It is increasingly difficult to make sense of the intricate, complicated, and sometimes convoluted, tangled mess that is business today. Globalization and the flattening of Earth have eradicated abject poverty for much of the world, and in doing so, created the greater competition that has, in many ways, led to commoditization and a race for better products and services at ever-lower prices.
Though the internet has now been around for decades, the relatively new use of technology to disintermediate whole industries continues to march forward, with almost no industry being left unaffected.
Business, in many ways, is more challenging than ever. It’s more challenging to predict a future that seems to be always more disruptive and one that always seems to be speeding up. In many ways, some of our b2b sales models are no longer effective at helping us make sense of our world, and many are inadequate to the challenges of business today. This is especially true when it comes to the concept and execution of discovery in sales.
The American philosopher, Ken Wilber, discovered a framework he appropriately named Integral Theory, a useful way of making sense of everything. Integral Theory starts with the idea that everything in our universe is a holon, the conceptual truth that everything is both a whole and a part. For example, you are an individual, but you are part of a family, a part of business, and a part of a team, among other collectives.
Wilber’s work is based, in part, on the idea that all holons are made up of four separate quadrants, providing a different—and much higher resolution—view of, well, just about everything.
The four quadrants are Individual External, Individual Internal, Collective Exterior, and Collective Interior, none of which needs to make sense to you now, and all of which will make sense with an example. But first, let’s take a look at what’s wrong with the way we engage in discovery now.
Inadequate Discovery Processes and Methodologies
There may not be anything worse than discovery that starts with “What’s keeping you up at night,” a question that presumes your dream client is already dissatisfied with their current state or their current provider. Asking this question assumes your dream client will provide you with what’s compelling them to change so you can pitch them your product or service, making it easy to create and win a new opportunity.
Today, that question will not serve you well.
Even if your dream client is dissatisfied, it isn’t likely they’re going to be compelled to share ideas with a salesperson who doesn’t already have some idea about what should be compelling them to change. Nor does one who can create value for them, something you prove by using a modern sales approach, one that it is consultative.
Other approaches to discovery start with the idea that you ask questions, fishing around for areas where the client isn’t producing the result they want, and exposing areas where they might need better results. Many challenges with these approaches are that it feels like an interrogation, with the salesperson working hard to convince the client to admit to some pain point.
Another weakness in this approach is that it makes several assumptions that are no longer true, like the idea that there is a single decision-maker, that the pain point should be enough to compel change by itself when it hasn’t up until this point.
You make it difficult for your clients to see you as a trusted advisor when your approach to what is often the essential part of the process as it pertains to winning big deals doesn’t begin with a theory as to why your dream client should change, based on some understanding of their industry, their challenges and their opportunities.
Discovery In All Four Quadrants
What traditional discovery is lacking is provided in an Integral Discovery process by giving you and your clients a complete view of their business, their challenges, and their opportunities. It also helps you develop better, more comprehensive, and more compelling theories about how and why your client should change. As complicated as this might seem, let’s make it simple, practical, and tactical, something you can use right away.
Individual Interior: What is a contact’s individual subjective view of their business, their problem, their challenge, their current state, and their belief about what a better future state might look like? You might think of these things as their values, their types (think DISC or Meyers Briggs), their motivations, and their preferences.
Much of the time, we meet with individuals who share their subjective views with us. That view is valuable, even if it doesn’t provide the whole truth. When you are influencing or persuading someone to take action, you are working on their individual interior. If you are the kind of person who reads business blogs like this one, you are probably pretty good at it (something that would be true if the word “holon” didn’t have you quickly scurry away from this post).
Individual Exterior: Where the Individual Interior provides some part of the truth, the Individual Exterior delivers higher resolution by providing some objective proof. It shines a light on what they are doing, it’s behavioral in nature, and it provides the ability to look at measurable results.
These are their behaviors, what they do, the metrics attached to those actions, and key performance indicators.
Most approaches to discovery do too little to uncover the objective truth found in the Individual Exterior, never addressing their behaviors directly, and not identifying the metrics that matter as a way to help provide the client with a new and compelling view of their business and their results. The idea here is an upgrade to Rackham’s situation questions by asking questions that can expose an area where improvements might be possible—were the contact to change their behaviors and their approach.
I once had a client who believed they were doing well when measured against their competitors, which was subjective, a product of a contact’s beliefs and values. Eliciting their metrics proved that they were woefully behind when compared to their competitors and losing ground. Changing the client’s belief requires showing them giant chasm between their numbers and their competitor’s.
Collective Interior: In a day and age where people make decisions by consensus, one cannot afford to ignore the collective interior anymore than they can the many individual interiors. Collections of individuals have shared value, a collective purpose, a dominant world view, and the priorities and intentions to guide their actions.
There is no question that some of the most well-known and well-regarded companies have visible collective interiors. Apple, for example, still has the worldview Steve Jobs endowed them with by deciding to make products that delighted people and are easy to use. Recently, a large bank was proven to have violated several laws, taking advantage of its customers, something that came to the attention of bodies with authority to impose stiff penalties.
Helping clients change often means providing your solution in a way that aligned with the Collective Interior. Transformational change, however, usually requires installing new collective values and a new worldview, something that, when needed, isn’t easy to accomplish even under the best of circumstances. Not being able to see this quadrant can limit your ability to create, win, and execute an opportunity.
Collective Exterior: You might think about this as “how the client bumps up against the world.” Very much like the individual interior, what you see in this quadrant is the organizational structure, their systems, their processes, their programs, and their strategies.
You might not recommend your client start a new business providing taxis services in major cities now, knowing that the external world has moved on from that particular model. You might also have them avoid creating a new version of the Blackberry, an excellent device for its time, but not a great idea now. These are just ideas that demonstrate that what your client is doing is not always the right thing to do, especially when it is no longer the best and most effective choice.
A Better Discovery
A better form of discovery recognizes that an individual’s subjective view provides part of the truth, one that can be improved by eliciting and tracking other contact’s subjective views. Acquiring different perspectives can also provide you with a view of where people are aligned and where they view conflict.
A modern sales approach will be data-driven, meaning the individual’s behaviors are going to leave clues about their performance. Most salespeople are only looking for “pain points” in discovery, often lacking the information they need to build a more compelling case for change and proving the value of their solution.
It’s helpful to understand your prospective client’s culture, shared values, purpose, and stories. Much of what you learn about the culture will help you align your solution, and will also give you some idea of what’s possible—and what might create conflict.
One of the more accessible and overlooked areas where you can help your clients discover something about themselves and better diagnose their challenges is the collective external. Thinking about what integral business would look like would make you inifitely more consultative.
Much of the insights you need in consultative sales to develop a theory come from this quadrant, even though developing theories about all four quadrants improves your ability to good discovery, the kind that provides you the ability to see what others miss—and who most don’t know even exists, super-charging your insight-based selling.
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Filed under: Sales