When Valerie Bonaldo joined Seismic’s product marketing team, one of her first missions was to understand exactly what the company needed to do to improve win rates. Now, as Director of Product Marketing Competitive Intelligence at Seismic—a global leader in enablement—she is building on this foundation of expertise and using a win/loss program to uncover specific insights that consistently make meaningful contributions to the company’s overall success and direction.
“Learning how to improve your win rates requires identifying the tangible truth about what’s happening with your customers,” Valerie says. “The best way to do that is to interview customers: those who chose you so you can understand exactly why they chose you, and those who didn’t choose you so you can see where you have opportunities to improve. You need to look at the big picture to see what you can do to improve prospect engagement and effectively articulate the value of your product.”
In our conversations for the Blindspots Podcast, Valerie shared some really specific information about:
- How to get (and keep) stakeholder buy-in
- Her unique tool for getting everyone on the same page from day one
- The importance of asking the right questions in the right way
- The critical role of good CRM data
- Her approach to defining program focus and doing efficient outreach
- How she uses customization to make sharing win/loss finds more effective
- The importance of focusing on wins
You can listen to the full episode, or read on for highlights of the conversation.
3 Strategies for Getting (and Keeping) Stakeholder Buy-in
🌐 Start with a whole-organization strategy.
To launch a successful win/loss program, Valerie recommends starting with the big picture, and making sure—right from the start—to include a wide array of stakeholders from key areas across the organization.
“It’s important to tie your win/loss program back to specific, company-wide initiatives,” Valerie explains. “There are always the standard revenue goals, but you also want to help ensure that the company is telling the right stories in a way that helps customers and prospects understand the value your product delivers. A strong win/loss program helps you understand things from the buyer’s perspective, and then you can feed that information back to product and marketing and sales to help them drive improvements and identify best practices.”
The intelligence gathered through win/loss interviews is valuable to every part of your organization, not just sales. To help get everyone firmly on board, make sure that each team—from product to marketing to customer success—understands how win/loss insights can help them, specifically. “A win/loss program isn’t about showing a seller that they didn’t engage properly,” Valerie explains. “It’s about capturing everything a company should be doing to drive higher win rates. It should benefit all the teams across your organization.”
✍️ Document the plan.
In addition to having conversations with key stakeholders, Valerie highly recommends documenting your intentions, and sharing that documentation with your extended team. She developed a succinct directional document that allows her to easily capture a high-level overview of a win/loss program’s objectives and anticipated outcomes, along with details about specific hypotheses the program hopes to prove/disprove, and the expected takeaways and action items for each functional team.
This “Guide for Setting up an Effective Win/Loss Program” not only helps get key stakeholders on the same page and invested during initial program development, it also serves as a valuable checkpoint to ensure that the interview guide stays on target and the overall program strategy remains aligned with the stated program objectives.
⁉️ Ask the right questions in the right way.
There is both an art and a science to crafting effective survey questions. Valerie’s research background has proven very valuable in this area. “It’s important to craft questions in a way that motivates a response,” she says. “But more than that, you want to ask questions in a way that encourages the respondent to share their experience and tell their story.”
Valerie strives to create surveys, questionnaires, and interview guides that help her collect data that is quantifiable and statistically reliable while also giving her the building blocks to tell a compelling story.
She takes every opportunity to invite the respondent to go beyond a quick, surface response. Her questions provide interviewees with an opportunity to really think about their motivations and thought process. In many cases, this involves digging a little deeper by asking pointed Why questions. For example, instead of asking, “Would you buy this again?”—a question that prompts a yes/no response—she asks, “Why would you buy this again?” Or, instead of simply asking a respondent which product they would choose, she asks why they would choose one product over another. The insertion of that one word makes a world of difference in the types of responses she is able to collect.
3 Steps to Launching and Executing a Successful Win/Loss Program
Step 1: Identify Relevant Competitors with Good CRM Data 🏋️
Valerie prepared for the launch of the win/loss program with a very specific, two-part initiative:
Part 1: Get an accurate and complete understanding of the overall competitive landscape
Part 2: Rank the competitors from most to least relevant
These first two steps were necessary to provide a strong foundation from which to launch the more intensive competitive research, including win/loss interviews. Once Valerie knew exactly which competitors she needed to look at, she could actively engage the sales team to learn more about their experiences going up against those companies.
Analyzing the competitive landscape in this way can be quite a daunting task, in part due to the common challenges around how organizations use CRM platforms. Valerie recognizes that there are often workflow issues that compromise the competitive data collected by sales teams via platforms like Salesforce. Even when there are gates in place to require a salesperson to complete specific fields before moving a prospect conversation forward, many salespeople find a workaround (like entering dummy answers) to avoid slowing their momentum.
Fortunately for Valerie, the Seismic sales team is very diligent about entering complete and accurate sales conversation notes into their CRM. In addition, she is able to access recordings of sales calls so she can hear exactly what a prospect is asking and how they respond to various messages. Both these things helped her quickly assess how many times Seismic sellers were seeing specific competitors. It also allowed her to efficiently sort competitors into two distinct levels:
Level 1 — General competitors, which typically includes approximately 8 - 10 companies
Level 2 — Final competitors, which is a narrowed field that includes only companies that make the cut to the final round of the buying decision
Step 2: Determine Program Focus & Doing Initial Outreach 🔎
Valerie is always intentional about balancing her win/loss research across Seismic’s product portfolio and geographic territories. She continuously tracks win rates through Salesforce and aggregates the available data to give herself a high-level view of wins and losses.
From there, she refers once again to the seller notes in Salesforce to help her prioritize which buyers to reach out to for interviews. “I look for notes that indicate a very competitive win—situations in which we had to jump through a lot of hoops,” she says. “I also really want to talk to buyers who chose to go with a different vendor. I want to understand what hurdles were in our way, and how we responded.”
Seismic’s outreach approach is fairly straightforward. Valerie begins by asking the sales team to send an initial email letting contacts know that Seismic would like to interview them, and have them take an online survey. This warm introduction helps drive good response rates, but isn’t always enough to confirm enough participants. To supplement, Valerie works with DoubleCheck to initiate emails that include incentives, either gift cards or—if gift cards are not permissible—a charity donation. Valerie also works closely with DoubleCheck to assess responses to various messaging, and iterate on the language and positioning to continually improve response rates.
Valerie also points out the importance of having a deep candidate pool because not everyone will have time to give a 20-minute interview. In general, the win interviews are easier to land, but even those folks are often short on time because they are focused on standing up the product they just bought from you. As for pursuing loss interviews successfully, Valerie recommends a little more finesse and careful messaging in the request. “You want them to know that you sincerely want to improve,” she explains. “Introduce the interview as an opportunity for them to tell us what we should have done better, and even how else we might be able to deliver on the outcomes their company is trying to achieve.”
Step 3: Run Initial Win/Loss Interviews 💬
Once she knew which competitors should be the focus of her win/loss research, Valerie partnered with DoubleCheck to do 20 interviews—10 wins and 10 losses—over the course of a single quarter. “The takeaways from those first twenty interviews proved to the stakeholders and Seismic’s executive team that win/loss has a real value,” Valerie recounts. “The data—both quantitative from our survey and verbatim statements pulled from interviews—was really eye-opening for teams across the organization.”
Based on just that first, quarter-long effort, Valerie was able to validate some of the hypotheses they had established in the directional document, and deliver tangible insights that were valuable not only to sales and executives, but to multiple teams.
Sharing Findings – It’s All About Customization
Valerie’s strategy for effective win/loss data sharing is all about customization by audience. Whether she is presenting to key stakeholders (which she does quarterly) or to an individual seller, she tailors the data and presentation to address each audience’s specific interests and needs. Her goal is to curate each presentation in a way that tells a relevant story and provides actionable takeaways.
She also often makes her presentations available for on-demand access. This is especially helpful during really busy times, like end-of-year, when certain teams may not have time to attend a full presentation, but would like to see the summary and be able to reach out with questions.
Overall, the win/loss program provides valuable enablement for many different areas. “The executive team gets everything because they cover all the departments,” Valerie says. “But over the first year of the program, I’ve also been able to deliver data and insights that allowed me to provide feedback into the product roadmap, participate in executive team all-hands presentations, and share targeted messaging guidance with the product marketing team. That’s a lot of return on our investment.”
Why Focusing on Wins is a Smart Strategy
A lot of organizations launch win/loss programs to uncover why they are losing deals, but Seismic started with the question, “How can we win more?”
“Instead of focusing on why we were losing, we focused on learning how to drive higher win rates by better understanding the best practices of our sellers,” Valerie says. “We wanted to be able to double down on what’s working as we grow and onboard new sellers. We wanted to be able to set new sellers up for success right from the start.”
Focusing on wins also helps Seismic grow with their customers. Win interviews are an opportunity to hear what a customer is planning and where they are going, which helps support an efficient and effective land-and-expand strategy.
Since those initial twenty interviews, Valerie and her team have completed a full year of win/loss analysis, working closely with their DoubleCheck analyst. Each quarter the team looks for new nuggets of information and trends. “The data we deliver clearly demonstrates where we need to make changes to improve performance,” Valerie says. “And each quarter, we look at the previous quarter’s results and either double down to dig deeper, or modify our survey and interview guide to capture and address new hypotheses.”
Throughout her win/loss research, it’s the opportunity to go deeper that continues to drive Valerie’s passion for her work. “I love being able to uncover the rich story behind the ‘why,’” she says. “A lot of companies track wins and losses, but don’t take it any further. Being able to understand the deeper story is what motivates me. There’s a lot of value in getting to know that story.”
Want more episodes of Blindspots?
Join Geoffrey Palmer in insightful conversations with win/loss leaders to help product marketers get a leg up on the competition through win/loss and churn analysis. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google, or listen on our website.