Do you rely on value to differentiate rather than price or delivery times? A poor discovery process could be your biggest root cause of lost deals, pipeline slippage and missed forecasts. To move deals from the nice-to-have to must-have-closed-deals, stop the work on objection handling and closing skills. Instead, you should focus on improving discovery.


What is discovery?

Before we get into how to improve discovery, let’s first consider what it is.  It’s a systematic process where a seller takes time to deeply understand a buyer’s situation, priorities, problems and future expectations. Buyers invest time to understand the ‘value of change’ and how a seller can help them to achieve their outcomes.

It’s an opportunity to be inquisitive and curious, building rapport and engaging in a two way conversation. This part of the sales process is VITAL for any non-transactional b2b selling situations. Here there is typically higher levels of complexity in the customer’s situation, problem or solution. This step in the sales process is often simpler in more transactional situations, where both the offer and procurement process are well understood (though this is not ‘selling’, it is order taking).


Why is good discovery important?

Buyers don’t always understand the root cause of their problems, or where to begin solving them. Sadly, too many companies are ‘solving wrong problems really well’, investing hugely on ‘solutions’ without fully understanding the root cause of their under performance. No surprise then that the fixes often fail to deliver the desired outcomes

Through discovery questions a buying team are forced to think about their situation and future state. This focuses effort and they will as a result be more confident of solving the right problems. Sellers have experience of solving these problems with other companies and they can share their experiences to further reduce uncertainty.


Why does discovery speed up selling velocity?

Many B2B sales pipelines are filled with low quality opportunities that have stalled. Why? Often this is because customers are not convinced by the value in your offer, and these deals are destined for a no-decision or lost closure code.

Great discovery shines a light on the value of change and the buyer understands the impact more clearly. There are two possible and desirable outcomes:

1. Buyer sees no value post discovery : fine qualify out and nurture. Lose fast.
2. Buyer sees value post discovery : great, they will be keen to realise this value and they will accelerate buying process.


Why does discovery help you stand out?

Discovery helps you to become a trusted advisor. Those who help identify and unlock value for a buyer, will win around 70% of the time. Leaving product centred sales people to scrap over the other 30%.

Great discovery is a fundamental skills if you wish to differentiate yourself from an automated ‘bot’ or a sales person who sells products or features. A ‘bot’ struggles to understand and connect with a customer’s needs, wants, fears and hopes. A ‘bot’ is unable to connect complex and intangible elements, before recommending the right solutions to the complex problems.

A trusted advisor is able to translate a buyer’s priorities, problems, hopes and fears into recommendations that solve a customer’s problems.

Discovery helps you to become a trusted advisor. Click To Tweet


What can be done to improve discovery?

There are a few do’s and don’t will dramatically improve the quality of discovery calls.

1. Do ask question, don’t pitch

Typically, sales people are desperate to talk about themselves and their solution. At the slightest whiff of a problem an average performing salesperson will jump into their ‘answer’ without understanding the broader context. Going to pitch too early prevents a sales person from building rapport and fail to differentiate themselves as a trusted advisor.

2. Don’t be bounded by a time

Quite often, and certainly for complex situations, discovery is more than a single session or a 30 minute slot. With anything from 6.4 to 20 stakeholders for a B2B deal, it can take place over multiple meetings, calls and discussions.

Discovery stops when you have a mutual, deep understanding of the situation, problems and potential opportunity – not after your 5 planned questions.

3. Do push back respectfully on customer pressure

I’ve been very guilty of this myself. When a customer contacts me to discuss one our applications, and they press for a demo after 5 minutes chat. In my enthusiasm to accommodate them, I have agreed [in the past].

When they are in a hurry and unwilling to agree to a discovery discussion the net result is a rubbish conversation! I don’t get to know what they need to improve and they end up buying features that don’t solve their true problems.

I promise in 2020 that I will refuse to do a demo or pitch without a completed discovery conversation. Join me!

I promise in 2020 that I will refuse to do a demo or pitch without a completed discovery conversation. Click To Tweet


4. Do use insights to inform your pitch or demo

Boxed demo’s are dull. Fact. A demo or pitch based on no discovery does little more than fly through pages or slides with no focus or context. These sessions do not often end well, prospects are not engaged or prepared to advance.

Keenan expertly articulates in this post, you must be able to replay what you have gleaned from discovery in your demo or pitch for it to be relevant.

5. Do build a question structure.

Discovery should be a consultative two way conversation. It is not a survey or questionnaire so resist the temptation to make it such. Using a guide containing key themes will help you to structure questions share the right insights to educate the buyer.

6. Do share RELEVANT insights

These insights should relate to the problem you are truing to solve, ideally be specific to the industry or company and this will enable a two way conversation. These could be primary insights specific to your customer, facts or experiences of others in related areas or secondary findings that add to the discussion. Use these to educate the buyer and then discuss the relevance to their situation to unlock a new seam of relevant information.

7. Do Summarise your findings

Summarise the findings at the end and this will help both buyer and seller get on the same page. From this use closed questions to commit to the next step.


Good luck with your discovery discussions.

Done well they will build trust and credibility, done badly they will lump you into the same group as all the other sellers pushing their wares.