When Jonathan Bedard stepped into the Senior VP Product Marketing role at Bullhorn, he realized two things early on: first, that the organization had a strong understanding of a small subset of customers, and second, that that knowledge was passed down primarily as anecdotal tribal knowledge.
Seeing that there wasn’t yet a strong programmatic approach to win/loss research, he knew there was an opportunity to elevate Bullhorn’s game through a more rigorous partnership with DoubleCheck Research.
As a global leader in software for the recruitment industry, Bullhorn serves more than 10,000 companies around the world—providing a cloud-based platform that powers the recruitment process from start to finish. Due in part to its great success, Bullhorn has been in heavy launch mode for the last three-and-a-half years, and continues to innovate on behalf of its many customers.
Jonathan joined Geoffrey Palmer on the Blindspots Podcast to talk about the ins and outs of successfully transitioning an organization’s win/loss approach from an informal, tribal affair to a formal, data-driven program. Along the way, he shared some inspiring stories about exactly how this transition positively affected Bullhorn’s bottom line and ability to pivot quickly in a competitive market. He also shared some tactical tips for companies that are just starting to think about launching their own win/loss programs.
You can listen to the full episode, or read on for highlights of the conversation.
Why a Programmatic Approach to Win/Loss Research Matters
When you’re operating in a crowded space, differentiating yourself from the competition is table stakes. To do this effectively, you need to have a deep and accurate understanding of the competitive landscape. This understanding informs so much more than your messaging. It helps you know if and when to update pricing, how to package your product, how to position your product, and more. “You have to know your competition inside and out,” says Jonathan. “Because the choices you make about your product are all relative to the alternative that your end buyer can choose.”
In essence, a well-done win/loss program provides leverage to the business. And that leverage isn’t just within the sales function. Win/loss research provides direct value to all areas of an organization. For example at Bullhorn:
- Marketing uses insights to inform demand generation and content teams, guiding and influencing everything from messaging and website copy to blog posts and webinar topics.
- The product team looks to win/loss findings to help them figure out how to prioritize investments and shape the roadmap.
- And the C-level executives factor win/loss trends into strategic decisions at the highest level.
Jonathan points out that in order to deliver value to all these different parts of a large organization, you really need to take a programmatic approach. “When an organization reaches a certain size, and is trying to scale its business, it’s no longer about getting a handful of sales reps to tell your product’s story effectively,” he explains. “At that stage, it’s about how you can get dozens or hundreds of sales reps to tell your story with a high degree of consistency, and in a way that is truly compelling in the market.” This is where a strong product marketing team with a well-designed win/loss program comes in.
The Risks of Relying on Tribal Knowledge (Instead of Getting the Data)
“When I first arrived at Bullhorn, the win/loss information we had was very spotty,” says Jonathan. “We had a lot of high-level blanket anecdotes, but there were certain questions that came up in leadership-level conversations that the anecdotes couldn’t answer.”
The tribal knowledge could only provide an incomplete story. There was some good, basic information, but not enough detail to identify root causes of wins and losses.
“The key to really making win/loss impactful is really being clear on the problem you’re trying to solve,” Jonathan explains. “And if you don’t have a source of truth that’s rooted in data, there’s always going to be differences of opinion on why you’re winning or losing because everyone is operating on their own subset of information and experiences.”
Without a segmented, programmatic approach to win/loss research, all you’ll be able to do is aggregate all the possible problems (product problems, pricing problems, positioning problems, sales enablement problems, etc.). You won’t have access to the detailed insights that will tell you a) which problems are actually problems, or b) which levers you need to pull to solve those problems. You need to move away from relying on broad, anecdotal “evidence” toward making decisions based on specific, data-supported insights.
In the beginning, Bullhorn was doing surveys and interviews in parallel, but they quickly saw the value in focusing more on interviews. “In-depth interviews were a game changer for us,” says Jonathan. “Initially, surveys helped us uncover which competitors we saw most often in different regions. But interviews clearly delivered such nuggets of gold. All of a sudden, new insights became the new norm, and information from our formal win/loss interviews quickly overwrote tribal knowledge as the source of truth. The data spoke for itself.”
The Importance of a Sharing Strategy
Information is only valuable if you can get it into the hands of the people who can use it. This is especially true when you’re talking about win/loss insights. Initially, Jonathan’s team took a traditional approach to sharing—creating an executive presentation, and doing a readout for specific stakeholders. While this can be a very helpful exercise, Jonathan found that his entire organization has an enormous appetite to consume win/loss insights on a regular basis.
“Now, we do interviews constantly, and as soon as information comes in, I share it,” Jonathan says.
While Jonathan’s team captures the full interview in the voice of the customer, they also provide a summary (fewer than ten slides, including a clear recommendation on action items) when they share information. While the summaries are very helpful, Jonathan finds that people also want to read the raw feedback and he’s more than willing to share that with them, “Sharing the voice of the customer with key stakeholders is incredibly powerful.”
Sharing frequently and consistently is an important way to demonstrate the value of your win/loss program, but you also want to be a little strategic about what you share and with whom. “I don’t share every report with every seller,” Jonathan explains. “I often will share an interview with the sales rep who led the deal so that they can learn from it. And I often share with leadership of sales, marketing, and product. It all depends on who can benefit most from the insights we’ve captured.”
As a quick sharing caveat, Jonathan warns against overreacting to one or two interviews, noting that it usually takes between 8 to 12 conversations before you can see a pattern emerge and discern insights that warrant action.
Real-world Examples of Win/Loss Business Impact
Early on, Jonathan decided to avoid taking a broad-brushstrokes approach, and instead focus on pursuing insights on very specific competitors in a way that would help prove or disprove very specific hypotheses and explore very specific questions.
Once again, the idea of gaining clarity about the problem that needs solving was a key guiding principle of the program design.
“Win/loss is really a mechanism to help us solve problems around barriers we find in the funnel,” Jonathan says. “So, first we get really clear on the problem or barrier we’re seeing, and then we tailor our win/loss research to gather the insights we need to inform a successful solution to the problem.”
Over time, Jonathan’s team became very efficient. “We got really good at being nimble with the process,” he explains. “We can go from identifying the problem to doing the research to getting insights and acting on them—updating pricing and packaging, rewriting a sales presentation, etc.—all within a month. It’s great to be able to move so quickly.”
Another important aspect of how win/loss research impacts Bullhorn’s business is the way it helps them really tap into what customers want. “Well-done win/loss research helps you avoid the trap of seeking answers to your problems solely from within your organization,” Jonathan says. “Instead, you listen directly to the voice of the customer, which—for me—is kind of sacred.”
Jonathan shared a couple use case examples to illustrate exactly how win/loss research makes a real difference for Bullhorn.
💪 Doubling the Win Rate Against a Specific Competitor
“Our data showed that we we’re losing against a very specific competitor in a very specific region, so we ran the win/loss play. Based on the findings from our interviews, we updated our pricing, updated our packaging, and basically kind of relaunched the way we tell the Bullhorn story in that market. Those changes enabled customers to buy from us, and we saw our win rate double, which is a phenomenal result. We all know that win rate is a super sensitive measure. If I can get a 5 or 10% improvement in win rate, it moves the needle. But in this case we doubled our win rate, and we continue to win significantly more than we’re losing now, and our team is feeling really confident.”
🕰️ Making a C-level Strategic Decision in 15 Minutes Flat
“I was recently in a meeting with our whole senior leadership team who were discussing whether or not we needed to make a strategic investment in a certain area of our product in order to win in a specific market. Because I’d spoken with enough customers as part of our win/loss program, I was able to confidently provide my perspective about whether that product gap was or wasn’t a factor in our winning or losing deals. I didn’t even have to show the data. There was no presentation, just an open discussion. The best part was that we were able to arrive at a conclusion very quickly. I was able to say that we hadn’t heard about the particular issue in our interviews, and everyone got on board. This was a perfect example of a few months of work and a lot of preparation translating into a high-quality, 15-minute conversation. For me, that’s an optimal outcome for win/loss work: getting an answer everyone can buy into quickly.”
Advice for Getting Started
Jonathan and the team at Bullhorn have the pleasure and responsibility of being an industry leader, but they also recognize that their continued success relies in part on staying humble and staying hungry.
“As a marketer, I appreciate our smart competitors and the ways they tell their stories and position themselves against us,” Jonathan says. “Likewise, we work really hard to make sure that we’re always watching them and never taking them lightly. Win/loss research really helps us be smart about how we compete successfully by helping us identify the relevant differentiators that matter to our customers.”
For companies and teams thinking about taking a more programmatic approach to their win/loss research, Jonathan offers this advice:
👫 Establish strong partnerships with key stakeholders.
While getting leadership on board doesn’t usually require a hard sell (leadership is typically already committed to investing resources in figuring out how to compete and win more effectively and reliably), it’s important to be proactive about building collaborative relationships with teams like sales and marketing. “You have got to establish trust,” Jonathan says. “You want the kind of relationship in which your partner trusts that you’re going to deliver high-quality work and knows that your incentives are aligned, and you’re all in it together.”
👶 Don't be afraid to start small.
“The word ‘program’ can be a little scary,” Jonathan admits. “People assume it needs to become this big goal that winds up on the team or corporate scorecard. But while that may be true over time, you can start small and elevate one step at a time.”
🏌️ Be really clear about the problem you're trying to solve.
“Too often when people set out to do win/loss work, they aren’t entirely clear on exactly what problem they’re trying to solve,” Jonathan says. Instead of just throwing a wide net, and trying to feel their way into a solution, he recommends being intentional about having the right kinds of discussions with sales and other stakeholders on a regular basis. And then, based on those discussions, learn to recognize potential problem areas that bear additional exploration through win/loss research.
🔂 Don't be afraid to iterate.
You don’t have to have all the answers on day one. You can prove your value as you go, which will drive internal demand for your work. “It’s okay to say that you don’t feel smart about something,” Jonathan says. “Knowing you need to get smarter about something is a great starting point. And 10 interviews later, you will likely feel significantly smarter in a very short period of time.”
These are a few of the most important keys to win/loss research success, and Jonathan continues to build on that strong foundation at Bullhorn, consistently growing and refining the program to deliver more and more value to the entire organization.
“At this stage, I can be in a discussion with leadership or sales, hear a theme emerge, send a note to my DoubleCheck partner, and spin up 6 to 10 interviews to provide an answer to the question,” Jonathan says. “And I now have people coming to me with a question and asking if they can partner with my research team to find the answer. That’s when you know the win/loss mindset is in the water.”
Tune in to hear more from Jonathan on the full Blindspots Podcast episode.
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.