Updated January 2023
No matter how long you have been selling, whether it's five years, ten years, or 25 years there is one step that can continuously be improved in your sales process, which will increase your chances of winning – Discovery. There is a distinction between good discovery and great discovery. Find out which you tend to do and how you can uncover more in your discovery calls.
Good discovery happens when a salesperson uncovers the clients' needs. Great discovery occurs when salespeople introduce conditions that the potential customer might not have thought about and tie those needs to a business impact.
Great discovery starts with identifying all of the people who have a role in the decision-making process. According to Momentive Media, "While 64% of the C-suite has final sign-off, 81% of employees not in the C-suite influence purchasing decisions." Some companies have one decision-maker responsible for evaluating, buying, and using the product. That makes things easier. This is typical with lower-cost items that tend to be more transactional. But what about more expensive, complicated sales?
More expensive items tend to have several decision-makers. In addition to a final decision-maker at the executive level, there may be others. There could be a technical person, an operations person, or even someone who uses the product who will influence the buying decision. If you miss talking to these people as part of your discovery process, the chance of winning the deal decreases significantly.
Each person involved in the decision has vastly different things that they care about when it comes to your product or service:
Because of the variation in requirements, you'll need to ask different questions based on their wants and values. You provide more value by introducing points that they haven't thought about. Remember, you are intimately involved in selling your product or service every day and know far more about possibilities than the prospect does. Often, they are not aware of all the options available to them. Rather than asking them what they want, and limiting your possibilities, take the initiative to help them think outside the box.
Getting to all of these people before moving to the next step is critical. Too often, a salesperson will only reach one or two of the decision-makers and get only halfway through the process when the client asks about the price. The salesperson will jump right into cost before using discovery to add value or differentiate themselves.
Part of helping your prospect think outside the box is introducing them to your differentiators—the things you do well that they cannot get from your competition. Just think: what are your chances of winning a deal if the customer bases their decision on criteria that largely favor all of your differentiators? Pretty good, right? This is where great salespeople will ask questions to introduce new concepts (their differentiators) to see if they are essential to the client.
For example, if your product or service is faster/more efficient than the competition, then a great salesperson will ask questions such as:
If the result of these questions gets the customer to say, "I need a fast/efficient solution", then you are one step closer to winning that deal. Repeat this line of questioning with all of your differentiators.
If you've ended discovery well, you can summarize to the client and say, "based on everything you told me, X, Y, and Z are most important, right?" (where X, Y, and Z are your differentiators). If you've done a great job, then those three things will not only favor your product or service, you will have differentiated yourself from the competition. And now, the "XYZ traits" will be the client's new buying criteria.
Many salespeople describe a product or service's features and benefits and forget about the client's business needs. Let’s say your product is a power drill. If you only ask questions about what kind of drill they seek—the size, speed, whether they prefer a power cord or battery, etc.—you are not getting at the real need. People do not buy a drill because they want to own a drill. They buy it because they need to make holes in something or, more accurately, because they need to build something.
If you are trying to get to the client's real business needs, you must ask why they need a drill. Are they looking to mount a picture frame or build a shed? Have they thought about using a portable hook with the frame so it won't leave a hole in the wall? In this instance, you are introducing something new, and it becomes a different conversation. If they are building many things, you might ask questions about what they are building, why it is important, how it will be used in their business, how many people will use the drill, etc. Based on their answers, what you propose may be considerably different.
The business problem is not just about your product's features, but about crafting a solution to your future client's problem. It is about opening their eyes to something new and giving them more exposure to things.
Great discovery goes beyond product features and business needs. You need to know how they make decisions and the urgency with which they make them. This way you can identify who to include in the process and whether your prospect can afford your solution. A common approach to this is BANT, which stands for Budget, Authority, Need, and Timing. HubSpot states, "One in four buyers want to discuss budget, authority, and timeline." Using BANT can help determine qualified leads, their fit with your company, and their prioritization.
To use BANT successfully, you will want to think of it as a concept rather than a to-do list. You will need to qualify for all four characteristics, but you do not need to do them in a particular order. You may want to customize your approach each time to fit the prospect.
You need to understand how much money they have for purchasing your solution and whether you fit into their budget. You will want to ask questions like:
Understanding who can say yes, who can say no, and who has input into the decision is critical. You may want to ask questions such as:
These are the areas outlined above. Differentiate yourself by addressing real business needs. Ask questions like:
It is imperative to understand WHEN the customer needs a solution. Too many people give prices (and sometimes offer discounts) when the prospect is simply in budgetary mode and nothing is driving the purchase right now. Knowing where they are in their process helps you determine how to position your solution. Ask questions like
Using BANT can help you dig deeper and understand the entire buying decision.
Great discovery is about getting to the right decision-makers, asking the correct questions, adding value, setting yourself apart, and detecting real business needs. If you do this effectively during discovery, closing deals becomes much more comfortable, and you win more.