The original version of this article, authored by Debbie Bender, was published by TOPO, now Gartner.
Effective sales discovery requires collaborative conversations between buyers and sellers in which each party has a stake in uncovering challenges and finding solutions.
Sales reps who use effective sales discovery processes build better rapport with buyers and engage them in more value-driven dialogue. Creating more trust and deeper understanding between buyer and seller drives revenue by leading to more closed deals.
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But too many reps use the discovery process as a way to promote the features and benefits of their products or services, rather than exploring the challenges faced by the prospective buyer. This tendency undermines the reps’ ability to build rapport with clients, which means fewer closed deals.
Sales discovery methodology
Sales organizations need a structured sales discovery process to guide discussions between sellers and buyers from initial qualification through the final buying stage.
A central part of this process is an iterative method of offering provocative insights and then asking probing questions — a process that encourages the buyer to collaborate with the seller to address an important business challenge.
Use insights and questions to uncover deeper value for the customer
In a genuinely consultative discovery process, the seller uses insights and questions to help the buyer develop a clear understanding of the impacts of action versus inaction as they attempt to solve the challenge at hand. This allows buyers and sellers to learn from each other and determine collaboratively whether they should do business together.
By sharing relevant insights and continuing to dig deeper into the buyer’s issues, the seller demonstrates a thoughtful focus on the customer while taking them on a meaningful journey that builds a strong case for the value of the solution. This approach enables both parties to deeply understand the buyer’s challenges in a value-driven sales cycle.
Insight-driven sales discovery processes are the most effective
The structured approach to discovery creates focused discussions that enable the seller to be intentional about identifying gaps in knowledge and formulating new questions to address them. This promotes the ultimate goal of delivering a compelling value message that primes the customer to engage in a successful buying process.
Here are the steps of the discovery process:
1. Structure the discovery conversation by topic chapters. Use sequential “chapters” to understand the buyer’s situation and the value the solution can bring to them.
- Begin by assessing the challenge the buyer currently faces.
- Next, identify everything that must change (e.g., technology, budgets, operational processes) to effectively address that challenge.
- Finally, articulate the business impacts for the buyer once the solution is in place.
2. Clarify the objective. The objective states at a high level what needs to be learned during a given chapter of the discovery process. This knowledge will be acquired by using an iterative insight/question process to build on any information already gathered.
3. Develop a valuable insight. An insight is a thought-provoking statement intended to spark a discussion. These qualitative or quantitative insights should relate to the chapter topic and should be followed by a question that gets the buyer talking.
Some insights will be based on new information or ideas coming from the seller such as a credible fact or statistic, an observation from field experience or a relevant use case story. Others will be a recap of information that the buyer has conveyed earlier.
4. Follow the insight with discovery questions. Before meeting with the buyer, develop discovery questions that dig into the topic sparked by the insight.
After asking a simple initial question to get the buyer’s reaction to the insight (e.g., “Does that match your experience?” or “What would you add to that?”), move on to those questions, then use follow-up questions to unearth more information and deeper issues.
5. Use a micro-close that confirms impact on the buyer. Close each chapter by asking questions that confirm a shared understanding of what the buyer knows and believes. This assures that the objective for the chapter has been met, while laying groundwork for subsequent chapters.
Share relevant insights to add value for the buyer. Throughout the discovery process, sellers should share insights based on relevant research and their knowledge of the market or industry in the context of information that the buyer has previously shared with them.
Ask provocative questions that promote collaborative discussion. Following up relevant insights with purposeful, open-ended questions encourages collaborative inquiry between the buyer and seller. Buyers will think more deeply about their challenges, ask questions of their own and become more engaged.
Connect the conversation to the organization’s strategic objectives. Although the iterative insight/question process does uncover relevant tactical information to support a sale, more importantly it should also be used to show the buyer how the proposed solution helps them achieve their organization's strategic business objectives.