When the average person thinks about sales, they probably think about closing, and if they’re buyers -- getting closed.
But today, sales isn’t about hard closing. In fact, closing of any kind isn’t even at the center of a modern inbound sales process. The most important step in the modern sales process is discovery.
That’s because inbound sales reps provide value by making informed recommendations to their prospects. And reps are only able to do so by stepping into buyers’ shoes, learning about their priorities, and crafting solutions that will fit their world.
Discovery is the foundation of every sales process, so it’s crucial to get it right. The nine mistakes below will prevent you from getting the information you need to close deals.
1) Not knowing enough to make an assumption about the prospect’s business
You have to do your research, especially if you got lucky and landed a meeting through a connect call without looking up your prospect or their business. During discovery, you shouldn’t ever be asking questions like, “What’s your job title?” or “Remind me where your office is located?”
Instead, you should have formed a few assumptions about the prospect’s situation that you aim to confirm or deny during the call. For example, if your prospect is hiring their first group of sales development representatives, you could assume they are investing in outbound sales efforts. On the call, confirm or deny this -- maybe they’re actually hiring SDRs because they have more inbound leads than their quota-carrying reps can handle.
The bottom line is that you should know enough about your prospect’s business to make a few educated guesses about areas relating to your product, then seek out information that will fill in the blanks.
2) Allowing your assumptions to shape the call
While you should have assumptions, you shouldn’t make them and proceed as if they’ve been confirmed. Stating your assumptions as if they’re true or worse, not voicing them at all and giving your prospect a chance to correct you, can cause you to miss crucial information or take you down an irrelevant path of questioning.
All this results in wasted time. Every minute you spend pursuing a line of questioning based on a false premise is time you’ll never get back that isn’t advancing your deal. And if you barrel through the call as if your assumptions are true, your prospect won’t feel heard and you’ll damage your own credibility.
3) Treating discovery like a checklist process
The quickest way to turn discovery calls from an opportunity to a failure? Rigidly sticking to a list of prepared questions.
Prospects don’t feel like they’re being interrogated, and rattling off a series of 25 questions will certainly achieve that effect. Discovery calls should have the flow of a natural conversation -- an unexpected answer to a common question can mean you need to go completely off-script, and if you insist on proceeding as normal you’ll just annoy your prospect.
4) Not following a discovery framework
Discovery calls are all about balance. Just as templates are useful but scripts aren’t, you shouldn’t go into a discovery call with no structure at all. Whether your company follows a sales playbook or you’re still figuring out a go-to-market strategy, sketch out three or four key areas that are important to cover on each discovery call and spend some time on each.
5) Being afraid of having multiple discovery calls
Sometimes, the 30 minutes or an hour you booked will be up before you’ve covered half of your framework. Usually, this is a good sign -- a prospect who’s a bad fit or doesn’t want to buy probably won’t run out the clock. (Of course, sometimes you’re just dealing with a rambler.)
Instead of trying to skip to the next step in your process, slow it down and suggest a second discovery call. Try saying something like, “Thanks for this information. It looks like our time is up for today, but would you be open to speaking at [future time]? We still haven’t discussed X and Y, and I won’t be able to tell if we’re a good fit until we do.”
Prospects will appreciate that you’re taking the time to assess your mutual fit rather than pushing them through a sales process that might not be right for them.
6) Asking leading questions
Leading questions -- such as “How much will your growth slow next year?” -- are forbidden in courtrooms for a reason. They coach witnesses (or in your case, prospects) on the answer the questioner is looking for, and often lead to inaccurate answers.
That’s bad for you. Your job in discovery is to assess the prospect’s situation as it is, not lead them to describe the answers you want to hear. While this might land you the sale in the short term, it’ll eventually lead to a churned customer. You might not even win the deal at all if the prospect gets irritated enough.
To avoid asking leading questions, try rephrasing questions like this:
Leading question:“If you don’t implement [new strategy], how much will your growth slow next year?”
Non-leading question:“If you don’t implement [new strategy], what happens to [metric]?”
7) Disqualifying too early
Don’t be trigger-happy. Your prospect doesn’t need to fit every single line of your company’s buyer persona -- they just need to have a core problem that your product can effectively solve.
So if you hear something that sounds off to you, don’t write off the prospect immediately. Dig a little deeper to find out whether there’s true misalignment or if, more likely, your buyer hasn’t recognized a business pain yet, explained their point fully, or is mis-explaining something.
8) Disqualifying too late
That being said, hanging onto every last shred of hope is unproductive. Rejection is inherently part of sales, and it goes both ways. It’s important to get comfortable turning away prospects you can’t help. Though it might seem counterproductive to cut people from your pipeline, doing so has three major positive effects:
Your pipeline becomes a more accurate forecast and you’ll have a better understanding of where you need to invest more time and what deals you can realistically expect to close
You get more time back in your day to work deals that are actually likely to close
Your prospects will respect that you’re giving them a real recommendation rather than forcing a product on them they don’t need, which helps you build a positive brand
So stop being afraid of losing deals, and get junk deals out of your pipeline.
9) Talking too much
Remember the point of a discovery call: To discover (and to qualify). That means you have to take the time to let your prospects speak rather than rambling on yourself.
Salespeople who spend the majority of a discovery call talking about themselves or their products will find they’re leaving these calls with absolutely no idea of how to help their prospects. And that means they won’t be able to move the sales process forward in any meaningful way.
What mistakes do you think are most damaging to the discovery process? Let us know in the comments below.
Originally published Oct 26, 2016 8:30:00 AM, updated October 30 2019