Bad Discovery is Killing Your Deals

Ralph Grimse

We’ve all been a part of a bad sales call. Maybe we were on the receiving end or maybe we observed it during a ride along. What makes a bad sales call especially excruciating is when it’s a discovery meeting. These meetings are the unforced error of sales. If a discovery meeting goes bad, more times than not, it’s the seller’s fault.

Since the late 1970’s, sales training has emphasized the discovery meeting with the focus on getting the questions right. Fast forward 40 years, questions are still the foundation of effective selling. But the traditional question-based approach has major execution risks in today’s consensus selling environment. Poor discovery results in sellers not listening or an interrogation-like experience with reps moving down a checklist with a barrage of questions. These risks compound with the growing number of influencers involved in the decision process.

So, what does good discovery look like in today’s selling environment? How can sellers effectively lead a diverse group of buyers to a shared understanding of their problem and way forward?

The key to a modern discovery meeting is a facilitator’s mindset. Once the rep views himself as a facilitator, he can truly engage in a dialogue that is valuable for both parties.

Bringing this facilitator’s mindset to life requires new skills. Think back to a memorable training or learning experience. Consider how the facilitator navigated the group down a path to reach a desired outcome.

Effective facilitators do four things well:

1. Test for comprehension and agreement. The best facilitators have a learning objective for their training session. Everything they do – from the slides to the activities to the questions – is designed to help learners gain a new understanding of a concept. During the training, facilitators constantly assess the level of comprehension of the participants. They are sensitive to differences in understanding across different learners.

In the same way, sellers need a learning objective for discovery meetings. By the end of the meeting, they need to ensure that the participants have a common understanding of the problem and the path forward. Throughout the meeting the seller is focused on building comprehension and agreement. The seller should welcome disagreement and view it as an opportunity to gain clarity on the situational factors driving this deal.

2. Gauge the audience’s reactions and know when to speed up or slow down. The facilitator is the conductor of a learning experience, pacing and sequencing the content. They have a plan to hit their objective, but instinctively make adjustments on the fly.

The seller needs to have a similar preparation for a discovery meeting. They should know what needs to be covered and what to emphasize. But they also need to be nimble. No discovery meeting goes completely as planned. They need situational awareness around how meeting participants are tracking along. When folks are fuzzy about the issues, the seller changes the pacing and questioning to get everyone on the same page.   

3. Bring everyone into the dialogue. Every training session likely includes at least one disengaged participant. These are the people who sit in the back of the room, arms folded, dreading the next few hours. Great facilitators know how to engage this person, break down their barriers, and open them up in the discussion. They also know how to manage the group so it’s not dominated by just one or two participants.

Discovery meetings often have some of these similar characters. The quiet folks often end up being skeptics or deal blockers. And the most talkative people may not have a full picture of the situation. Sellers need to find a way to manage the group dynamic. They must ensure everyone’s voice is heard and the overall discussion is balanced across multiple perspectives.

4. Guide the participants in reaching their own conclusion. Effective learning happens when the participant follows a process to gain an understanding on their own. Talented facilitators use interactive exercises and discussion to guide, not dictate, the learning experience. This means minimizing the “telling” aspect of training (marching through a slide after slide of PowerPoint) and emphasizing experiential tactics and self-reflection.

Likewise, great sellers need to resist the temptation of simply “telling” prospects the answer. Using great questions, they let the group discuss the issues so they reach their own conclusion. After all, it’s called a discovery meeting for a reason. Discovery should refer to what the customer is discovering in that meeting, not what the seller is learning.

The Future of Sales discovery model is built on an adaptive, facilitated approach to accomplish the number one objective – secure the next meeting with a broader set of stakeholders. Sellers can benefit greatly from adopting a facilitator’s approach in their next discovery meeting.

We believe reps need to be armed with a new toolset, skillset, and mindset to effectively align all the buyers on their problems AND ideal solution. To get ahead of this 2019 trend and gain access to our newest research, contact us today.

Catch up on last week’s blog about consensus buying and check out additional blogs on the Discovery process here.

Ralph Grimse

Ralph Grimse

Ralph is a partner with The Brevet Group, and for 20 years he has led sales performance teams in the United States and Asia. Recently he also served as a sales leader in both the media and technology industries. Ralph’s work has focused on a unique blend of management consulting and sales enablement to help companies execute their sales strategies. Prior to this role, Ralph was the APAC sales effectiveness leader at Mercer.