Good discovery = good demos. Great discovery > ace demos > sale. 

So, you've been reaching out to prospects left and right, morning, noon, and night, and working your butt off to land a client and you’ve finally got one to bite. 

What’s next? Well, first of all, congratulations! You have a qualified prospect! It takes a lot of work to create prospects out of thin air, and you’ve done it! If your sales instinct is telling you to jump straight into a demo, I understand. But I really, really beg to differ. 

You see, a standard one-size-fits-all demo just doesn’t work. 

You could spend hours demonstrating every single feature and function and never even get around the edge of what matters to the customer and what they’re trying to fix. 

That’s what Discovery is for. Sales Discovery charts the course of the entire sales process and, if you ask me, Discovery is often where the deal is won. This is where you get to know each other better. How can you sell your product if you have no idea of your prospects’ needs? When you do, however, the possibilities really open up. 

Getting Discovery right

Well-done discovery exposes the pain in the prospect’s current process and establishes the potential value and benefits your solution brings to the table. It sets the tone for the entire relationship, both pre-and post-sale.

When done right, Sales Discovery: 

  • Frames the conversation around solutions and positions you (and your company)  as problem solvers (as opposed to peddlers of products and services). 

  • Demonstrates your credibility as you ask nuanced questions about the prospect’s industry or market.

  • Provides an opportunity to assess the prospect’s communication style and language. Throughout the sales process, you can then use their words to talk to them. 

  • Helps uncover more problems or challenges that the prospect did not initially realize existed. You can now use this information to broaden your possible solution.  

  • Provides a glimpse of the potential objections that you might face. You can answer these early in the conversation or give them a well-researched answer during the demo. 

  • Reveals the decision criteria and decision-makers. 

  • Shows you exactly how you can customize your demo – focusing on the solutions that are the most relevant to your prospect. 

The best discovery calls are those where the prospect does 90% of the talking, unbidden. 

How to get your prospect talking in discovery? 

Do your homework: This isn’t a game of 20 questions. Do your research. Find out who they are, what their company does and which industry they are in. Spend time on their LinkedIn, Twitter, blog posts or podcasts - this helps in understanding their opinions and their motivations. Read the analyst reports. Prepare questions that will help direct the conversation and give you further insights into the business. This helps you minimize those fluffy filler questions and lets you and the prospect dive straight into meaningful conversation. 

Remember, it's a conversation: Chances are that the first time you do a sales discovery call, someone hands you a laundry list of questions, and you spend all of your time methodically going down this list. This, unfortunately, is not the way to get a prospect to open up. 

My first discovery calls were the same - boring prospects answering my questions by rote and without thought. Need I tell you how useless the information was? 

Then, I sat in on a call one of my seniors was doing. To my young mind, it was a revelation. He wasn’t using a list!! He wasn’t even asking questions! It looked, and sounded, like a chat. 

As I watched closely, a pattern emerged. He asked open-ended questions, he provided context, he laughed, he commiserated, and he just let the client air his “grievances” with the current solution, because, for him, that was where the gold was buried. 

Why didn’t he use a list? Because he knew what information he was after. He just steered the conversation in that direction and the prospect did the rest. 

Listen: Most salespeople are natural conversationalists. That’s why we’re good at selling. However, because of that, we’re also very comfortable talking. We tend to do most of it. And we fill in silences! Don’t. 

Discovery isn’t about you in any way. That’s why you need to be quiet. The best salespeople know when to ask the right question, how to ask the right question and then shut up. They also don’t think about the next question or formulate a response when listening. They just listen! 

The art of self-reveal: Getting information out of people can be hard. Sometimes you might end up with a reticent prospect who makes it even harder! 

But there’s a simple (almost magic!) technique that generally gets them to open up. Harvard researchers recently discovered that disclosing information about the self is intrinsically rewarding. See where this is going? 

In this study, subjects were given the opportunity to talk or brag about themselves while their brain activity was observed on high-powered 3D MRIs. As the subjects begin talking about themselves the area of the brain associated with pleasurable feelings and rewards lit up like a Christmas tree. This is the same area that lights up during sex, with a good meal, or pretty much anything that gives us a ‘lift’. 

The study participants were quite literally getting a shot of dopamine (a pleasure neurochemical)  for revealing something about themselves; thus creating something called the self-disclosure loop. Each reveals of personal information, each brag, each opinion initiated another, as the brain happily took on dopamine hit after dopamine hit. 

For sales reps, this is a boon in discovery. By staying out of the way and allowing the prospect to talk, creates a reward loop inside their brain and causes them to share, unfettered. All you do is guide the conversation along, while the client does the talking. You get a huge amount of information, all while building a stronger emotional connection with your prospect. 

Begin with an easy question, and reward them with active listening. Avoid interruptions and pause three to five seconds before speaking.  Allow them to fill in the silence. Remember, if you don’t talk, the prospect will. 

Let your curiosity be your guide. Ask the right questions. 

An inbound lead is different from an outbound cold call: Tailor your questions according to where you are in the sales process. A hot lead is more appreciative of the discovery process and will probably be more open to sharing information. A cold call needs more persuasion and you’d do well if you go in for a disco demo instead. 

Pro tip: If a demo is already scheduled, then set up small 10-15 minute discovery calls with each stakeholder who will be attending the demo. Ask them what they want to see and what's important to them. Tell them you’ve got a demo coming up and you don't want to bore them to death talking about stuff that is not important. Not only will you make them feel supported, this also goes well into building a relationship. The stronger your connection, the easier it will be, to get their buy-in. 

Know when to stop: Disqualifying the prospect is as important as qualifying one. If the prospect has a budget of $1000 a month, but your offering is priced at $3000 per month, your prospect won’t become a customer even if you deliver the best sales pitch. If your prospect needs a solution for a use case that you don’t support and aren’t likely to support in the near future, then there’s no point in wasting their time on a demo. You can save yourself and your lead much time by ending the conversation early.

Conclusion

Discovery calls let you learn about your leads and set you up for a successful demo, which goes a long way in closing the sale. If a sales discovery call doesn’t work out, figure out why. Review your notes and see how you can improve. What did you learn from your call and how will your approach change in future? Also, it is invaluable to watch a more experienced Account Executive or sales rep conduct a discovery call.

As they say, practice makes perfect. The more discovery calls you do, the better you’ll get. Sales are mostly about getting rejected, which also makes it a great place to learn quickly and get well quick! Take your early stumbles in stride. Each stumble is contributing to your ability to talk to just about anyone, handle just about any objection, and make a sale… as long as you learn from it.