Sales Strategies For Senior Salespeople
C-Level Sales Strategy
Advanced Sales Call Strategy
News and Press Coverage
About Steve W. Martin
Reviews and Purchase Books


Click Here for Latest Sales Research & Articles

Win-Loss-No Decision Sales Cycle Study

All sales forecasting systems provide information that sales management uses to verify the standing of accounts. However, these systems are designed with their number one priority in mind--revenue projection. Unfortunately, they do not provide detailed information about why deals were actually lost or won. As a result, valuable information that could be used to improve sales force effectiveness is forfeited. In addition, there are other reasons why vital win-loss information is typically not collected in most sales organizations.

  • Many salespeople do not take the time to truly understand why they won a deal with a new customer. They assume it’s because of their sales prowess or their solution’s superior functionality when this may or may not be the case. They really don’t know what was on the customer’s mind.

  • Many salespeople do not take the time to figure out why they lost a deal or long-time client. They either don’t know why they weren’t selected or reflexively blame it on factors out of their control. They really don’t know what was on the customer’s mind.

  • Many sales managers do not correctly relay important win-loss information from the field back to headquarters. Not only do they collect the wrong information, but use it to promote the wrong agenda. They really don’t know what was on the customer’s mind.

True win-loss analysis that is based upon extensive customer interviewing is the best way to understand what is really on the customer’s mind. Since the complex nature of the enterprise sales process requires huge investments of resources (manpower, time, and money), it is critical to know the circumstances surrounding wins and even more important, losses. With this in mind, the goals of the study are below.

Sales Cycle Type Classification
The problem with predicting which account a salesperson is likely to win is due to the complexity of information that is involved in each sales cycle and that there is conflicting data points between various sales cycles types. In addition, vitally important information about the people/politics of decision-making is hard to categorize.

The study classifies sales cycle types into winnable (higher likelihood of winning), competitive (possible win), and un-winnable models (low likelihood of winning). The classification is based upon the quantitative and qualitative selection criteria from interviews with prospective customers. Information is objectively collected from both customers and sales teams via extensive interviews. Patterns of behavior are identified, interpreted and the common themes collated. The figure below shows an example of how different sales cycle attributes of various wins would be summarized into the winnable account sales cycle model.

The classification of sales cycles focus the sales organization on legitimate opportunities so they’re not wasting time on futile accounts. It also provides the blueprint for sales success in competitive accounts. These models can also be easily communicated to new sales hires to encourage faster productivity.

Identify and Counteract Sales Cycle Turning Points
Although closing a large complex enterprise sales cycle may take many months to complete, every deal has a critical moment or turning point where it is won or lost. One vendor is in a unique position of receiving information from the customer that the other vendors don’t receive. As this favored vendor and the customer spend more time together, a higher level of rapport is developed. While this is happening, the customer is presenting misleading information to the other vendors and not sharing critical information or access to company executives. Unfortunately, the other vendors continue to spend additional resources and their time and effort on the account when they have lost momentum and have virtually no chance of winning.

By identifying potential sales cycle turning points you help the sales teams proactively predict the future. They can execute an account strategy that avoids momentum-stopping turning points. Equally important, you can arm the sales reps with counteractive business and technical responses to overcome key deal-stopping objections. The study provides meaningful feedback to sales leadership and the field sales force about why key decision-makers promote or stop your momentum during the sales cycle.

Successful Salesperson Emulation
The study identifies behavioral patterns of Heavy Hitters (extremely successful salespeople) so that they can be emulated by others on the team. The identification of this “collective intuition” provides real-world strategies to improve overall sales execution and close large enterprise accounts. It can be communicated to new salespeople to encourage faster development and used to focus the sales organization on winnable business (so they’re not wasting time on non-winnable accounts).

Improved Messaging
The interview feedback will improve your overall messaging, solution positioning, and help formulate business and technical responses to overcome key deal-stopping objections. Sales teams must be able to succinctly and persuasively message to a diverse set of departments and across all levels of the organization (executive, management, and day-to-day technical operations). In addition, it will provide valuable lead generation information on how to structure your message to penetrate new accounts.

Feedback to Other Areas of the Organization
The study provides important customer feedback to other areas of the organization that must support sales. Important qualitative information about the political, organizational, and technical aspects of customer decision-making are uncovered and themes are summarized across accounts. This feedback will be used to improve all aspects of the pre- and post sales process--customer marketing efforts, sales collateral, product functionality, and customer support.

Sales Training Strategy
The account profiles, strategies, and tactics from wins and losses provide the basis for meaningful follow-on sales training programs.

Sales Cycle Classification for Repeatable, Predictable Sales Success
The primary goal of the Win-Loss-No Decision Sales Cycle Study is to gather information needed to establish a sales engagement process that promotes account control and provides the highest likelihood for repeatable sales success. Moreover, the sales process should be “customer based.” In other words, it should take into account and classify the different types of sales cycles and customers that the sales teams work on.

Classifying sales cycle into types helps focus the sales organization, increases accountability, and improves deal visibility. Because there are different types of sales cycles, there is typically conflicting data from the salespeople in the field. In addition, vitally important information is qualitative by nature, hard to categorize, and communicate back to sales leadership. The classification provides the strategic framework to segment and prioritize deals. It establishes the common language used to synchronize on how sales leadership, salespeople, system engineers, marketing, consulting, engineering, and support talk about accounts.

The Win-Loss-No Decision Sales Cycle Study will define all the possible quantitative and qualitative sales cycle attributes. The attributes include factual “hard criteria” quantitative data and more interpretative “soft criteria” qualitative data.

Sales Cycle Attributes
Quantitative - Hard Criteria
Industry, company size, technical requirements, business application, partner involvement, budget, timeframe, competition, competition, prior vendor experience, evaluator titles, etc.
Qualitative - Soft Criteria
Decision making politics, group decision-making roles, strength of internal champion, biases personalities, partner influence, project motivation potential deal size, vendor perception, etc.

As customer interviews are completed, sales cycles are categorized by type. For example, a simple type of classification might be (higher likelihood of winning), competitive (possible win), and un-likely-to-win (low likelihood of winning) deals. For each classification type, the hard and soft criteria are identified along with the associated engagement process. In the example below, Winnable Deals are identified where hard criteria (A, B, C) and Soft Criteria (X, Y, Z) are present. When the sales force encounters this situation they employ customer engagement process steps 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. When the sales force encounters hard criteria (D, E F) and soft criteria Q, X, Y) they employ a different set of engagement process steps 1, 7, 8.

Sales Cycle Attributes
Winnable Deals    
Hard Criteria
A, B, C
Soft Criteria
X, Y, Z
Customer Engagement Process
Steps 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
Competitive Deals    
Hard Criteria
A, C, D
Soft Criteria
Q, X, Z
Customer Engagement Process
Steps 1, 3, 5, 6
Unlikely-to-win Deals    
Hard Criteria
D, E, F
Soft Criteria
Q, X, Y
Customer Engagement Process
Steps 1, 7, 8

Other sales cycle classification types might be whether which area of the company is leading the evaluation (IT versus business end users for example), specific technical requirements, title within the organization who is driving the decision, the competition involved, and whether the purchase is strategic or more tactical by nature. Once sales cycles are categorized, the process to work these different sales cycles can be easily communicated to the sales organization. It establishes a relevant discovery process because it directs the salesperson actions. This encourages consistent productivity and faster on-boarding for new hires. Equally important, it helps prioritize evaluations, proof of concepts, and prevents them from being conducted where unnecessary. Finally, the study helps add “real” meaning to the forecasted deals and pipeline of business.

Types of Interviews Conducted
There are six types of interviews conducted by Steve Martin to complete the study.

  1. Background Interviews. Interviews with sales management leadership, top salespeople, key marketing personnel, sales operations and sales training teams leaders.
  2. Customer “Win” Interviews. Interviews with customers who chose your solutions after a competitive evaluation.
  3. Customer “No Decision” Interviews. Interviews with prospective customers who made the decision not to pursue your solution after an evaluation, choosing instead to remain with their current vendor or purchasing another vendor’s solution.
  4. Customer “Loss” Interviews. Interviews with prospective customers who purchased another vendor’s solution after an evaluation and existing customers who replaced your solution with a competitive offering.
  5. Sales Team Interviews. Interviews with sales teams that worked on the account.
  6. Prospective Customer Interviews. Interviews with prospective customers you are not currently engaged with.

The customer interviews are not conducted like a customer-satisfaction type survey like or similar to filling out a questionnaire. Rather, the goal is to elicit their honest thoughts and discern truthful patterns of behavior. Therefore, the interviews are free flowing where the customer is probed about their project motivation, decision-making process, vendor comparisons, and the different sales teams. They are asked to comment on the company, selection process, competition, and give their perceptions of their sales cycle experience and product-related opinions. They are also solicited for their advice and recommendations.

Obviously, a key part of the process of any win-loss project is customer participation. Ideally, these interviews will be with all levels of their organization. While it requires aggressive follow up to ensure customer participation, it must be done courteously and respectfully. Customers are more likely to participate and freely voice their opinions when they know the study is being carried out by an objective third party, they feel their confidentiality will be maintained, and they are rewarded for their time.

Study Phases
The Win-Loss-No Decision Sales Cycle Study is conducted in four phases:

  1. Background investigative research including interviews with key sales management leaders, top salespeople, key marketing personnel, along with sales operations and sales training leaders. Based upon this research, the initial customer interview questionnaire will be created.
  2. Interviews with won, loss and no decision accounts. The goal is to have the customer comment on the company, selection process, competition, and give their perceptions of sales cycle experience and product opinions. They are also solicited for their advice and recommendations. My previous experience with customers has been that they are extremely open and forthcoming in these “blind” interviews. The sales teams that worked on the accounts are also interviewed as needed.
  3. Summarization and presentation of win-loss results to senior sales leadership. The third phase is the amalgamation/summarization of the interview data and the presentation of the results to the leadership team in an extremely interactive setting. In this meeting, the win-loss methodology is reviewed, customer and salesperson themes are discussed, and major and minor conclusions are presented along with recommendations and action items.
  4. The fourth phase is the presentation of the study results along with a training workshop based upon win-loss study results and sales leadership’s goals. The study results and an associated training workshop are conducted via Web-ex or in interactive exercise-based workshops on a regional basis (for example, west, mid-west, and east coast).

The average study takes sixty to seventy days to complete all four phases.

Steve Martin’s win-loss-no decision analysis takes the customer's point of view in analyzing why you aren't selling more. Do you have the right client engagement process? What is the optimum way to structure your message to persuade the customer to buy? Does your current sales staff know how to create the personal, technical, and political rapport to win complex accounts? Do you have the right people and is your sales organization structured correctly? Finally, are you developing sales intuition by collecting and sharing important information about customer behavior during the sales cycle?

Most companies are well versed on the logical arguments for selecting their product. However, the decision to make a major purchase is primarily based upon individual needs and desires, how the decision-makers receive information, and internal politics. Since many companies don't understand their customers in these regards, profiles are created of the key decision-makers involved in the selection process in order to perfect the sales strategy and message to them more effectively. Finally, recommendations to improve the suggestive powers of your web-site, marketing collateral, and field presentations are given to help you consistently defeat the competition.