The legacy discovery call has been completely and entirely commoditized, with the same pattern being repeated in sales meetings every day. Every one of these sales calls follows a template that is at least forty years old, and many elements date back more than a century. But what clients might have perceived as valuable forty years ago no longer matches their needs and expectations. The evidence is clear and compelling: sales is broken. As the legacy approaches to sales continue their slow decline into oblivion, new and more consultative approaches must replace them, offering clients a better experience.
One way to break out of these commoditized patterns is to begin your conversation with an executive briefing. This turns legacy discovery on its head, replacing the task of eliciting your client’s problem and pain with showing them something about themselves, their business, the root cause of their challenges, and the new potential available to them. In other words, rather than “discovering” a problem that you should already know about, you help your client discover something important about themselves.
I was struggling to help one of my existing clients improve their results. They were working from outdated assumptions and their thinking was plagued by misconceptions—their world had changed, so their old techniques were no longer effective. They were smart people, but they rarely took the time to recognize their context, so they had missed an inflection point. Unable to change their mind, I decided to prosecute their beliefs, the anchors that prevented them from changing, by giving them an executive briefing. Using close to one hundred slides and overshooting the mark, I replaced their assumptions and replaced them with new beliefs that were accurate and compelling. Later that afternoon, my main contact called me to tell me they were making the change I recommended.
From that day forward, I decided I would no longer carry the beautiful slide deck that started with the company's history, summarized our processes, and explained why the client should buy from us. All I needed was the executive briefing, keeping it updated (though generally below 100 slides) as I gained new data and new insights. That briefing replaced my legacy approach and made it much easier to compel clients to change, especially in an industry that required me to displace a competitor to win any new business.
One challenge of helping a prospect or a client explore change is that the conversation often lacks the necessary context. Without it, too many sales calls trail off into weak discovery, the kind that focuses on the problem the salesperson's "solution" is designed to solve. But clients urgently need to know about the real forces and trends and inflection points that are the root cause of their problems. Anything less lets them avoid facing the truth about the change they need to make.
When you read the data on why sales is broken, you get a sense of why the legacy approaches have lost their effectiveness. A legacy salesperson who wants to improve their results might believe that they just need more training. But if the data is right and the legacy approaches have failed, then more legacy training is not only useless but actually harmful. In this case, an executive briefing on the current state of sales would show that salesperson that they’ve missed the inflection point, compelling them to change how they sell or face extinction.
Asking your client to disclose their problem during discovery doesn't create a great deal of value. Your contacts are well aware of their problems, and they’ve already heard six other nondescript salespeople—just this week—ask the same questions and lead the same conversation. Being “lucky” number seven subtracts value from your approach, whereas providing a novel, provocative perspective creates value and helps your client address their real challenges.
The nature of B2B sales has changed. It has moved away from more transactional "why us" approaches to target consultative outcomes that exist beyond the salesperson's "solution." To be an effective salesperson today, you must also be an explainer, a teacher, and an industry expert. If you can provide the best understanding of the nature of your prospective client’s problem, you’ll be best positioned to win their business.
Once you can explain the client's world and see around corners, anticipating the inflection points that will harm your clients or your prospects, you can prevent them from suffering negative consequences. Once you have established yourself as a person who knows more about certain issues, your clients will rely on you to cover those topics for them, allowing them to focus on their own work while you keep up on what's going on outside their windows.
The salesperson who knows less than their client will have an increasingly difficult time creating value, as they have no knowledge, experience, insights, or a perspective that would improve their client's thinking about the decision to change, how best to pursue that change, and what factors they need to consider—all things that an executive briefing provides.