How Sales Teams Can Get The Most Value From Every Discovery Call

By: Teresa Weirich

June 24, 2018

Sales leaders know that the discovery process has many, many downstream effects. One simple call (or series of calls, depending on deal size and complexity as well as stakeholder involvement) sets the foundation for the entire sales process. Often times, a deal will go dark or will fall off altogether at the proposal stage, and the problems can be traced back to lack of discovery or too little discovery early on.

Conducting thorough discovery has many benefits that are actually quite tangible throughout the entire sales process as it:

  • Helps the prospect see problems or challenges they didn’t realize existed—broadening the possible solution
  • Establishes the salesperson’s credibility by demonstrating their understanding of the prospect’s industry or market
  • Explores the value and/or importance of solving the problem
  • And much more

Discovery is so imperative to sales that many sales leaders believe that ultimate success comes down to this all-important step in the sales process. Missed a key question? That’s a miss that is sure to come up later in the process. Got a conflicting response from stakeholders? That will most likely cause a riff later on. Didn’t dig deep enough into the prospect’s mediocre response? The sales professional will likely uncover the revealing reason for the lukewarm response at a critical stage in the process.

Most sales teams have a go-to list of questions, or what we often call a “playbook” to ask during every discovery conversation. And while those questions are a good place to start, they likely won’t tell the whole story or uncover every element that could later play an important role. Sales leaders hire their team members because of the skills and artfulness they possess: their genuine curiosity, their tenacity, their personality and their character. These attributes should shine during the discovery call and, when done correctly, should serve to build upon the original questions to reveal the true story. Only then can a sales professional really, truly do what they do best: have great sales conversations. (PS – we’ve developed a fully-loaded template to help sales teams design a discovery playbook – you can download it here!)

Clearly Communicate the Call Objectives and Agenda

Before a discovery call is even scheduled, the objectives of the meeting—as well as the agenda—should be crystal clear. The prospect and any decision makers involved should understand that they’ll be asked some in-depth questions that they’ll be expected to answer. They should also be encouraged to ask questions and engage throughout the discovery process, sharing anything and everything that may be helpful. The prospect on the other end of the call should feel completely comfortable and confident that everything their team shares will be used to tailor a better solution and to help them overcome the challenges that they’re facing—not fear that their responses will be used against them in any way.

Even though the objectives and agenda should be covered on the call when the sales professional or SDR sets up the meeting, it’s a good idea to send an email reminder several days before the discussion and also set the stage at the beginning of the actual discovery call. When it comes to discovery, it’s better to over-communicate than to leave details out—especially considering that many prospects will bring new stakeholders into the conversation at discovery time.

Do Ample Research—And Then Do Even More

When it comes to discovery, there’s nothing more important than research. And while sales professionals have to multi-task with many ongoing deals at any given team, research prior to a first discovery call is never wasted time. In a recent conversation with Jonathan Sherman, SAE at Pluralsight, he shared that “no sales professional prepares to the full extent that they could. If I can be more prepared and follow-up after the fact better than the competition, it’s a pretty simple way to set myself apart and earn customer confidence at the same time.”

While there’s no silver bullet for how much research should be done prior to a discovery call, the sales professional should at least have a good grasp of the following:

  • The company’s background, industry, and geographic presence
  • The number of employees and revenue (as available)
  • The company’s founders, partners, an executive team (including the Board of Directors)
  • The company’s fundraising history
  • Insight into the company’s products or solutions
  • Information on the company’s ideal customer profile and their needs

Express Genuine Curiosity About the Prospect’s Situation

Building upon the research that the sales professional did during preparation, now is the time to dig deep and express genuine curiosity about the prospect’s situation: their unique challenges, their opportunities, their goals, their fears, and even their objections.

While it can be a tough balance to continually ask questions while maintaining control of the call, the deep questions will help the prospect see that the sales professional is passionate about the solution at hand and isn’t just trying to sell something. The phrase “genuine curiosity” is one that we’ve heard from sales professionals recently, and we believe it accurately reflects the way that discovery especially should be handled. Sales professionals shouldn’t just accept grey responses and need to ask follow-up questions like:

  • Can you tell me more?
  • Why is that a problem for you?
  • How does that affect you and your team?
  • Can you share an example of what that means?
  • And so on

These questions simply won’t allow a prospect to give mediocre answers—and when the deal finally closes and the solution is in place? They’ll be very glad that they didn’t.

Keeping Asking the Question Until You Get an Answer

Many sales professionals—especially those in enterprise sales—are very aware of the fact that many prospects view salespeople as pushy, even if that stereotype is fading. So when a prospect doesn’t answer a question or deflects it, it’s all too tempting to move on or ‘save’ the question for another day. When a prospect deflects an answer, however, it can be a sign that they don’t truly trust the sales professional yet or see value in the solution, which is a red flag. By simply moving on, it signals to the prospect that it’s okay to not answer a question or perhaps not divulge all details.

In order for an enterprise-level sale to move swiftly through the process, however, questions simply cannot go unanswered. Sales professionals need to carefully share with their prospects why the question is so important—the groundwork it lays for solution consulting, for instance. And if the prospect doesn’t answer? The question needs to be re-asked (and re-asked again, perhaps in a different way) until the answer is revealed.

Follow-up With Clear and Articulate Next Steps

Finally, after a prospect divulges all of the intimate details of their organization, a trust factor has been established—albeit in the beginning stages. The sales professional needs to continue proving herself throughout the entire sales process, and follow-up after the discovery meeting is one key way to do this. Many sales professionals don’t enjoy the tactical details of sales—the data entry, the note taking, the follow-ups—but these elements are absolutely critical to establishing trust.

Once again, Jonathan sets himself apart from the competition and builds trust by paying attention to detail on the little things. Rather than rushing through the tactical administrative tasks or matter-of-factly ‘outsourcing’ them to more junior associates, Jonathan aims to focus on them and emphasize them. For example, Jonathan sends follow-up emails after meetings, detailing who was present and what was discussed, as well as planned next steps. It’s little things like this that are often overlooked, but go a long way in terms of earning trust and building credibility with prospects and clients.

There’s no doubt about it—the enterprise discovery process can be difficult. However, armed with the right tools and the proper skills, sales teams can excel where most fall short: digging deep into discovery and paving the way for a successful sales process for all involved.

  • Teresa Weirich's Headshot
    Teresa Weirich

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