For the last eight or nine years, a lot of the content around sales improvement, especially as it pertains to prospecting and discovery, has been about providing insights and ideas, as well as being more strategic. These ideas have been critical to the evolution of sales, especially for B2B salespeople engaged in the complex sale. It is not that these approaches are in any way incorrect, it is that some of us write and speak about them as if they are universal, and I include myself in this accusation.
There is still a case for traditional discovery. There are still companies and stakeholders who benefit just as well from a prospective partner who asks questions to understand the areas where they are struggling. There are as many companies and people who are well aware of the challenges they have, who have really good ideas about what they need to make improvements, who need a partner to talk through how they might make those improvements, and who do not need to be compelled to change through a discovery process that allows them to discover something about themselves.
The role of a salesperson, especially one who would like to be a strategic partner, and whom one day hopes to be considered a trusted advisor, is to serve their prospective client. Many times we start with the idea of a platonic client, a client that represents all clients. At the time of this writing, there is much work being done around buyer personas, mostly generated by looking at an individual’s title to determine how to engage with them. These are useful orienting generalizations, but they are just that, generalizations. Moreover, all generalizations, regardless of how useful, are lies (this statement itself is a generalization, meaning it is a lie). The generalization we have started from for the last decade is that our prospective clients are not compelled to change, and we need to start every discovery call with context for conversation around why they need to do something different now. The limit of an orienting generalization is that it isn’t universally true.
The tension between certain ideas is where you can find real value. It’s critical that a salesperson generate strategic outcomes for their clients in a complex sale, but it’s equally vital that they be able to serve the individual stakeholders where they find them. Not every stakeholder is interested in understanding the strategic necessity to change before they talk about doing something different to improve the results. Some stakeholders benefit from a set of questions that help them understand how they can go about making things better, the choices that are available to them, and the trade-offs they may make.
If I were to offer you a principle to guide your actions here, it would be to match your approach to what generates the greatest value for your prospective client.