Why Our Sales Discovery Process Must Always Be Two-Way

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I’ve written before about the critical importance of the discovery process in complex B2B sales. It’s a favourite subject, and with good reason – in my experience the quality of initial discovery is a vital predictor of subsequent sales success.

But it’s critically important that the discovery exercise doesn’t just involve us asking the prospective customer a series of questions that are primarily aimed at helping us to qualify the account, the contact and the opportunity.

If discovery is seen by our prospect as only being for our benefit, it’s all-too-easy for these discussions to descend into a relentlessly one-directional “20-Questions” process that can easily discourage our potential customer from continuing the conversation.

That’s why discovery must always be a two-way exercise. Our desire to learn about the customer must be balanced by a genuine desire to share insights that our customer will find valuable, but also – and perhaps even more important – by helping them to acknowledge previously unrecognized implications of their own current situation.

Fact-based, data-gathering situational questions aren’t of much use in this regard. We also need to share insights and ask thoughtful questions that stimulate our prospective customer to pause and think, and to recognize that their current assumptions aren’t going to be enough to allow them to fully realize their future potential.

We need to help them to recognize the compelling need for change and to start – even from this early stage – to shape their vision of a future solution that will enable them to get to where they now recognize they need to be.

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And, of course, we need to start the process of leading them towards the conclusion that our organization and our approach is best positioned to enable them to achieve their objectives – and to create distinctive value in the process.

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We want them to look back at our interaction and think “that was a really valuable conversation – it taught me a bunch of useful things and caused me to think about my current situation and future goals from a different perspective”.

And, of course, we want them to believe that continuing our conversation would be very much in their interest. Which, of course, they are unlikely to conclude if we treat the sales discovery process as either a sales pitch or an interrogation.

Here’s how I urge you to approach these discovery exercises:

  • Think of them as an opportunity to teach and not just to learn
  • Balance giving and getting information throughout the conversation
  • Prepare thought-provoking insights you want to share with them
  • Ask stimulating questions that cause them to reflect before they respond
  • Share customer anecdotes that help your prospect see themselves in the story
  • Recognise that – although qualification is important – engagement and rapport are vital
  • And yes, of course, know what we want to learn from them – but don’t make it the primary purpose of the exercise

One of the best outcomes might be that we help them recognize something in themselves and in their situation that they maybe hadn’t recognized before – or hadn’t realized was as important as it now appears to be.

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That way, we can start as we mean to continue – as a respected trusted adviser. And we’ll learn some pretty useful information as well…



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