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Bruce Kasrel, VP Research
Bruce Kasrel, VP Research Posted on September 9, 2022

Ask Me Anything: Gong, Seismic, and Bullhorn on Lessons Learned from Running a Successful Win/Loss Program

There are few things more valuable than getting a bunch of experts together and inviting them nerd out about the work they love. We had the great pleasure of hosting just such a conversation in our recent Ask Me Anything (AMA) session featuring three returning guests from the Blindspots Podcast.


I was joined by Jonathan Bedard, head of product marketing at Bullhorn; Valerie Bonaldo, director of product marketing focused on competitive intelligence for Seismic; and Elvis Lieban, product marketing manager at Gong for a lively and informative discussion about all things win/loss. The three panelists answered questions from our audience about everything from how to establish a win/loss program strategically to how to measure success. 

Here are just a few of the highlights from the session.

Finding your place: Establish your program's place within the context of your overall competitive intelligence efforts. 

For most organizations, a win/loss program is part of a greater continuum in the competitive intelligence landscape. But just how does your program fit in with everything else you’re doing? Where does it excel, and where does it support other efforts?

Jonathan didn’t pull any punches, saying, “Our win/loss program is at the center of our competitive intelligence work. We interview every single quarter in order to understand what’s happening in our sales cycles, why we’re winning, why we’re losing, what trends we’re seeing, and how those trends are changing over time. And then we use those interviews to figure out what we need to do differently.”

Valerie doubled down on everything Jonathan said, adding that it’s important to remember that win/loss insights are valuable to many different areas of an organization. “Win/loss delivers a lot of takeaways that are not just sales focused,” she says. “We make sure that the program provides information that’s valuable to stakeholders across the organization. For example, we've also seen some shuffling around our product roadmap based on win/loss interview feedback, which ultimately informs where we're going to prioritize.”

For the team at Gong, win/loss interviews help provide a more complete picture of what’s happening. “Generally, sellers have a pretty good idea of why they win or lose,” Elvis says. “Having a third party ask questions in a win/loss interview helps us get a more complete picture. The client might not be comfortable sharing everything with the seller, but with a third party you can fill out the picture.”

Setting up for success: Tap into the win/loss-aligned aspects of your company culture. 

A lot of people and organizations are naturally averse to change. So, if you’re trying to do something outside of business as usual—like interviewing customers—you may get some pushback. All of our panelists agreed that it’s important to associate your proposed program with existing elements of your company culture. They also agreed that, for them, the most relevant element is a commitment to voice of the customer. 

“Voice of the customer is in the drinking water at Bullhorn,” Jonathan says. “I didn’t have to do a lot of arm twisting to get the leadership team to see the value in speaking to customers. To me, it’s just best practice to skip secondhand information and go talk to the primary source.”

Valerie agreed, adding that win/loss interviews are a really helpful complement to Seismic’s robust user community. “Win/loss provides us feedback from those who aren’t yet part of our community. The interviews help us capture that leading indicator information, and really understand what the sales cycle is like for our buyers.”

In addition to the importance of voice of the customer, Elvis’s program at Gong also taps into their cultural element of celebration. “Celebrating wins is a big part of our culture,” he says. “Win/loss is a great way for us to find and highlight wins, and congratulate people within our organization.” He adds that it’s always a good move to tie the work you’re doing to other things that are happening internally.

Getting stakeholder buy-in: Be focused on results, and—if all else fails—just go ahead and do it. 

Selling a win/loss program internally can be a daunting task. Not everyone will instantly understand the value of a program, and a lot of people will have false assumptions about exactly what a win/loss program is and how it can help. As with any sales pitch, it’s all about educating your audience about the benefits of saying yes.

Valerie faced a particularly challenging environment at Seismic because some early win/loss work that was done before she arrived had failed to gain traction. “People didn’t know what to do with the outcomes,” she explained, which made it hard for her predecessor to demonstrate any value. As Valerie launched the new program, she was very focused on making sure insights were actionable. “My key focus has been making sure that, based on what the stakeholders were looking to do, we are coming back every quarter with win/loss results that include actionable outcomes. We really need to know how we’re going to use win/loss information to move the needle and change behaviors.”

Elvis also had a difficult hurdle to overcome because his main stakeholder—head of marketing—was very skeptical about win/loss.  “He’s just not a fan,” says Elvis. “So, to win him over, I just started calling customers myself to see what we could learn.” Elvis’s DIY approach turned up some interesting findings that proved certain competitive assumptions wrong, which led to scaling up a program. “If you’ve got skeptics,” he says, “sometimes you’ve just got to put the legwork in to prove them wrong.”

At Bullhorn, Jonathan had a leadership team that was pretty enthusiastic and supportive right out of the gate, but he was careful not to take advantage. “It can be challenging to sell the concept of an all-encompassing win/loss program that will answer every question you have,” he says. “When you go too broad, you often end up with insights that just aren’t that meaningful. Instead, hone in on a particular problem or a specific question. That’s the best way to add value.”

Overcoming specific resistance: Get even reluctant sales and product teams on board.

Even if your overall company culture embraces voice of the customer as the end-all-be-all, there’s a pretty good chance that you may still encounter some hesitation from certain teams. Sales and product are often wary of win/loss programs for a variety of reasons. Our panelists had some tips for how to get even these folks excited about your program.

Step one is often dispelling unfounded fears. “I’ve always taken the approach that win/loss is not about going after the sales team,” Valerie says. “You have to look at it globally. Making sure your program encompasses various parts of the organization is key to getting your sellers on board. Let them know that you’re trying to learn things that will help them sell more successfully.” Now, Valerie’s sellers consistently thank her for helping them identify the best practices that help them win more deals.

Elvis emphasizes the importance of relevance. “Anytime we’re launching anything from marketing, the first question we need to answer is, ‘What’s in it for our audience,’” he explains. “So, each time we launch a program that needs sales involvement, we make sure it’s tied to something that’s a priority for them.”

Product is another team that is often slow to warm to the idea of a win/loss program. But Jonathan has found that win/loss is a great way to get a fresh perspective on your product. “It’s really easy to get in your own head, and think that your product is great for all these reasons,” he says. “It can be like having blinders on. Win/loss can help you uncover product-related root causes for wins and losses. It’s really important to understand how customers perceive your product versus the competition’s product.”

Sharing findings: Give them what they want. 

It can be difficult to know which findings to share with whom and in what kind of format. Across the board, our panelists recommend focusing on relevance, relevance, relevance. Like the “location, location, location” rule in real estate, always giving each audience—sales, product, marketing, leadership, etc.—information about topics they really care about is the key to effective win/loss sharing.

Valerie and Elvis both take a teams-based approach to sharing findings. As Elvis points out, the appropriate audience depends on what kind of feedback you get. If you get feedback on the sales process, you want to share insights with sales. If the feedback was about messaging, that will be helpful to marketing. He also notes that you often go into a win/loss project with a specific question, and that specificity will dictate what kind of information you uncover. “In my latest project, I have a lot of questions about feature set and market perception for our new product,” he says. “So, of course, product will be a primary stakeholder in this research.”

Valerie also makes sure that her deep-dive reports and presentations are tailored to each team. She also shares individual reports with the sales teams who worked with the customer who was interviewed. For the higher level of leadership, she provides a summary report that touches on all the different areas. In addition, she pays special attention to sharing results over time. “I make sure that I’m working each quarter with the DoubleCheck team and my internal stakeholders to understand what we learned that quarter,” she says. “We focus on what we’re going to do about specific findings, what actions we need to take. Without those outcomes and specific recommendations, there wouldn’t be as much enthusiasm for the program.”

While Jonathan agrees that ensuring reports are relevant to each audience, he is also open to sharing in a more general way. “I’ve had great success sharing full transcripts with a variety of people,” he says. “It’s almost more impactful for them to read the direct words. It also helps them fully appreciate the extent of the interview, which helps build the credibility of the program.” 

Jonathan also sometimes reverse engineers his presentation of insights by first updating a battle card, and then explaining why he made the change. “As we reintroduce the battle card, we meet with sales and explain what we heard from the market, why we made the change, and how it will help them,” he says. “It can make quite a compelling presentation.”

Keeping the fire alive: Make sure your stakeholders stay engaged over the long haul. 

New programs can benefit from a sort of honeymoon period, during which everyone is excited about the work and engaged in the process. But, over time, the excitement can wane. How do you ensure that your stakeholders continue to support your win/loss work?

Elvis emphasized the recurring theme of relevance as a way to make sure stakeholders don’t stray. “Executives are big on their initiatives,” he says. “So, if you can help help with a specific initiative, that’s a good place to be. Look for opportunities where win/loss can make a big impact—maybe a new product introduction, new pricing and packaging, or new strategic messaging.”

Sometimes, you need to change things up a little to rekindle the spark. “Don’t be afraid to iterate,” says Valerie. “Try something new. If it doesn’t work, iterate. There are a lot of great opportunities to reconfigure. You can learn from every step, and then modify and move forward.”

And sometimes, it’s less about excitement, and more about just doing what’s right. “Win/loss is not independent of launching a product or writing good messaging or determining how to price your product. It is a prerequisite to being able to do those things with intelligence, insight, and confidence,” Jonathan says. “Whether you are working formally with a company like DoubleCheck or doing it yourself, you have to have the voice of the customer. Having the voice of the customer is necessary in order for you to deliver good work.” 

Get more great insights and inside tips from our AMA panelists. 

Believe it or not, our panelists had even more to share in the full AMA session. You can tune in to watch the on-demand recording any time. 

And if you’d like even more inside expertise on how to run a successful win/loss program, check out the Blindspots Podcast episodes featuring each of our three panelists:

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