Why would you call on a prospective client to sell your products or services if you didn’t have a relatively well-formed theory about the problems and challenges they are almost certain to be experiencing?
How could you not know the primary challenges your dream clients experience well enough to be able to make several assumptions of where and why they need to change to improve their results?
How could it be possible that a person has worked in a sales rep role for years without recognizing the patterns they repeatedly see from one B2B buyer to the next?
Many of the ideas we have about discovery start with the idea that you need to ask your dream client questions in an attempt to identify and agree that they have some problems they need to solve. There are several challenges with these types of approaches, starting with the unfortunate experience it creates for the client when a salesperson desperately tries to find dissatisfaction, the prerequisite to sharing their solution.
Worse still, the approach eliminates the chances of being perceived as a subject matter expert and a peer, their approach positioning them as something less.
A modern consultative sales approach to discovery starts from a different place, one that allows you to successfully engage in a conversation that opens the possibility of exploring change. It’s also one that helps you compel change, helping to create dissatisfaction when it is absent.
What You Should Already Know
Before you make a discovery call, you should already know the primary challenges your dream client is likely to be experiencing. The proactive, trusted advisor, consultative-type salesperson would also have some ideas about what their prospective clients are going to suffer as challenges in the future, in addition to knowledge of their current problems.
Going into a discovery call, you should have some command of what is occurring in your potential client’s industry, the trends, the challenges, and the opportunities. The value of the internet and the information it provides is that deepening your understanding of your client’s business and their industry is only a couple of clicks and a few queries away. There are no longer any barriers to educating yourself to better serve your clients, other than your ability to will yourself to do the work.
Having worked in your industry for as many years as you have, you should have a certain perspective and a point of view based on seeing the same patterns over and over again. The longer you have worked in one industry, the more certain it is that you have seen all the major issues that cause your clients to change, the common mistakes they make, as well as their false assumptions.
Context and Content
A subject matter expert, the kind which you might pay to give you advice about your business, is going to need to know more than you know in some area. Why would you take advice about your business from someone who knows less than you, and who can’t help you see something you couldn’t see? Fishing around to try to find a problem identifies you as someone with little to offer in the way of insights, ideas, and experience.
A better approach is one that starts with what you might call an executive briefing, a summation of what you believe to be the root cause of many of your client’s problems and challenges, dressed up with data, validated proof, and the implications of the trends you know to be the root cause of poor results.
Instead of asking question after question, hoping to bump into a dissatisfaction that might compel change, you share a theory, with a large part of it informed by your—and your company’s—experience serving your clients.
By starting with a theory and your insights, you move past asking the kinds of questions that create no value for your clients, engaging them in a conversation about their strategic outcomes (see Eat Their Lunch) and how they might address their systemic challenges, challenges you already know they are experiencing. Instead of asking questions to identify the problems, your discovery is focused on the implications and how to produce better outcomes.
You are focused on what is compelling enough to cause your client to change. If you want to know why your discovery calls don’t result in the next steps, it is because the client’s experience doesn’t suggest they should share any more of their time and attention with you.
Transactional or Consultative
The idea that you have a solution searching for a problem indicates a transactional approach to selling, one that it is often inadequate to your goals in a discovery call. A consultative approach starts with the idea that your discovery conversation is going to create value for your prospective client, an outcome that is quite different than discovering their dissatisfaction. This is true when both and your contact are exploring an unlikely outcome with an outdated and more transactional sales approach.
Without a framework on which to hang your insights and your experience, you lack the structure necessary for a compelling discovery call. That same structure also needs to include the context for the conversation, one that allows you to connect the dots and help your client make sense of the root cause that limits them to their current state and what might need to change to enable a better future state.
Another old school idea is that one must be “a closer” to succeed in b2b sales. There might have been a time when that was true, but it is not true now. Winning big deals happens much earlier in the sales conversation, with the experience of your discovery calls making up a large part of your success.
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