The Evolution of the Discovery Call

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The idea of making a single discovery call to uncover your client’s present dissatisfaction has been displaced by complex, consultative sales conversations. The evolution of modern sales continues to require more of salespeople, in large part because clients need more help making good decisions for their business. Here are a few ideas about the evolution of discovery.

Getting Past Pain Points

The success of a discovery call is more about helping your client discover something about themselves than the outdated notion of finding their “pain point.” Yes, dissatisfaction is still necessary, but consultative salespeople create value when they create dissatisfaction instead of eliciting it. In fact, there is no reason for you to meet with a client if you don’t already know what kind of problems they have, especially in terms of the systemic challenges of their industry vertical.

Without a good working theory about your client’s problems and what they should do about them, you’re more likely to waste your client’s time than to create value for them. You should know what is already compelling your client to change— or at least what should be.

Occasionally, you will stumble upon clients who have a well-formed problem statement and a very strong idea about what kind of help would produce better results. Here, approaches built on insights and the idea that you should compel change are not going to be as valuable as a conversation around two key questions: why your client hasn’t been able to solve their problem yet, and what choices are available to them.

It is important to recognize where your contacts are in their decision-making process, one that is likely informal.

Asking Effective Questions

Weak questions make for weak discovery. Instead, ask questions that cause your clients to recognize that they are missing information, by bringing to light something they don’t know or overlooked. Questions that your client will struggle to answer are more potent than those they can easily answer. Delete “what’s keeping you up at night” and all variations on that theme from your script!

Much of the time, discovery means helping your client open their aperture wider, so they can see the context or information they were missing. Poignant questions can provide a high-resolution lens through which to see their business and their decisions, but you can also achieve that outcome with your insights. Discovery is where you do much of the work of shaping an opportunity.

Take Your Time

A client’s preference to work with (and buy from) you is established in discovery. Their experience in that stage of the sales conversation demonstrates the value you provide as a consultative salesperson, so improving your sales results often means improving your approach to discovery. But it’s a mistake to rush this stage of the conversation, particularly when your client rarely makes decisions like this or when the decision is strategic and poor choices come with significant risk.

Learning to slow down discovery can be difficult when you have a lot of experience in your industry. Much of the time, you will be helping clients solve a problem you have helped solve for dozens or hundreds of other clients. When you quickly recognize the root cause of your prospect’s problem, it can be hard to restrain yourself from moving forward to the solution.

But keep in mind that the discovery phase of your sales conversation is mostly for your client’s benefit, so rushing through it makes the conversation less valuable to both of you. You need to give your prospective client the time they need to be able to move forward with a decision to change.

Bringing it Together

Excellent discovery requires identifying exactly why your client is struggling to produce the results they need. Your contacts’ subjective opinions are critical, as is their current approach to the problem. But it’s also important to assess the company culture. What might have to change for your client to be able to execute your eventual solutions? How will those solutions change how your client interacts with the external environment, including their clients and their competition?

In large, complex, consultative sales, answering those questions means engaging multiple stakeholders and making multiple calls, maybe more than you believe is necessary. But it’s better to identify the influencers and help move them toward consensus, so you can build a solid base for the rest of your sales conversations.

Discovery now requires more of you as a salesperson, especially because this is the part of the sales conversation that creates the greatest value for them.

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