In between the regular interview episodes we’ll continue to release sample stories from the book like this one. You can either listen to the episode and hear Debe read her story, or read the full text below.
Discovery Is Not Just One Step in the Process
By: Debe Rapson
During my thirty years in sales, I have honed the science and art of my discovery process to ensure that when I ask for the business, it never falls flat. Today, decisions are made through consensus and unlike the past, discovery is not done solely with one or two key stakeholders, but rather everyone on the decision team, typically between 8 to 12 people.
Coming to those discussions with a thorough understanding of the company’s firmographics, both corporate initiatives and strategies will help familiarize you with a high-level overview of the company’s current state. Luckily, we have many easy ways to conduct such research today, and the best salespeople do their legwork before they ever reach out to ask for the meeting. Educating oneself about a prospective company prior to meeting with it is absolutely crucial to the sales process and can boost one’s odds of landing a sale by leaps and bounds, as opposed to meeting with a prospect cold. I always look at a company’s annual report and 10-K and spend time researching presentations on the web delivered by the key stakeholders and executives that will be making the decision. This enables me to understand their goals, challenges, ideologies, pipeline projects, etc. Furthermore, in order to figure out “who’s who in the zoo,” I conduct research on discover.org and LinkedIn. When I familiarize myself with a company’s technology stack, I reference sites similar to builtwith.com. Other sites such as Detective by Charlie, Demandbase, and LinkedIn help me to unearth relevant topical information quickly. Lastly, before I sit down with a prospect, I follow those stakeholders on Twitter and their company on Facebook so that I can learn what they comment and care about on social media.
Today, information is easily available, so there is no reason for a salesperson not to be able to ask the probing questions that will help both the seller and prospect. Perhaps the most important piece of advice that I can offer is not to be lazy in the preliminary stages of the sale cycle.
The job of the salesperson has changed dramatically over the past twenty years, particularly the last five, where we’ve seen the pace of our sales cycles slow down, a huge increase of easily accessible information and more sales processes than ever before. Salespeople are trying to figure out how to close faster, take advantage of the knowledge available, and perfect their own process down to a science. However, what remains the same is that customers buy from “genuine” people. The quickest way to earn that trusted advisor relationship is by understanding “why” they are looking to make a change, “why” they are motivated to change and “why” the company is going to fund the change.
Early in my sales career, I created my own sales process which featured what I believe to be the most important step: discovery. I typically would develop an in-depth list of questions, taking a personal and conversational approach. My natural curiosity and passion would always propel us three levels deeper, and this is where you uncover the reason why they have to buy. At this time, I was selling services for a high-end, high-value computer training company. Back then, computer training was a competitive industry with many low-cost providers. We couldn’t compete on price, but could always win on value because of our sheer size, talent, and innovative approach. A large travel services company in my territory was looking to procure computer training for all 10,000 employees and sent out a blind request for proposal.
As part of their process, we had a short window of opportunity to question the business stakeholder (let’s call her Doris); this was my opportunity, but I knew I needed to stand out from the competition. I invited Doris to our office in San Francisco, so she could see us in action. I also asked one of our lead trainers to sit in on the discussion to help me ask all the right questions; he was the expert.
We asked Doris questions focusing on training delivery, her company’s experience with a provider, their need for additional support, and why. We wanted to understand what the company was looking to accomplish with this investment and what failure and success would subsequently look like. We inquired how she got to be the project lead and what would make her look good to the executives. Her answers got us excited about this project and she could see that we were genuinely interested in helping them transform the skill set of their workforce. Our lead trainer suggested additional criteria that would make their project more successful and ensure that the computer training skills would stick. Our sixty-minute session grew into two hours as we asked deeper questions that morphed into a plan that would quickly add long-term value for their teams.
That discussion was the catalyst for a long-term relationship that began with creating a champion and establishing the framework for partnership with Doris.
We continued to align the things we learned that day with our differentiators. After we were awarded a multi-million dollar contract, Doris later told me that they felt heard that first day we met and we gave them confidence that we would deliver their desired outcome.
One can’t solve problems without understanding “the why.” At this point in my career, I hadn’t yet developed my process, but it became clear to me that I stumbled upon a formula during this meeting that would forever change my approach to discovery.
A well thought out discovery process does the following things for you:
- Determines whether an account is your ideal customer or is simply going to be a waste of your precious time and energy.
- Captures your customer’s true needs and their definition of value to precisely match your solution to what they ideally would like to buy.
- Uncovers a prospect’s complete decision-making process right from the start, allowing you to know exactly what you need to do each step of the way in order to win their business.
A well-thought-out discovery process does the following things for your prospect:
- Establishes a partnership approach.
- Helps them to uncover what they haven’t thought about or didn’t know.
- Establishes your credibility.
While conducting discovery….
- Be warm – develop rapport through common connections, interests & backgrounds.
- Be genuinely curious… People know when you are faking it.
- Establish credibility through storytelling – Know your facts.
- Gain trust through listening and not selling.
- Be honest… If you can’t solve their problem, tell them and make a suggestion.
Tips/Tricks for discovery:
- Enter every meeting prepared with everything you could find about the company.
- Take Great Notes/NOT on your computer-it’s distracting and loud.
- Triangulate it with other key stakeholders.
- Deliver highly-personalized presentations with what you learned.
- Remind prospects of the value to them via objection handling.
- Hold them accountable to what they shared.
What if you could create so much value in your customer’s mind that they would want your solution no matter what the price? This is how you do get it done….
Want more from Debe Rapson? She was the star of episode 11: Debe Rapson – Find Your Motivation, Drive Your Destiny