“The most important thing marketing can do is be the voice of the customer,” says Elvis Lieban, Senior Product Marketing Manager of Velocity at Gong. “And win/loss is a really important element of that voice.”
Elvis takes the lead on everything around Gong’s go-to-market strategy, including competitive intelligence, and his win/loss program is a core component of his overall marketing toolset.
Named a leader in “The Forrester Wave™: Revenue Operations And Intelligence, Q1, 2022,” report, Gong enables revenue teams to realize their fullest potential by unveiling their customer reality. Their patented and proprietary AI-powered “reality platform” is trusted by more than 2,000 innovative companies including PayPal, Hubspot, LinkedIn, Shopify, and Slack.
Elvis joined Geoffrey Palmer on the Blindspots Podcast to talk about Gong’s unique, project-based approach to win/loss research as well as how he gets stakeholder buy-in, his method for sharing findings throughout the organization, and the super effective way he measures program impact.
You can listen to the full episode, or read on for highlights of the conversation.
Taking a Project-based Approach to Increase Program Impact
Unsurprisingly, a lot of organizations use win/loss research primarily to understand why they win or lose. Since the Gong team already has a pretty good understanding of the “why” behind deal success or failure, they instead use win/loss research to test very specific assumptions and answer very specific questions. Rather than taking a broad, 30,000-foot view of win/loss, they identify very distinct challenges and opportunities, and then use win/loss research to inform how to best address those situations.
For example, one project they recently did with their DoubleCheck Research team took a very close look at why Gong was seeing a substantial drop off with a certain segment of buyers at a very specific point in the sales cycle. “The business noticed a specific problem, and wanted to know more about why it was happening,” says Elvis. “And because we go into win/loss research with such a directed intent, we can really zero in to get high-value answers.”
Gong’s project-based approach to win/loss research has proven to be very effective because it allows them to drill down on the most relevant issues. It also ensures that they capture highly actionable insights. Elvis points out that while there’s a lot of research an organization can do on its own, it’s critical to have a third party talk to the actual buyer. “As an organization, you have a lot of really great data at your fingertips that can help you come up with some assumptions and theories about win/loss,” he explains. “What we try to do with our win/loss program is validate whether or not our internal view of the market actually reflects the external reality.”
Getting Stakeholder buy-in by Establishing Trust and Confidence
“Our stakeholders are our executive leadership team, from operations to product to marketing,” says Elvis. “Each of these leaders can benefit from understanding the voice of the customer, and each executive has something they are concerned about. This is why we always tie our research to the business rather than doing research and then trying to retrofit it to the business.”
From day one working with DoubleCheck Research, Elvis and his team have simply asked stakeholders what they want. Their win/loss project kickoff process includes the step of emailing the leadership team to ask what questions are top of mind and what answers they need to grow the business.
This stakeholder collaboration works so well because Elvis laid the groundwork to establish trust and instill confidence in the program. “When we were starting out, we had to define every project and be very intentional about where win/loss fit into what we were doing,” he explains. “We still have to justify every project to demonstrate that we’re answering questions that we can’t answer using our own data.”
The bottom line of getting buy-in: leadership always wants more information. If you can deliver what they want, they will get on board.
Sharing Findings in a Format that Suits the Audience
With executive leaders as primary stakeholders, it’s critical for Elvis to provide win/loss insights in a very succinct and digestible format. “Our executive leaders are very busy, and win/loss is only one of hundreds of programs we’re running,” Elvis says. “We need to boil all our research down into one slide that is backed up by additional detail and documentation.”
In the same way that Gong’s approach to win/loss takes a project-based approach to focus on solving very specific problems, their approach to sharing findings is similarly tailored and streamlined. The goal is to use simple language in an easy-to-consume format that makes it easy to operationalize findings without a lot of additional hand holding or analysis.
Condensing all the work into an extremely brief and impactful document takes several iterations. Elvis and his team keep the initial win/loss research report pretty close to the chest, allowing only a few marketing people closest to the project to participate in the first review. During that review, they distill the report down and refine the story that the research tells.
From there, the revised version goes through several review cycles, starting with Elvis and the head of product management. If the research topic involves something like an upmarket segment, the report may be routed to the associated product marketing manager, otherwise it heads straight to the head of marketing who typically provides in-depth feedback. “At that stage, we've identified the problems and opportunities, and we know what the story is,” says Elvis. “This is where we want to make sure we're being really prescriptive and specific in what we're going to do to address these issues before we send the report to senior leadership.”
In certain cases, Elvis does share some win/loss insights directly with individual sales people, but—like with the executive leadership team—he is careful to focus on delivering only what those individuals will find useful. In most cases, this becomes a single tile on a battle card. In both the leadership and salesperson cases, the goal is to really shape the presentation of findings to the specific audience, and to make sure that every insight is accompanied by an actionable directive to help the team move forward.
Measuring Impact in a more Realistic and Accurate Way
“A lot of companies run win/loss, find some stuff, train their team, and then point to a higher overall win rate as the program’s true impact,” Elvis says. “But while that makes sense on the surface, it’s not really a tight story because there are a lot of things that impact win rate.”
Instead of taking such a broad and hard-to-trace approach to measuring the impact of the win/loss program, Gong once again gets hyper targeted in their approach. “The way we measure impact is to look at whether people are using the materials we created based on the win/loss research, and whether the use of those materials leads to a differentiated win rate,” explains Elvis.
In other words, rather than measuring the program as a whole, they really drill down to measure the difference in outcomes between people who use the win/loss-based materials, and those who don’t. The materials might be an updated competitive talk track or revised messaging in a pitch deck. Elvis and his team are able to measure the internal adoption of these materials and correlate that to win rate to get a very clear picture of if and how the win/loss findings are making a difference.
The fact that Gong gets really, really specific about exactly where and how win/loss-based materials make a difference, does not keep them from applying win/loss research holistically across the organization. “We think that competitive research, including win/loss, should be integrated into everything we do,” says Elvis. “We incorporate our win/loss research into all the programs and trainings we do in a way that brings insights to life through messaging and other materials, even if we’re not explicit about it.”
For example, one research project Gong did with DoubleCheck Research helped them uncover the fact that Gong has two distinct types of buyers: whole-business buyers and features-and-functions buyers. Whole-business buyers consider the product as just one element of their purchasing decision. They also look closely at non-product differentiators like leadership, post-sale support, etc. Features-and-functions buyers, on the other hand, stick to a product-centric, checklist-style evaluation. This finding revealed an opportunity to message features-and-functions buyers more effectively about non-product differentiators. This single win/loss insight had far-reaching implications across the sales cycle, meaning that Gong’s sales team now had many more opportunities to turn a loss into a win.
Staying Tuned in to the Voice of the Customer
Elvis offered up two parting words of advice for fellow win/loss program leaders. First, he strongly advocates for a project-based approach, which has delivered a lot of value for Gong. On a complementary note, his second recommendation is to pair the very intentional, specific, deep research on targeted business questions with a more consistent and frequent drip of general win/loss intel. “In retrospect, I’d opt to balance the big bang of a specific project with doing five loss interviews each month, just to be sure we have a continuous stream of insights,” says Elvis.
Finally, Elvis emphasizes the importance of understanding that win/loss research is an important channel by which to access the voice of the customer. “When I’m working with sales, I often say, ‘Don't believe what I have to say. Believe what the buyer had to say. These are the actual reasons the market chooses Gong,’” says Elvis. “At the end of the day, we’re not delivering product marketing’s opinion. We’re delivering the market's opinion—in the voice of the customer. And that's something win/loss helps us provide.”
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