The Best Way to Ask Tough Questions in the Sales Discovery Process
Categories: Sales Discovery Process
If you want to find the business issue with the largest impact, you need to be able to execute an effective discovery process that enables you to drill down on a business issue and demonstrate your own positive business intent. You need solid questions, if you want to effectively map your value to their business problems.
It is important to understand, however, that you have to ask the meaningful questions, those that help a prospect realize the impact his/her lack of decision or action is having on their business. These questions make the prospect stand in the moment of pain he/she is experiencing with their current business processes. Although they may be difficult to ask, tough questions help both the seller and the buyer. They open the door for a conversation about where the client wants/needs to take the business in the future.
But, you have to earn the right to ask those burning questions. You can’t just go into the conversation and rip someone’s face off. If you start your meeting or call with a hard-hitting, “what are you going to do if” type question, your prospect will shut down. Depending on the question, they may even throw you out.
Build Business Acumen in Your Sales Discovery Process
When you begin a discovery session, start with general questions that get the prospect comfortable talking. Then, with each additional question, move towards the tougher topics. Each question should get a little more uncomfortable. It may get uncomfortable for you, too. Getting comfortable being a little uncomfortable is what it’s all about.
In the interest of full disclosure; I’ve experienced both situations above. I learned early in my career, however, that even the best clients need to know that your intent is about their business first. Asking questions that are focused on the business first and the pain second will make these tougher questions more fluid for you as a seller and the reasoning behind them more clear for the buyer.
Have confidence in yourself as you ask the questions. Of course, this confidence comes from preparation. Remember, you’re having this conversation for a reason. Customers know what you do for a living. If a customer isn’t interested in talking about solving tough business issues, then you’re talking to the wrong person.
Get comfortable with your customer being uncomfortable.
Remember, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. How big is the problem? You have to be willing to help to help the customer fan the flames.
You need to use discovery to get to the negative consequences that are so pressing, your prospect needs to stop them right away. Uncovering that pain is the first step to your buyers (1) correcting the issue and (2) seeing a return on their investment with your company.
One mistake I often see from salespeople, is that they have a tendency to move too quickly from the negative consequences to the positive business outcomes or the success metrics associated with the solution.
It’s human nature for a salesperson. We are “fixers” and we want to help with the products and services that our company has created. It’s obviously more fun to talk about the “positives” than the “pain” they’re experiencing right now. But, if you aren’t comfortable talking to a prospect about those pain points, you’ll never uncover a problem that’s worth solving.
Don’t forget, effective discovery allows you to qualify deals in or out much earlier. If you let your prospect off the hook and jump right into telling him/her about your solution or the value that solution will bring to the business, you won’t have the information you need to move forward or more importantly, move on.
If it’s time to move forward, remember to finish strong. There’s a lot of you out there that have finished a great sales call and gained great knowledge about the business problem and impact, but weren’t sure how to end the call.
Don’t just ask the generic, “What would be the best next steps?”
Remember, your discovery conversation should’ve been completely focused on the customer. If you executed your discovery right, then your next meeting should focus more on your solution. I always finished my discovery sessions, by first asking if there’s anything I missed in the conversation that should’ve been included. That answer helps fuel my follow-up. Then, I gain commitment on the next part of the conversation. I’ll say something like:
“What I’d like to do is to come back next Tuesday and talk with you about what a solution could potentially look like along with how we do it and how (where) we’ve done it before.”
Because I (1) uncovered the business impact and (2) created urgency during my discovery session, my prospects are more than willing to schedule that next meeting.