OK, you know you have to do Win-Loss Analysis. It’s one of the best ways to make sure you correctly understand the market and its problems—upon which you based, well, everything.

But unfortunately, it is very difficult to get these customers/former prospects lined up for Win-Loss interviews, and even rarer for the interviews to actually happen. Why? Because the Win-Loss interview usually benefits only the vendor and not the interviewee.

I’ve done many Win-Loss interviews, so here’s my advice for getting these interviews to happen.

1. Ask for Win-Loss interviews about 3-4 weeks after the deal closed or was definitively lost. You want them to clearly remember why they did or did not pick you, so don’t wait too long. But if you approach them too early,  lost prospects might decline from fear that you are really trying to re-open the sales process. Or you might unknowingly introduce doubt in the mind of a “won” customer who hasn’t yet paid for your product.

2. Make the following exceedingly clear in your request for an interview:

  1. The interview will last no longer than 20-30 minutes.
  2. You will not be attempting to re-open the sales process.You are not in Sales, you are in XXXX (i.e. Product Management, Marketing, Development, etc…).
  3. Your main motivation is to make sure you correctly understand the market, and can build the best product for that market.

3. Promise some degree of confidentiality. Obviously, you want to share the results of Win-Loss interviews internally and can’t provide complete confidentiality. But to get honest feedback about, for example, whether a personality conflict with your sales rep was a factor in a loss, you should give interviewees the option to request that certain remarks be “off the record.”  Explain that for “off the record” comments, you might include the remark in an aggregate report that covers many customers, but only if it can’t be traced back.

4. Offer something in return. All the above suggestions make it less painful for customers/lost prospects to participate in Win-Loss analysis interviews, but there’s still nothing it it for them.  By making the Win-Loss interview an exchange, even a very lopsided one, you significantly increase your chances of landing an interview.

For “won” customers, offer something that will help them become more successful with the product more quickly. This might be a white paper, access to a special web-based training session, or something similar.

For lost prospects, it’s tougher to offer them something without the appearance of impropriety — as if you’re trying to buy your company back into the game.  To avoid this, one possibility is hiring an outside consultant, and having him/her say “thank you” to interviewees with gifts of nominal value, such as low-dollar-value Starbucks or Amazon gift cards.  Another idea is to thank them by donating $100 to a a charity they choose or to a neutral charity like United Way or the Red Cross.

5. Be persistent but very nice. More than likely, you will have to work hard to set up a full schedule of Win-Loss interviews with customers and lost prospects.  If they don’t call you back, call again later  and send and follow up with an email.  I typically call five times before I give up.  Each time, be as nice as possible.  Remember, you are asking for a favor!

6. Be prepared for last minute cancellations and postponements. It’s going to happen. Your Win-Loss analysis is much more important to you than to your customers and lost prospects, so many will blow you off. Expect this, but immediately try to reschedule for a specific time and day.  If your target interviewee declines, ask if there is someone else at the company you might ask who has a deep understanding about the factors that drove the purchase decision.