“It’s not you, it’s me!”: Using Online Surveys for Win/Loss Research

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Posted Jan 05, 2012
Kathryn Korostoff

If you’ve ever heard those words at the end of a relationship, you’ll recognize the temptation. Do you accept the reason given (“it’s not you…”), or do you want to probe for what may be a less polite, but more honest, answer? The honest answer may be harder to hear, but I think most of us would rather know. Wouldn’t you?

The same is true in business. Knowing what you did well that resulted in a sale, and what you did poorly that resulted in a loss, are both valuable pieces of information. The win/loss study is a classic market research project, one that can be done using an online survey. And it’s just what it sounds like: a tool to discover why you either won or lost a relationship…I mean, sale.

Compare the Wins with the Losses

It’s a common scenario: sales haven't been closing quite as expected, and you have some theories you’d like to test. This situation begs for a comparison of the won accounts versus the lost accounts. What’s different between them? Is there a difference between the types of customers you're winning versus losing? Perhaps they have different demographics or different needs, or maybe they use your product or service in different ways? Maybe they had a different sales process or channel? An online survey is a fast way to test such hypotheses.

Identify the Common Factors

In order to do win/loss research you need a list of customers you've won and a list of customers you've lost. Obviously in consumer research, that can be tricky; how do you survey people who chose not to buy your product? Still, whether it's a B2C (Business to Consumer) or a B2B study, win/loss research projects are typically designed to answer questions such as the following:• What factors most commonly lead to a sales win?• What factors most commonly lead to a sales loss?• How frequently do these different factors occur?

Finding Qualified Participants

One caveat here; it’s very important to have an appropriate sample size for both groups (those who purchased your product and those who did not). As a general rule, you will want to have completed surveys of at least thirty of each.

Focus on the losses? Or the wins?

This is an important point. Very often when people do win/loss research, whether it be in relationships or business, they tend to focus on the losses, on what went wrong.But it may be that there's no specific issue that's causing you to lose. You may identify several loss factors, but none that stands out as particularly common. As important as it is to understand our mistakes, sometimes it can be equally or more important to identify what went right. In short, the solution to your losses might simply be to do more of what you’re doing right.

Accentuate the positive

I once worked with a client where we discovered that the reasons they lost sales were fairly fragmented. There were a host of little reasons for losses, but no standout, fixable cause. So then we focused the research on what was working well, hoping to find things that consistently resulted in wins. And that was where we found our “aha!” result; customers who bought, all had a similar sales experience (an experience the “lost” accounts did not have). So it wasn’t about what they were doing wrong; it was about replicating what they were doing right.

Fix what you can, and do more of what works

Sometimes we have to get dumped to see what we’re doing wrong in a relationship, and sometimes we have to lose some sales before we recognize that something’s just not working. Still, it’s important to look for the sunny side in those tough situations. If it’s not about doing the wrong thing, it might well be about doing more of the right things.

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