Most companies talk about the importance of win/loss analysis, yet few of them do it. Win/loss analysis is the business of analysing the deals you won and those you lost. Setting up a formal call with your customer to analyse why they bought from you is a very useful exercise, as it builds both a qualitative and quantitative picture of what makes you successful.

Setting up a formal call with a non-customer, or an existing customer who didn’t give you the new business, to analyse why they didn’t buy from you is even more successful, since – yes you’ve guessed it – you can learn what contributed to your being unsuccessful so that you can improve your approach and win more business.

Even fewer companies do the loss analysis than the win analysis, and there are lots of human reasons for this. You can learn so much from a lost customer, however, so here are some things I’ve found useful when doing them:

– Get someone not in sales to do the call. It’s easier to get the call, and less confrontational, so it’s easier for them to open up. Sometimes they simply didn’t like the sales person

– Offer to arrange an appointed time for the call, but ask them if now is a bad time, as you only need a maximum of 10 minutes and then you might get to do the call right then

– To secure the call, emphasise that it will be a short call, you’re not trying to reopen the business – though that might happen if you do a stellar job on the call – and that it will help you improve your service in future bids

– Have your questions in writing before the call. If the person is a touch monosyllabic in their answers you can use the questions as prompts to avoid an embarrassingly short call

– Have some suggested answers to some of the questions that can also be used as prompts. For example, for ‘what was it about our proposal you didn’t like’, you might prompt with price, service, track record, solution fit, project management and so on

– Sometimes they prefer to fill something in than speak to you, so be prepared to send in a form with your questions on it, and be prepared to chase to get it back

– Ask them to be as honest as possible in their assessment of why you were unsuccessful. You will get subjective answers and objective ones. Your job is to figure out if they’re giving you a different answer to the true answer. Probe if you have to

– Try to distinguish between personal and subjective answers that you can’t do much about – like ‘we didn’t get on’ – and more objective answers that you can feed back into the business or use for coaching. Example of these include: ‘I felt she was unprofessional’, ‘I didn’t like his approach’, ‘she didn’t understand my business’ and ‘they were too pushy, I wasn’t ready to buy’

– It’s not that high a priority for the person you’re calling, so be prepared for them not to pick up the phone at the appointed time. Be persistent and polite

– After the call, send the person a hand-written note or a small gift thanking them for the feedback, mentioning how valuable their feedback was