Although it may be their second or even third conversation, a discovery call is often a sales rep’s official first impression. While previous communication consisted of perfunctory introductions and rapport building, this is their opportunity to showcase their skill and preparation. For most sellers, a discovery call serves two purposes. The first is to qualify the prospect, which typically means “discover” their problem, identify decision makers, understand their process, etc. The second is to begin building trust. For some, this sounds like a snap: get a name from LinkedIn, check a company website, and leave the rest to your well-honed, smooth-talking sales skills. This would be a colossal mistake. For sellers who want to win sales and create long-term partnerships, here are a few tips to having more productive discovery calls:
No matter the prospect, there is no substitute for individualized, specific preparation. The more you know about the prospect before calling, the greater your chance of achieving your two-pronged goal: to understand them and earn their trust. What is their industry? What is their market share? How many people do they employ? In addition to educating yourself, knowing these answers shows the prospect you have done your research. You take them seriously. Think of the difference between asking, “How many people do you employ?” and saying, “I see you have about 2,500 people spaced between 15 distribution centers in the Southwest.” Which first impression do you want to make?
Along with gaining information, build some role-play into your preparation. This will help you utilize the information you learn. Think about the questions you want to ask and work on the wording and phrasing. Practice in front of a mirror or with a co-worker. Anticipate the types of responses you might get and prepare your follow-ups. Of course, you can’t prepare for every response, but the more you anticipate, the more comfortable you will be on the call. This builds confidence to improvise, which is a huge lift when a prospect does or says the unexpected.
Before calling, set an agenda. This should include how much time you need for the call. Remember, prospects are busy. The clock is always ticking. An agenda lets them know where they are in the process and keeps them focused. Share this with your prospect at the start of the call, such as saying, “I’d like a quick minute to lay the groundwork to make this call as productive as possible.” At each stage, let them know where you are in the process, “Now that I have a feel for your organization, can you elaborate on those production issues you mentioned before I present some ideas for you?”
Think to yourself how many calls this prospect gets from other salespeople. Canned questions from the “Everyday Salesperson’s Discovery Guide” will turn them off or make them hang up. Every question you ask should lead to valuable information. To this end, ask open-ended questions that require more detailed responses. Instead of “How many machine suppliers are you dealing with?” ask, “Can you tell me about your machine supplier relationships?”
Most young sellers make the mistake of talking too much during discovery. It can seem like they’re in a rush to get the job done and feel pressured keep the conversation moving. Even seasoned sales pros can fall into this trap. With each call, remember you are dealing with a blank slate. This prospect is unique. They have their own problems, circumstances, objectives, and motivations. If you’re asking the right questions, your prospects will talk. The best salespeople listen. This does not mean waiting for what you want to hear, the “in” that opens the door to a sales pitch. Listen for their deeper needs. If on video, read their body language and be aware of your own for maximum interaction. Hear what their words say and gauge what their movements might signify.
Tell a Story
The best salespeople employ storytelling in their discovery calls. This doesn’t mean to launch into a product pitch. This means getting beyond the questions and answers that can feel like an interrogation. Instead, keep your discovery process a conversation. Use your experience to engage the prospect. Briefly tell them about another client who had similar issues with their supply chain, distribution, and delivery, and how you crafted a solution that fixed all three. This not only shows the prospect you have experience with their complex issues, but it also helps create a personal connection. You have done this before. You have a record of success. Also, stories invite prospects to share their own experiences and work with you to solve their problems.
Quite simply, you never know how a conversation is going to go until you’re on it. Once you’re talking, you have a lot to think about: sticking to the agenda, asking the right questions, improvisation. The last thing you want to worry about is missing something that could be key to understanding them better or making that important connection. Always take detailed notes on what they said, how they said it, points that piqued their interest, etc. Ideally, if possible, reps should record their calls, but even if you can’t, the more detailed your notes, the better for recollection.
After each discovery call, take a few minutes to decompress and review. Jot down anything you might have neglected to note while you were talking and look over the notes you did take to ensure clarity. Always reflect while the call is still fresh. You’re going to have other calls. You’re going to get distracted. You’re going to attend meetings. The more information you can process immediately, the more complete your recollection will be. This will also help you keep detailed notes in your CRM that will prove invaluable. Use this time to process the call and ensure you don’t miss an initial feeling or impression you got when in the moment.
While the sales process often starts with prospecting, for most sellers, discovery is the heart of selling. This is your chance to learn as much as you can about a prospect and begin to establish value. In discovery, every tidbit provides insight into their problems, their players, and how you can help, so always remember your twin goals: to qualify the client and build trust. In a nutshell, this means prepare, call, listen, note, and show them your best self.