Why The Best Sales Discovery Process Requires Silence

Why The Best Sales Discovery Process Requires Silence

Categories: Sales Conversation  |  Sales Discovery Process

When I deliver Command of the Message®, one of the questions I am asked the most involves discovery. I think one of the keys to effective discovery is preparation, but I also believe there are some learned skills that help salespeople master the discovery component of a sales process.

I’m from Cleveland (Go Browns!). And, like many college-aged students, I worked at Cedar Point in the summer. (For those of you who may not be aware of this Ohio wonder, it’s a giant amusement park, consistently voted #1 in the world.) It was a great place to work, especially when you were young.

I had the best job in the park, working on the Western Cruise boat ride; filled with plastic animals and frontiersman shooting their guns while I drove the boat and told the jokes. I worked there with my identical twin brother, Patrick. One day while I was working on the ride, there was a request that my brother and I report to the Head of Parks’ office immediately. I had no idea what it was about, but Patrick sure did. 

We get there and my brother says, “Just shut up, I got this covered.” Well, silence was never my strongpoint. It was like a scene out of a movie. Mr. Head of Parks was in his leather chair facing out the window, with his back to us. As he heard us come in, he told us to sit down. I sat there dumbfounded, ready to defend myself against whatever misguided accusations were coming my way. 

He turned in his chair, wagged his fingers at Patrick and me and said, “Which one of you is causing trouble in my cafeteria?”

I jumped all over him, ignoring my brother’s advice. “Jack, I wasn’t even in the cafeteria today. I don’t know what you are talking about. I didn’t do anything,” and I carried on and on, so much so that it probably sounded like I was guilty.

That’s when Patrick spoke up and said, “That would be me.”

Jack looked right at me and said, “Here’s some free advice. You need to get comfortable with silence.”

Mr. Head of Parks gave me important words of wisdom and something I still use to this day (as best as I can). Silence is a great tool for effective discovery. 

Silence Can Be a Great Asset in Discovery

Most sales people are natural conversationalists. That’s why we’re good at selling. However, because of that, we’re very comfortable talking with ourselves. If you’re highly direct and open like a lot of salespeople, you can get yourself in trouble with discovery. It doesn’t mean you can’t be effective. 

Remember this: Know thyself.

Understand that you, likely by your nature, enjoy carrying the conversation. But, when you’re in the middle of a discovery conversation, the conversation isn’t about you in any way. That’s why you need to be quiet.

When salespeople ask me for discovery tips, I break it down into two major tenets: (1) listen and (2) be quiet. I can’t stress these two points enough. It’s difficult to be effective at the sales discovery process if you don’t do these two things. Below I’ve listed two simple techniques that will help you execute.

Edit Your Questions

Start with the question list you've created for your discovery process. Edit it down to four or five questions you know will get to the answers you need. If you have any more, you’ll be so focused on your questions that you won’t be listening. Your discovery session will move from a conversation into an interrogation. Your prospect doesn’t need an inquisition. Don’t interrogate.

If you’ve prepped for the call, you don’t need twenty questions. You already have a point-of-view. You know where you need to end up in the conversation. Use your main questions as an outline for the dialogue. Use your listening skills to help you execute. Use the answers to these great questions to ask other follow up questions. 

In an effective discovery process, you have a dialogue that demonstrates your perspective and positive business intent. Use your discovery questions to validate your point-of-view and pull information out of the prospect that leads towards a value driver.

Wait Five Seconds

How many times have you asked a discovery question, and your prospect answered so quickly, it almost sounded like a canned response? That quick response tells you they’ve been asked that question before. It’s what happens next that differentiates great sellers from those who barely make quota. 

Best-in-class sellers listen. 

If you ask your prospect a question, really listen to the answer. Absorb it. Stop for a minute. Write down the answer and any notes that may be relevant for your follow-up questions. Then, wait. If you’re willing to sit back and be quiet for a minute, often keep the prospect will start talking again.

Now I’m not saying you should have a silent stand-off, but give it a good 5-10 seconds. Write something down. Look pensive, whatever you need to do. Silence is uncomfortable. Your prospect will likely feel the need to break it. It’s human nature. 

When the prospect starts talking for the second time, that’s when he/she moves away from the boilerplate answers that he/she is giving every other vendor. That’s when you’ll learn things that you can use to frame your own sales conversation. 

You will also probably come up with your next question, one that wasn’t on your list. That will likely be the question that gets you the nugget you need to (1) determine your value driver and (2) make your business case. 

Remember, the best questions often come from the answer you just heard. The one you heard if you were actively listening. Active listening is a key skill that elite sellers possess — and they are able to speed up their deals and close at better margins because of it. In this episode of the Audible-Ready Podcast, Patrick McLoughlin, Force Management's Senior Director of Consulting and Facilitation, shares why active listening is one of the many sales fundamentals that top performers focus on to sell larger deals and build genuine relationships with their prospects.

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