, an employee might claim, “the client was looking for a full service partner and didn’t feel they could get that from us.” The reality from the buyer’s perspective, however, might reveal that “the presentation was weak and incomplete, and the representative was slow on following up.”

Mini Case
Let’s assume you are the market research manager for “Safety Plus,” a major safety equipment manufacturer. In the past 12 months your company lost 45 percent of the business they bid on. The representatives blame this poor record on high pricing and increased competition. Your VP of marketing thinks otherwise and requests you conduct a SWLA to see if the claims are true.

What are some tips to help you research effectively?

1.  Set Up Guidelines
Put together some guidelines to follow, given that this is your first SWLA undertaking, and others may follow:

  • Begin by speaking to the representatives who made the pitch to see what they have to say.
  • Create two introductions, one for your company wins, the other for customers who did not choose your company.
  • Be objective; don’t go into the interview with a predisposed view of what happened.
  • Work in increments. Conduct one or two surveys and analyze results prior to conducting the next set of surveys.
  • Incorporate a table with ratings into your survey to pinpoint your representatives’ key strengths and critical weaknesses.
  • Track SWLA findings over time to gauge whether performance is improving and where gaps still exist.

2.  Determine Sample Size
Because this is qualitative research, you have the option of determining how many interviews to conduct. I recommend at minimum interviewing two prospective customers for every 10 pitches (one who
chose your company, the other who went with a competitor).

Put Together Your Questions
Keep questions to a “dialogue mode” so they are easy to follow and to the point:

  • How many times in the past two years have you requested bids?
  • How many companies do you send RFPs for these bids?
  • Has this number increased, stayed the same or decreased in the past few years?  
  • What was the key factor (e.g., price, solutions given, accuracy) in deciding which provider to choose?
  • Who else did you invite to pitch for your business?         
  • Why were they invited to present (e.g., used them before, were referred to by a colleague)?
  • Which provider won the business?   
  • What made you decide to choose them?
  • What did the winner do that set them apart from the other presenters?
  • Where did we fall short?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being poor, 10 being outstanding) how would you rate our performance versus the winner on :
    • Presentation (e.g., informative, convincing, easy to follow, customized to your needs).
    • Representative’s professionalism (e.g., prepared and organized, understanding your business, appearing knowledgeable).
    • Company as a whole (e.g., having the necessary expertise, resources and support, technology).
  • What suggestions do you have for how we can improve?

3.  Approaching Potential Respondents
Now comes the challenging part: getting companies to agree to be interviewed.

To facilitate cooperation:

  • Offer respondents an honorarium (e.g.$150 donation to their favorite charity).
  • Point out that you are not in sales and will not be re-opening the sales process. Your goal is to use their feedback to better understand the market, buyer/seller process and ultimately improve performance.
  • Make it easy by giving them the option to complete the survey by phone or email.

4.  Writing Up the Survey
The survey should be detailed with insights that can readily be translated into recommendations on improving your new business presentations.

Writing Up Observations and Implications
Because you are talking to the decision maker, what they say is extremely important. In fact, a single survey can become the template for what your representatives need to do to win more business.

Key take away points for this mini case:

  • Safety Plus was outperformed on 15 criteria, and tied with the winner on only 5 criteria (concise, making commitments, showing they have the necessary expertise, resources and technology).
  • Significant gaps (spread of 4 or 5 rating points between the winner and Safety Plus) relate to customizing the presentation, being accommodating and a good listener, making the prospective client feel valued, providing suggestions, demonstrating they can service effectively and following up.
  • The client suggested our representatives make more effort to a) explain what we do to ensure a positive client experience, and b) follow up (i.e., within 2 days, highlighting our advantages and providing recommendations).

Whether you are a research supplier or a client who helps assess new business opportunities, SWLA can play an important role in improving presentations, proposals and quotes. At the very least it will enlighten your representatives as to what other factors, besides price, impact a client’s decision on who they select.