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Best Practices for B2B Sales - Sales Opportunity Postmortem

Authored by Ric Ratkowski on August 20, 2020

or a sales team, complacency is the enemy of improvement and growth.   Top sales teams continuously improve to achieve better standards, no matter what level of success they have reached in the past.  The blog “Best Practices for B2B Sales - Sales Pipeline Data & Process Improvement, focused on using analytics as a basis to identify bottlenecks in the sales process and create a process for continual improvement.  That is one way.  Doing a sales postmortem is another.  It provides an operational perspective on how to enhance the sales process.

A postmortem is an analysis of an event or a process, after it has been completed, to identify ways it can be improved. Postmortems are conducted on lots of things.  Examples include, product launches, events, and company projects.  Sales opportunity postmortem should be conducted on all closed opportunities, both “Closed-Won” and “Closed-Lost”.  Understanding the  reasons for a loss or a win and the customer’s experience with your company is essential to continuously improve your sales process.

Three Steps to the Postmortem

There are three steps to the postmortem.  

First, call the leader of the buying team and discuss with them the sales process and ask them to help you understand their decision.  When requesting the meeting it is important they know: 

  1. Your intent is not to try to sell them, but to better understand what happened so you can do better in the future
  2. The meeting will only take 15 minutes.

It is also important the sales rep isn’t the one requesting the sales postmortem, many times the sales rep’s manager is the natural person to ask for and discuss the sales with the buying team leader. These interviews with prospects will be one of the most eye-opening and important activities for improving the sales process.  These interviews will provide more empirical details to help evaluate the sales process, especially when they are complimented by the second step of the postmortem.

Second, analyze the sales process, including:

  • All the interactions
  • How the opportunity moved through the sales process
  • Any early on “tells” that may have been missed 
  • Any steps, process, or ideal customer profile items that were significant

Prepare a short slide deck or use views from your sales force automation platform[SFA] to summarize the sales process and significant action items.  Early on this presentation and/or the SFA platform views will evolve to a standard template that then can be used to streamline and standardize the postmortem process.

Third, present the findings to the group.  This is best done by the sales rep who owned the opportunity.  The group being presented could be just the sales rep’s manager, could be presented to the sales team, or could be presented during the quarterly business review[QBR].  Ultimately, different opportunities will be presented to different groups across all three of these options.  

Benefits From Doing a Postmortem

Postmortems have several benefits beyond recognizing missteps and refining the sales process, including:  

  • Encourage open communication
  • Promote learning and trying new things based on what works for others
  • Help internalize the sales process for sales reps beyond just a list of milestones and stages  
  • They act as a reminder of the important activities and “pieces” to the sales process

Reviewing both wins and losses can build a culture of learning and growth that will make your business more competitive.  For losses, postmortems allow sales teams to use the information to ensure any tactical missteps don’t happen again.

Challenges of Postmortems 

Someone different from the sales rep should perform step one of the postmortem,“call the leader of the buying team and discuss the sales process”.  There is an inherent bias with the salesperson determining the loss or win reason(s).  It helps eliminate the potential bias by the sales rep and it allows the prospects to speak more freely to an “objective” person.

Unfortunately, many companies choose to skip step one and just focus on the facts in step two, but combining the buyer's feedback with the facts from your SFA/CRM system creates a powerful multi dimensional perspective of the sales process.  Combining both also tends to uncover situations that have not been considered before.

The postmortems need to be delivered and accepted with the right attitude when performing step three of the postmortem process, “present findings to the group”.  These meetings are not about the blame game or finger pointing, they are meant to be a constructive process for fixing sales challenges so they impact the future in a positive way.  

For most companies, the biggest challenge with postmortems is it takes a lot of time to compile and reconstruct the buyer/seller interactions required for step two.  As a result, many companies only do a limited number of postmortems.  All sales opportunities beyond a key sales stage need a postmortem.  Those opportunities that don’t get beyond that key stage, still need a review but not as rigorous as the later stage postmortems. The challenge is drawing a line in the sand at the appropriate sales stage for determining which opportunities receive the more rigorous postmortem.  Also, don’t allow a focus on one deal, or one issue to hijack the discussion of the sales process.  It is easy to draw a quick conclusion and  shift resources to address the problem without understanding the scope or depth of the problem.  That is why completing both step one and step two is so important.  It provides a complete view of what happened.

Understanding why you win is as important as why you lose.  Perform the same rigor analyzing won deals as lost deals.

Best Practice 

Perform Sales Opportunity Postmortems on all Closed Opportunities

Background

The goal of a sales postmortem is to review and talk candidly about what went right and what went wrong during the sales process. Postmortems provide information that can be used to avoid making the same missteps down the road.  They are also one of the key tools used to revise the sales process. 

Problem/Business Need

There are three steps to a postmortem:

  1. Talk to the lead buyer of the buying team and get a debrief from them
  2. Analyze the sales interactions and steps, stages and timing of the sales process
  3. Present

The major stumbling block in the process is step 2.  Analysis of sales interactions, steps, stages and timing don’t normally exist as a by-product of the sales process and require considerable time to compile.  This is time spent by the sales rep at the expense of them being in front of the prospects.

Requirements:

The requirement is to automate step 2 so it is done as a by-product of the sales process.  This will minimize sales rep time to prepare for a postmortem and it allows postmortems to be completed on a larger percentage of total opportunities.

The need is to:

Have a postmortem report compiled through out the sales process for each sales opportunity.  This report can also be used during the sales process.  The same report is a valuable tool to update level one managers on what is going on with the opportunity and eliminate the need to interrogate the sales rep.

The postmortem report should include:

  • Sales Process Timeline - with complete detail on all interactions including the ability to review email and meeting content
  • Summary of how the opportunity fit the ideal customer profile
  • Summary of how and when sales milestones were completed
  • Summary of all tasks and activities were performed
  • Listing of the buying team by title and role

Baseline

Good

Better

Best

Sales teams do very few sales postmortems.  Many times they are only done as part of a QBR and focused only on a few key wins and losses.  In many cases they are only perform either step 1 or step 2 of the three step process for postmortems.

Sales postmortems are more frequent and are done as a learning experience for the sales reps.   The process for compiling the postmortem is still very manual.  Standard postmortem formats are evolving.

Sales postmortems are routinely done on a large portion of the sales opportunities.  The process is still very manual and time consuming.  Benefits are starting to be felt through revisions to the sales process and more consistent sales rep performance.

Sales postmortems are done on all sales opportunities.  There are two levels of postmortems, one for those opportunities ending early in the sales cycle and one for opportunities closing in late stage sales cycles.  The process of completing step 2 of the postmortem is automated and a by-product of the sales process.

 

At the baseline level, sales postmortems are performed very infrequently.  Many times they are added as part of a QBR process and opportunities are selected based on key wins and losses.  Many times these postmortems are sales rep introspections on what they will do differently in the next quarter.  None of the key benefits from postmortems are achieved because they are two infrequent and too informal and have a limited number of participants.

At the good level, sales postmortems are performed more frequently and the companies are seeing benefits as sales reps are empirically learning from the presentations and applying it to their sales cycles.  At the good level, companies recognize they need to increase the scope of postmortems but are limited by both the manual effort involved and the need for a more templaitized postmortem process.  

At the better level sales postmortems are being performed on a large portion of the sales opportunities.  The process is very manual and time consuming.  Some tools have been built to help automate parts of the process.  The companies are seeing benefits in sales rep performance, revisions to the sales process and in reduced cycle times for both “time to win” and “time to lose”.

At the best level sales postmortems are performed on all sales opportunities.  To save time, there are two levels of postmortems, one for sales opportunities that are close-lost early in the sales process and those that are close-lost late in the sales cycle and close-won opportunities.  

Not all sales postmortems are performed to the same group.  Companies have also refined the audience for postmortems.  Some postmortems on early stage losses are with the sales rep, first level sales manager and marketing to understand if these opportunities were qualified to begin with and to help align marketing with sales.  The group of mid-stage losses may be delivered to small sales teams.  Late stage losses are delivered during QBRs.  

One of the enabling factors for performing postmortems on all sales opportunities is the automated collection of sales interactions and the sales timeline for each opportunity.  This greatly reduces the sales reps effort for preparing a postmortem.  Also, the presentations on the postmortems are automated and a by-product of the sales process. 

The following are some examples of postmortem content.

The postmortem story starts with the opportunity timeline.  The screen below shows all the interactions from first touch through the ultimate close-won or close-loss endpoint.  The graph is measuring the health of the opportunity over time.

Opportunity Health Over Time

On the above screen the bars below the timeline show how long the sales process ran (top bar) compared to the average sales cycle for close-won opportunities.   Clicking on any of the small circles on the graph detail the sales interaction.

The screen below is an example of an email sales interaction.  The screen shows the complete email text and identifies if the email is inbound from the prospect or outbound to the prospect.

Email and Activity Detail

In addition to the timeline history, the screen below also shows a history of each sales stage and the attainment of milestones within each sales stage.  Both sales stages and milestones are configurable and can be driven from the CRM system.  Sales reps can easily update the milestone attainment through the email/calendar add in or through mobile, by selecting results as part of toggles, dropdowns and picklists.

Sale Stage and Milestone Detail

 

 

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