Win-Loss Reviews: Can't Live Without Them

When I meet someone in the product management community we eventually get around to talking about our respective product management processes. One of my favorite questions is, “What’s something in the process you just can’t live without? When you see it missing, what makes you cringe?"

For me this is the win-loss review.

The win-loss review is the core workout of product management. Not a single person on earth has ever looked forward to doing them, but you will never get better without them. They are the one thing that tells you if you’re thinking about positioning and building the right products. At the end of the day all that matters about your products is if they help your company win business. A P&L tells you which products win and lose, but the win-loss review helps you uncover why. From my experience here’s what makes bad and good win-loss reviews.

Bad win-loss reviews

1) Critique the sales person/people/process. Say it with me: A product manager is not in charge of sales or sales operations. If you want to learn more about sales management there are tons of great books out there. I suggest starting with Daniel Pink’s books (affiliate link, but not affiliated with the author). Your job is to uncover if your products are meeting customers needs, wants, hopes, desires, etc. You are not there to judge how sales handled the process. You have to deflect and forget anything you’ve heard about the sales person/people on the call and instead re-focus on the customer.

2) Lead the witness. Your job here is to get the customer to uncover why they chose you or your competitor, not for you to sell them on why they should chose you. This is really easy in the win scenario, but much tougher in the loss. We want to defend our products, we want to hear about how people love them, but that’s not the point here. The point here is to get the customer talking about your products in their own words.

3) Fail to prioritize the questions. You only get a limited amount of time with a former prospect/current customer, you must use them well. Your goal here is to get them to tell you why they chose you versus any alternative solution. The key questions any win-loss review must answer are these:
  • Why did/didn’t you choose X product/us?
  • What problem was X product solving in your business?
  • Where did we miss/do better?
  • Who/what else did you consider?
  • What can we do better next time?
There are plenty more questions you can ask, but if you don’t answer these 5 questions you aren’t doing a win-loss review in my book.

Great win-loss reviews

1) Engage the customer. The best of win-loss reviews are quotable to internal teams. You get customers telling you where you did well and where you missed the mark in their words. I cannot express how important this is. Bonus points if you feed this back to marketing to help drive better product marketing and engagement.

2) Ask why lots and lots of times. This feeds back to the point above. Get the customer talking and explaining. This is your window into the engagement process.

3) Thank the customer/prospect and follow up with hand written thank you notes. You are taking someone’s time that they certainly don’t have to spend with the product person. You owe them for their time- you’re getting way more out of this than they are. Your sales department will thank you for it too.