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No, this isn’t an article about forensics. In business terms, a post-mortem is an analysis of an event or a process, held soon after it has occurred, to identify ways it can be improved. Post-mortems are often conducted after product launches, events, and company projects.
For the purpose of this article, I’m defining a post-mortem as an interview with a prospective client shortly after learning you didn’t win their business in the RFP process.
Fully understanding the nuances behind the reasons for a loss—and the customer’s experience with you—is essential if you aim to continuously improve your sales process.
In my 25-year career in B2B marketing and business development, conducting post-mortem—and post-win—interviews with prospects and clients has been one of the most eye-opening and important activities for improving the sales process. I’ve conducted dozens of them, and I have tweaked my process through the years as I saw opportunities for improvement.
Hopefully, you are already tracking bid outcomes and reasons for losses. If you’re like most B2B companies, this information is typically provided by the salesperson, who selects from a short pick list of reasons—cost, lack of references, competitor had a geographic advantage—whatever it may be for your specific industry. Unfortunately, there’s an inherent bias for the salesperson identifying the loss reason. And even without the bias factor, if you rely solely on pick lists, you’re getting only a small piece of the story. Fully understanding the nuances behind the reasons for a loss—and the customer’s experience with you—is essential if you aim to continuously improve your sales process.
Whether you already conduct post-mortems and are looking to refine your process or it’s something you’d like to adopt, you need to develop a process that makes the most sense for your industry and your company. Here are a few best practices to jump-start your efforts:
- Have someone outside of the sales team conduct the post-mortem. This not only eliminates a potential bias but also allows prospects to speak more freely, to an “objective” person. They may be uncomfortable sharing negative impressions with the salesperson with whom they’ve developed a rapport.
- Aim for conducting a post-mortem on every bid. The more results you have, the better you can weed out anomalies and identify trends.
- Use a script—to make the best use of your and their time, and for consistency across interviews. Map out the key questions you feel would be valuable for enhancing your company’s process and put them in writing so you don’t forget.
- Know when to go off script. While the script is important, be prepared to recognize when it’s appropriate to skip a question or have an off-script conversation.
- Provide regular summary reports to the sales and marketing teams to highlight key lessons learned and recommendations for process improvements.
Have someone outside of the sales team conduct the post-mortem. This not only eliminates a potential bias but also allows prospects to speak more freely, to an “objective” person.
Developing Your Script
While scripts will vary significantly across various industries and businesses, I would recommend incorporating some of these general questions:
- What triggered you to initiate an RFP process?
- How did you identify the vendors?
- What criteria did your team use to compare the vendors?
- What selection process did you follow?
- What factors contributed to your final decision?
- Is there anything we could have done differently to win your business?
Remember that to truly gain value from the post-mortem process, you need to think of it as a means to identify ways that your company can improve its (1) product/service offering and (2) sales process. A successful post-mortem process should, over time, effectively enhance both.
Tracy Young is vice president of marketing for American Physician Partners, a physician practice management company, and CEO of TWYOUNG Consulting, a B2B marketing and business development advisory firm. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.