Discovery is an essential part of the sales process. It’s one of the most talked-about sales competencies and is well known by sales reps, yet not well done by them.
There are so many supposed sales “shortcuts” published. We often hear about “the words that sell” or how swearing in meetings increases the likelihood of moving forward. With all the noise, it’s easy for novice and intermediate sellers to lose sight of what the elite sellers do differently that truly improves their performance.
Unfortunately, there are no simple shortcuts to great discovery. That said, there are a few mindsets and behaviors to make sure you get right to get the best results. Let’s look at some common mistakes and the easy fixes that can radically improve your discovery skills (and your sales results).
Mistake #1: A Seller-Centric Mindset
Too many sellers still have a seller-centric mindset, meaning they are too focused on selling their product. It’s 2021, folks. It’s time to shift to a buyer-centric mindset and approach to establish more valuable relationships with customers. Here are two things you can do to start that journey quickly.
Product-Centric vs. Problem-Centric
Ineffective sellers approach the market about their product and are product-centric in discovery. Unless your product changes the world, don’t buy into being “product-led.” Elite sellers focus on what their buyers and decision-makers value. That includes resolving their problems and challenges, but can also mean capitalizing on opportunities or external factors that give your buyer a competitive advantage.
Seller’s Interests vs. Buyer’s Interests
The “best-of-the-best” sellers understand that buyer-centric, consultative, value-centric, outcome-oriented selling is about selling the way their buyers want to buy and operating in their buyers’ best interests. This includes knowing what your buyers value, whether it’s business, experiential, aspirational, or personal value and messaging appropriately to communicate the value you can deliver from their perspective.
Mistake #2: Semi-Organized Chaos
We’ve heard that luck happens when preparation meets opportunity. In sales, this means you have to do your homework to be more successful at discovery. Plan your sales call by researching the buyer and conducting a Situation Assessment. Yes, we want to remain adaptive. No, we don’t want to wing it without structure or preparation. Here are three things that sellers currently do and three actions to bring organization to improve your discovery skills.
Winging It vs. Sales Call (and Discovery) Planning
Too many reps make the mistake of winging it or thinking they can master discovery without a solid framework or a well-oiled process. It just doesn’t work that way. Instead, build a plan for every discovery session:
✓ Do your pre-call research, and plan your call objective and back-up objective.
✓ Create and share an agenda with your buyers in advance.
✓ Open the meeting by reviewing your plan, the value to your buyers, and your joint objectives.
✓ Check to see if anything has changed with your buyers or what they want to accomplish.
✓ Gain agreement to proceed and run the discovery session (Situation Assessment).
Using a Series of Questions vs. a Framework and Process
Discovery certainly involves asking questions, but to top producers, it’s so much more. It’s a strategy with tactics and a logical thought process. In Modern Sales Foundations, we teach a discovery framework called Situation Assessment. The structure is simple. You uncover the current state and the desired future state, specifically the components of the COIN-OP model (Challenges, Opportunities, Impacts, Needs, Outcomes, and Priorities), as laid out below.
Relying on Memory vs. Effective Note-taking
In this age of call recording and conversation intelligence, some reps think they don’t need to take notes. Others never did or never did it well. Have you ever seen a word-for-word transcription of a conversation? People jump all over the place. Top reps tend to guide the conversation and stay on track. But sometimes, something the buyer says is compelling enough to switch topics. Notes allow you to do that, but to be able to come back to where you veered off. They also allow you to do clear summaries at the end of the meeting. I still suggest recording meetings whenever your buyers are comfortable with it, but note-taking is more effective during a meeting.
Mistake #3: Superficial Skimming
Sellers often ask surface-level (or even leading) questions to serve up the opportunity to pitch their product. This goes back to mistake #1 of having a seller-centric mindset. Instead, bring in the organization used to correct mistake #2 and apply a diagnostic approach to enhance discovery.
Making Assumptions vs. Peeling the Onion
Many reps jump from topic to topic and make assumptions rather than clarifying details. Elite reps discuss one topic at a time and “peel the onion” on each to get past the superficial, surface-level detail and strive to uncover root causes.
A Product Approach vs. A Diagnostic Approach
This step in the Situation Assessment will mine gold for you and significantly improve your effectiveness. Rather than racing through superficial questions so that you can commence with pushing their product, elite sellers use a diagnostic approach with gap and impact analyses.
Once you understand the buyer’s current and desired future states, do a gap analysis to determine the “needs,” meaning what it will take to close the gap to move to the desired future state. To determine whether there is a compelling business case, you conduct an impact analysis. To do this well, you should “dollarize” the impacts. Then you document the gap between the current and future state, assuming the current state impacts are resolved, and the desired future state outcomes are achieved.
Remember, you still need to qualify the opportunity to ensure it makes sense for you to pursue it.
Mistake #4: Not Recapping Value
During discovery, many sales reps completely miss a chance to recap what they understand. The best sales pros include recaps in the agenda and have a plan to discuss it at the end of the meeting. Here are a couple of ways to incorporate recaps for better discovery.
Open-Ended Endings vs. Recaps and Decisions
Many reps run out of time and scurry at the end. If you see the clock running out, it’s better to “call an audible” and adapt to recap progress, check on the buyers’ perspective, and either agree that you can run long (no one has a hard-stop) or schedule another meeting to continue. This is far better than ending abruptly without a recap or discussion about the logical next steps (when it makes sense for both parties).
Assuming Alignment vs. Sending a Summary
The other recapping mistake is thinking that everyone is aligned and not sending a summary (or even a recording link, when appropriate). Top reps send a thorough meeting summary, highlighting the value from the buyer’s perspective. Great summaries include the topics discussed, open issues, decisions made, the Situation Assessment summary with the business case, any action items and assignments, and of course, the next steps that you agreed on.
Break the Status Quo to Fix the Common Mistakes of Discovery
Discovery allows you to understand your buyer’s problems and allows them to gain confidence in who you are and how your company can help them. Avoid the common mistakes of a using seller-centric mindset, being unprepared and disorganized in your assessment.
To change your results, you have to change your habits. Complacency is rampant with average and below-average performers, and it is not the path to becoming a top performer. Okay, to be fair, complacency isn’t a mistake of discovery, but it is equally important to steer clear of.
Sales leaders and managers, this applies to you, too, because cultivating true mastery with discovery can radically improve the performance of your sales force. Give up on “words and phrases that work” and start retooling your practices and methodology for discovery.
The ball is in your court!
We’re happy to help your sales team improve their discovery and strengthen your overall sales processes. Learn more information about Modern Sales Foundations™ sales training as you consider transitioning to a buyer-centric system.
Modern Sales Foundations
Use a buyer-centric approach to improve sales results.
What it takes for salespeople to deliver value has changed significantly as the modern buying process has evolved. Modern Sales Foundations™ (MSF) is an end-to-end sales training program that teaches sellers the buyer-centric strategies and approaches needed to excel in today’s marketplace.