The Discovery Call

A recent conversation with a group of enterprise sales folks prompted me to write this.  The topic during that conversation, and question, was “when is the right time to do a discovery call?”  I grind my teeth sometimes when I sleep, but occasionally I hear something that makes me grind my teeth when I’m awake.  This was one of those times.

Every call should be a discovery call!  Every demo.  Every Presentation.  Every conversation. 

Not only discovery but exercising a genuine curiosity about what your prospect is trying to achieve or overcome, and why – preferably in the general area where your solution can have impact and you have some level of expertise.

Now, most sales folks would probably respond to this point with some version of “Well, of course.  I know that.  I do that.”  But here’s the thing, while this might seem obvious, go watch sales people in action.  A lot of the time, the demo is all but a script, and the presentation has no room for questions.  There is a time and place for great uninterrupted presenting.  Usually, enterprise sales calls are neither that time nor place.

Of course, the flipside is also true.  If all you’re doing is asking questions you’re probably not adding a ton of value to the recipient of all those questions. There does need to be a dialogue.  A give and take.  You must earn the right to ask questions.  The Challenger folks would tell you that you have to deliver a provocative insight and question a core belief.  I believe this can only be effectively done in the context of your customer’s challenges or goals, so you have to ask.

Here are a few examples:
  • “Many marketing leaders tell us that most of the leads they generate are totally useless and their current lead generation approach simply doesn’t work.  Further, they’re convinced they’re not taking advantage of ‘social context’ to improve things.”  “Would you put yourself in that group?”
  • “How do you measure and benchmark storage utilization?”  “Most of the folks we talk with aren’t happy with where they are in this area.”
  • “What are the three top initiatives in your marketing group this year?”

I’ve heard people say discovery – asking questions – is both art and science.  On one hand you can’t go in with a list of 100 questions and just start an interrogation.  On the other hand, you can’t just “wing it.”

I suggest a set of “learning objectives,” so you’re not prescribing exact questions necessarily and leave room for different styles and personalities.  It’s what you’re learning (and sharing), not the actual questions being asked, that’s important.   Not only do people sense and appreciate a genuine interest in what they’re doing, but learning about key drivers in their business will allow you to accomplish what ultimately should be the goal of all enterprise sellers: to connect your differentiated value to those specific customer business drivers

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