There are many reasons to invest in a win/loss program. For Salsify, the decision was a matter of scale, growth stage, and market evolution. Some of the world’s biggest brands—Mars, L’Oreal, Coca-Cola, Bosch, and GSK to name a few—rely on Salsify’s CommerceCM platform to win on the digital shelf. To compete in such a high-end market, Salsify needs accurate and actionable competitive intelligence. They are playing in the big leagues where every strategic advantage matters.
Salsify launched their win/loss program when Nathan Teplow came on board as Competitive Intelligence Director. Since his arrival, Nathan has continued to grow the program, learning along the way just how much value it delivers to all different parts of the organization.
“We consider our win/loss program as one of the key inputs into our competitive program,” Nathan says. “And while the natural first extension point is sales—as in, how can we leverage this feedback to improve our sales process—as we build up a bigger and bigger base of reports, we’re seeing how this intelligence can benefit other areas of the business.”
The program’s success is due in large part to Nathan’s highly collaborative approach to building and running the program. From the way he secured initial buy-in to his commitment to internal evangelism to his ability to keep program stakeholders engaged over the long term, Nathan has put in the work to build the relationships that are the foundation of any successful win/loss program.
Getting Buy-in: Start Early. Focus on Their Problems. Stay Engaged.
“I never felt like I had to fight an uphill battle,” Nathan says. “But, at the same time, you’ve got to go through some of the blocking and tackling early on to make sure you’re setting the program up for success.”
Nathan made sure to involve his key stakeholders—the executive team and key members of the leadership team—right from the start. Instead of giving them a traditional-style pitch, he focused on just one thing: asking them what they cared about. “We said we were starting the program up, and we wanted to know what they wanted to learn. What key questions did they think we should be asking,” Nathan explains. “And then we built that into our interview guide, which earned us buy-in very early on, and that helped us really push the program throughout the organization.”
After ensuring that key stakeholders would be personally invested in the program because it was designed to give them answers to their most pressing questions, Nathan made sure to keep the conversation going. For starters, he closed the loop on the initial conversations by sharing the interview guide as well as the first few reports. “We set up a kind of course-correction mechanism,” he says. “So, if there was something they didn’t like once they saw it in a real-life format, we could easily change it before setting off on our full program.”
And as the program has expanded and matured, Nathan continues to be intentional and consistent about maintaining its collaborative nature by providing hands-on support and delivering an ongoing cadence of insights. He regularly makes himself available to the various go-to-market teams for deal consultation, noting that helping out on one end of the deal makes it more likely that the various teams will in turn help him source future win/loss interview candidates.
Nathan also keeps stakeholders engaged via his bi-weekly newsletter, which features competitor insights (feature releases, funding milestones, events, etc.), nuggets of intel from other customer-facing teams, and—of course—insights from the most recent win/loss reports. In each of these areas, Nathan takes full advantage of every opportunity to acknowledge and applaud the contributions of other people in the organization. “It’s great to be able to share some of the cross-functional collaboration of a competitive intel program, and give people on the front lines some credit for surfacing great insights,” he says. “And the win/loss report insights often provide an opportunity to give an individual sales rep or team credit and visibility for the work they did to contribute to a win.”
Finally, Nathan makes all the win/loss reports fully accessible to the entire organization. “These reports aren’t something to be kept undercover or only shared with the exec team,” he says. “I constantly find myself going back to existing research, and it’s helpful to be able to direct a rep to relevant reports that can help them navigate a current deal more effectively.”
Selecting Candidates: Persistence Matters
Finding the right people to interview is crucial to developing a win/loss program that yields actionable insights. For Salsify, the selection process starts with some broad requirements around price criteria and the growth stage of a potential candidate company. From there, Nathan engages the sales team as a partner in deciding who makes the final cut.
In general, Nathan doesn’t run into much resistance. Because the sales team has been an active partner in developing the program, they don’t have any unfounded fears about having a buyer go through the process. The biggest roadblock Nathan encounters is simply getting internal folks to respond in a timely manner. He recommends simple persistence as the best way to get salespeople to follow through and make the introduction.
While his win/loss program is all about collaboration, Nathan cautions against leaning too heavily on the sales team’s opinions about whether a particular buyer is a good interview candidate. In his experience, it’s often worthwhile to push back a little if a sales person thinks a particular company isn’t worth pursuing, but you think differently. “Just because a sales person says a company isn’t a good candidate doesn’t mean it’s not a good candidate,” Nathan says. “It just means they have a point of view on it; but you should still make that decision together.”
Sharing Findings: Curation is Key
“If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” is an age-old philosophical experiment about the interrelated nature of observation and reality. As Nathan points out, a similar thought process can be applied to win/loss research: If a report comes in and no one reads it, does it do any good?
Nathan is committed to making sure that his win/loss reports get read. His approach to processing a new report breaks down into three steps:
- Step 1: He reads every word of the report thoroughly, from the takeaways to the full transcript.
- Step 2: He analyzes how the insights might impact different areas of the business. Is there product feedback that would be most helpful to the product team? Are there specific learnings about a new competitor that might be useful to sales?
- Step 3: He divvies up the various pieces of intel, and gets them to the right stakeholders across the organization—providing each team with a curated summary that focuses on just the insights that matter specifically to them.
Nathan has learned that it’s incredibly important to ensure that various groups within the organization are getting insights that actually mean something in the context of their day-to-day work. “Initially, I didn’t understand how much time goes into digesting and breaking down the win/loss material,” he says. “But I’ve since found that it’s very worthwhile to spend the time to do it right.”
Another practice Nathan has found extremely helpful in terms of both analysis and sharing is text tagging. “We’ve been working in full partnership with DoubleCheck to figure out how to scale and systematize our text tagging so it allows us to look across all our reports and identify trends,” he explains.
Effective tagging allows you to drill down and break out the different characteristics and themes in a conversation or series of conversations. This makes insights much more useful. For example, asking about business challenges at a high level is a default win/loss question, but the responses become much more valuable if you can, for example, tag excerpts that tell you a customer cares more about internal efficiency or digital growth. That information could change the way you pitch your solution.
“We’re really just at the tip of this iceberg on this,” Nathan says. “But being able to organize our tags effectively has really helped us turn a lot of the qualitative data that we’ve collected through win/loss reports into quantitative data that we can take action on.”
Finally, Nathan is always intentional about sharing positive feedback, particularly with sales reps and their managers. This helps close the loop on hypotheses and insights while at the same time providing an opportunity to recognize standout sales efforts. “Salespeople are generally extroverts who like being in the limelight and having the chance to shine,” he says. “It’s good to be able to give them that opportunity.”
Defining Success: Balancing Growth and Stability
The Salsify win/loss program has performed well, delivering a noticeable lift in competitive win rate throughout 2021. The results aligned with pre-launch expectations, which has been very validating for the team.
“We looked at the competitive win rate, and then projected the estimated lift and corresponding increase in revenue to show the ROI of investing in the program,” Nathan says. “Our executive team has been happy with our results, the summaries we’ve done, the intel we’re surfacing, and the way we’ve operationalized the program. And this has led to them allocating additional funds so we can do even more with the program.”
While Nathan is, of course, pleased with the program’s success and increased leadership support, he also appreciates the goal of achieving a level of program maturity that will enable more of a maintenance mode. “After a certain point, you have your metrics and tracking in place so you can respond quickly when new competitors pop up, or existing competitors change their strategies,” he says. “You can easily get visibility into why you are winning (or losing) against a specific competitor by using all the data from your repository of reports. At this stage, you don’t have to treat every inquiry like a brand new research project.”
In addition to mining historical research for long-term trends and insights, getting a program to this level of competence and stability also means that you can address emerging challenges and threats with a high level of efficiency. For example, instead of reinventing the wheel, you might only need to finesse your interview guide.
Collaboration: The Key to a Successful and Ongoing Support
Multiple factors contribute to the ongoing success of Salsify’s win/loss program, but two key ideas that have played an instrumental role in both establishing the program and growing it are Nathan’s highly collaborative, relationship-driven approach and his commitment to continually driving awareness about the program by both promoting it and making it a valuable resource to people all across the company.
It is no small task to get buy-in on a new initiative from all the different teams within an organization. And it can be particularly challenging to get sales buy-in on a win/loss program, which can sometimes be initially perceived as a threat to sales autonomy. But by involving leadership and front-line team members from all different areas, especially sales, Nathan was able to slowly build up credibility and trust.
And then, to ensure that he didn’t lose any ground, he made sure he was consistently evangelizing the program through his road show, newsletter, and simply being available as a resource. Simultaneously, he used these various vehicles to shine a light on star performers from outside of his team, whether that was a sales rep who did an extraordinary job landing a big deal, or a customer success manager who helped uncover a critical insight.
At the end of the day, the win/loss program is there to benefit the entire organization, so it makes sense that everyone should be involved. As Nathan says, “The bottom line is figuring out how to make our team better at competing against our competition.” It’s as simple as that.
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