Here is a paradox for you.

During my study years I worked as a salesperson in a large consumer electronics store, and my goal was to maximize not only the amount of what I sold in revenue, but also keep an eye on the profitability of every single purchase. When I serviced the visitors, I had a small screen on the sales floor where I could see the real-time profitability of any given purchase as the line items changed and the conversation continued.

My task was to keep the profit margins above 15-20%, although many of the products such as iPhones or 4K TV's were selling at a loss due to competition from e-commerce websites that naturally had lower operating costs. This whole story has a lot more to it, but one of the key things that I learned from that summer job was that a customer who bought more and was a more profitable deal for me as a salesperson, often left the store happier! The more money they were leaving behind and the more margin there was in it for me, the happier they tended to be! What the hell...?

I think there were many reasons for it, but one of them was certainly our ability to do an extensive discovery of the customer's needs. Coming to look for just a phone, did they consider they might need a new operator contract to take use of the new 4G internet function? Did they need additional accessories such as screen protectors or phone covers? How about the speed of their broadband internet at home, or the streaming services that they would want to use? Most of these products and services had margins of up to 90%, or included some sort of kickbacks from manufactures. But the best thing was again that the customers themselves were often happier for it!

The "holy grail"?

In this article I share with you a sales discovery structure that is detailed enough to give you a deep understanding of your customer's situation while being general enough for you to use in any industry or sales process.

This post is the first part of the "holy grail" documents, that I've developed for conducting (1) a powerful discovery meeting or (2) a sales demonstration. You can view and download the simple version of the Holy Grail Discovery document right here, but keep on reading to get the whole picture.

To be notified about when the second document becomes available you can sign up with your email below:


In this context, a sales discovery is defined as a call or a meeting which:

  • Is scheduled in advance and can be done in 15-30 minutes
  • Is best suited for leads that have already expressed interest in a product or service that you have to offer
  • Can be done in accordance with a preferred lead qualification framework
  • Aims to qualify or disqualify a lead by the end of the conversation, or alternatively guide the lead to collect the missing information before continuing the sales process

Although some situations warrant longer discovery calls or even multiple meetings, I've narrowed down the scope of this post to a time-optimized discovery conversation that aims to qualify a lead in an effective manner.

Why is sales discovery so important?

Today buyers have access to an unlimited amount of information and for whatever reason they've now decided to talk to you. In order to tip the deal in your favor, you'll need to make a connection with their innermost emotional challenges and ensure that they feel understood. At the same time you want the buyer to realize how well your solution directly speaks to their needs.

If you do the discovery right, it's a chance to improve your buyer's experience and learn about their core motivational drivers. It is also your chance to highlight how you can solve your customers most pressing problems.

Why do customers often dislike these conversations?

If you don't focus on elevating your prospect's buying experience and are not customer-centric enough, you'll burn your own business. In such case the discovery will remain just a yet another obstacle for the customer to get through.

These are some of the most critical issues you'll want to tackle in order to make discovery calls worthwile for your customers:

  • Lack of experience or domain-specific knowledge of the salesperson
  • Low quality handovers from one salesperson to another ( such as SDR to AE)
  • What to do if the lead just wants to try the solution or is only interested in the price

Instead of making the discovery process a complete drag, aim to turn it into a consulting session and ask questions that will make them say: "Hmm, I didn't think about it that way before."

How to conduct rock-solid discovery calls

As mentioned before, use the "Holy Grail" of Discovery document for a concrete structure, while here I will quickly walk you through the principles behind each of the steps.

Let's make these two things clear first:

  1. The customer often wants, loves and expects to talk about themselves and this is why the first half of the qualification call should be spent on their problems and challenges. The second half is then about you making sure to collect all the information that you need yourself.
  2. Heading into discovery calls, make sure to ask open ended questions. The goal is to understand and collect information and if the lead is only answering "yes" or "no" while you speak 80% of the time you're doing something wrong.

Just 5-10 minutes is enough to prepare

There is no science here. All you need to know in order to have a great initial discovery call (with an inbound lead) is to understand what the organization does and get a picture of the main characteristics such as size and location. If available, have a quick look at the lead's LinkedIn profile for the role description and do a quick scroll over the company website. Now you are ready to go.

Starting the conversation

When you start the conversation, introduce yourself, ask if it's still a good time to talk and give an overview of what is the goal for the call. You should also mention what to expect as a typical outcome. As mentioned in the "holy grail" document, this is best done via a mini upfront contract.

If the lead states early in the call that they want to just test or hear the commercials, tell them that it's possible, and you'll discuss it in the call, but first it would be better to get a clear picture of the use-case in order to provide a correct pricing indication.

When everything is fine and you are diving into the core of the call with your lead, mention initially something that you know about them based on the information you got from the initial 5-10 minute preparation, even if it is just about you admiring their company. This will warm things up and get the conversation going.

Uncovering the true situation

Dive into discovery with vigor. Ask short and to the point open ended questions. Provide your own insights where necessary and continue digging deeper.

Often the lead will come to you with a surface level problem that may be purely technical, but it is your job to understand the wider implications and what it actually means for their business. Here you'll want to know enough to assess the importance of solving the problem and if you manage to understand what is driving your counterpart personally, you've managed to traverse the entire "3 levels of pain" and are ready to conduct the rest of the qualification.

Getting the information you need

Here you'll want to recap and fill in the gaps according to the sales qualification framework that you've chosen. In the "holy grail" document it is obvious that it is the good old BANT qualification method.

If you have another lead qualification criteria that you follow such as MEDDIC, re-structure your own discovery calls to better align with that one and make sure the overall structure of the conversation is smooth. It can get really bumpy if you need to jump around and come back to the same topic areas multiple times in one call.

By now you should be getting a picture of whether the sales opportunity is worth pursuing and you can start making up your decision.

To qualify or disqualify?

When you've made your decision to continue with a lead or disqualify them, stay firm and don't waver as that can kill an otherwise good discovery call.

If you did an overall good job with the discovery a typical outcome is one of the three listed below.

Disqualified

Even if you disqualify a lead today, it can become a chance for new business tomorrow. People tend to change companies often so the contacts you get will remain eternally valuable.

There is a less common way to extract value from disqualified leads and that is to ask them if they happen to know anyone else who might be in a similar situation but may be a better fit for your business.

Information Missing

If you weren't able to get one or two critical data points that you need to qualify the lead into a sales opportunity, agree on finding out the information and schedule a follow up meeting to go over it one more time. Usually this results in an eventual disqualification. However if the conversation continues as agreed, the lead is showing commitment and there is a big chance it will turn into a qualified case.

Qualified

A strong qualification and a scheduled next meeting will bring predictability into your business. Predictability in sales is the magic word to strive for and we want to take certainty over uncertainty any day of the week.

An additional way to improve the predictability of your team's sales cases is to adopt a well-defined and clearly set sales qualification framework.

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