From Strategy to Tactics; Premortem, AAR, and Win Loss Analysis

Ed Marsh | May 13, 2022

Tl;dr - Companies can predetermine the success of top-line revenue growth experiments by how they test and measure. Using the right tools will lead to better decisions. Premortem, AAR, and win loss analysis are examples of tools appropriate for different types of decisions.

The Tactics Testing Fallacy

Often when I work with companies on implementing elements of ORE™ such as digital lead generation or a more rigorous sales process, there's an eagerness to first test ideas that seem radically different. 

Industrial companies often wonder if tactics will work in their industry, and for their buyers. Those are reasonable questions. Testing is an appropriate response.

But there are two downsides to testing that I've seen frequently.

First, by identifying a test as such, companies immediately reduce the commitment to a full effort. After all, it's just a test, when push comes to shove the "regular" activity takes priority. 

When a pilot group of salespeople is incrementally excused from participating in a target account sales/account-based marketing initiative because routine prospecting is lagging, the test is destined to fail. That decision dictates the outcome. There isn't really a test after all.

Second, testing can be a very seductive way to actually avoid changing. It's easy to concoct some scenario of iterative tests where there's always one more to do. This gives everyone involved the "air cover" to feel innovative, bold, and rational in exploring new approaches, but really just helps them deflect change and maintain the status quo.

Both are a problem.

That's not to say that testing is bad and shouldn't be part of every initiative. After all, PDCA (plan, do, check, act) is an important part of process engineering that is at the core of Overall Revenue Effectiveness.

So what's the solution?

Beyond legitimate management business commitment, better decision tools can help optimize the process of setting, implementing, and executing B2B strategy.

Three Decision Tools From Top to Bottom

The magnitude of a decision informs the best process and the tools. "Bet the company" decisions naturally involve different criteria than whether to walk away from a competitive sales opportunity.

I've outlined below three tools that I find to help companies make better decisions and learn from the ones they've made.

  • Premortem
  • AAR (after action review)
  • Win/Loss Analysis

These are generally in order from highest level/most strategic to lowest level/most tactical.

Premortem Project Decision Framework

A premortem is the inverse of the more familiar post-mortem. Using a premortem, a project team assumes that at some point in the future they'll realize the course of action they're currently considering was actually an error. They work to understand why they made that poor decision - before they make the mistake.

This interesting approach forces folks to identify latent risks which are easy to rationalize in the rush to advocate FOR a decision or project. By explicitly anticipating the reasons why it will fail, but in a less threatening hypothetical context, they can be more reflective and realistic. Because the team is specifically charged with, and collaborates in, anticipating challenges, concerns are presented in a way that mitigates conflict between proponents and opponents.

As the team looks back from a hypothetical point in the future and reasons are identified for why the proposed project faltered or failed, then they can be analyzed. Are there latent risks that had been overlooked? Should the project be shelved? Or implemented with additional resources or safeguards?

The premortem can slow momentum enough to make better choices. It encourages creativity and honesty in exploring risks. And it provides the opportunity to mitigate risks from the outset allowing a project to proceed but with important safeguards.

In the context of top-line revenue growth in the capital equipment industry, premortems can be used for business strategy decisions including:

  • product roadmap extensions
  • new market entry (geography or industry)
  • changing the sales organization structure (e.g. to work in collaborative marketing and sales pods, add inside sales, restructure territories, etc.)
  • inorganic growth/acquisition opportunities
  • licensing and partnerships for technology extensions
  • capacity adjustments to address market trends

After Action Review

This tool will be more familiar. From reviewing "game films" to post sales call debriefs, AARs as the military often calls them, help to capture important lessons learned in action in the field and while they are fresh in everyone's mind.

In contrast to a prospective premortem, an AAR is naturally retrospective. Ideally, it involves feedback from "observers" who participated with the express intent of capturing realistic and clear-eyed impressions. That could be by a camera (game films), audio recording (AI enhanced conversational analysis and recording with tools like HubSpot,, and, data and metrics (A/B test results for website conversions), or an observer like a sales manager.

AARs help to improve in two ways. First, they can provide immediate feedback to inform adaptations in technique. Because success is iterative (improving OEE and ORE), an AAR informs the changes that will hopefully improve each iteration.

Second, they create a culture that simultaneously confirms commitment to an approach (no, you can't just passive-aggressively wait out our target account sales efforts) and holds individuals accountable to develop individually and as part of company, department or function improvement.

AARs don't happen accidentally, however. Consistent improvement is built on a defined process, documentation, KPIs, and accountability for their conduct and the results.

Sales Win Loss Analysis

Most companies have some form of win/loss data. For a surprising number, it's anecdotal - possibly captured in weekly reports or a spreadsheet. For the best-performing companies, it's always available via CRM dashboards and reports - continuously updated and reflecting parameters to help interpret the data.

For instance, is the closed/won success rate divergent between target industries? Competitors? Salespeople? Product lines? There's powerful, actionable insight to be gleaned from those relative factors.

But that relative data is built on absolute data, and valuable insights require accurate data.

Too often win loss analysis is casual and reflects a lack of responsibility among the sales team. Left to their own devices, most sales teams will report that deals are lost because of competitive discounting, long lead times, or missing features. Each of those factors may be at play, but it's the salesperson's job to win. They turn to these excuses to foist responsibility for their failure onto other colleagues or 3rd parties. That's why research predicts that only 33% of salespeople will make quota this year, and it's why I say it's a myth that deals are ever really lost to "no decision."

So how can you structure a program of consistent and effective win-loss analysis?

Here are a few tips to help.

  1. Establish a culture, process and expectation of excellence - like so many aspects of top-line revenue growth, if management is half-hearted the team will be too.
  2. Integrate sales and marketing - this must be a collaborative effort like much of revenue growth in a digital world.
  3. Sales process - you need a well documented process, rigorously followed and tracked.
  4. Expand your marketing team - Industrial marketing needs to fill functions beyond trade shows and journal ads. Product marketing and competitive intelligence, along with sales enablement are functions related to win loss analysis, but often missing from the marketing department.
  5. Develop a template - the win loss analysis should follow a consistent template1 and include a variety of details and substantiation. It's not enough to note that the competitor discounted, but rather you must capture the initial price and the final winning price along with related concessions from both parties. (Note that obtaining this data will be naturally challenging for the same salespeople that fall prey to these situations. That's not a flaw in the process, but rather a reflection on sales management.)
  6. Analyze the data - over time you'll find important information. Does a specific lead source outperform? Do certain defined business requirements predict wins? Is the size of the quantified cost of no action the most reliable predictive factor? Or does the success of team selling in penetrating the capital approval committee predict win/loss? You won't know when you start. The point is that you need to collect enough to let the data tell the story. 

Win loss analysis takes time. It's easy to skip, and feels fruitless when a haphazard process allows every loss to be attributed to pricing and every win to sales skill and technical features.

But a robust, systematic program of win/loss analysis will support important training, coaching and talent management decisions. And it will inform B2B strategy decisions around product/market fit.

Tools to Make Better Decisions

Top companies have decision-making tool kits with various tools that are appropriate for the different decisions that are made.

Some decisions are made very occasionally and have a big potential impact; others routinely with less impact.

Premortem, AAR and win loss analysis are three tools that should be part of every company's decision-making toolkit.

1 - Here's a win loss analysis template you can download from Crayon