discovery stage of the sales process

The real objectives of the discovery stage in the sales process: Identify, intensify and internalize

Most sales professionals approach the discovery stage of the sales process as a time to gather information about their prospect. This is absolutely a critical component of discovery, but there is a much more important objective to accomplish: Sales must put themselves in the shoes of their buyer and the buyer’s current journey.

Employ empathy for the buyer.

Remember that a buyer’s objective at this point in the sales process is to recognize their own needs.  

They’re asking themselves:

  • Do I even have a need?
  • How is that need impacting my organization/my team/me personally?
  • Who is impacted by not addressing that need?

If that is what buyers are seeking from interactions with the seller, the seller’s objective becomes to help the buyer gain a better understanding of (1) their need(s) and (2) the consequences their need(s) has on their organization, their team and them personally.

Therefore, the objective of the discovery stage of the buying process can simplify to:

  • Identifying critical business issues of the buyer — in context of their current/pending situation.
  • Surfacing and intensifying awareness of the pains — the impact of that situation.
  • Helping the buyer internalize the pain — or else “status quo” is an easy out.

If a seller accomplishes those three steps, then the result will undeniably establish and deepen the trust and credibility factor with the buyer.

But how can a seller accomplish the identify, intensify and internalize formula of the discovery phase?

The right balance of information gathering and insight sharing.

A seller should never pepper buyers with a deluge of questions (open-ended or not). Nor should sellers interrogate or provide their own monologue.

It is a balance, and it takes time.

Crafting and asking good questions is important. In fact, we work with most of our clients to build a library of discovery questions. But it takes skill and patience too. It is not good enough for sellers to ask questions.

More importantly, sellers must also allow the buyer enough time to craft and share a thoughtful response to sellers’ questions.

Often, sellers will ask a great open-ended question to start, but instead of waiting for an answer, too many sellers continue to ask questions, or try and explain the question with more questions without letting the buyer answer the first (and usually most important) question.

The takeaway here is for sales to remember to resist the temptation to continue talking and let the golden silence work for the seller (and the buyer).

A framework for good discovery questions.

  • The purpose of the questions is to understand, not to sell — so create and ask questions accordingly.
  • Start questions with How, What, Where or Why — use why and what, especially, for follow-up exploratory questions.
  • Do not forget, the desired outcome of the question is to trigger a conversation, not launch a presentation.
  • Questions should encourage buyers to pause and reflect — allow the buyer to think through their response, not just react to your question.
  • Phrase questions in a way that makes it clear to the buyer your objective is to help (seek to serve), not as a manipulative way that guides them to your solution.
  • Remember buyer “answers” you receive will likely not be facts. Rather they will be insights that uncover improved outcomes the buyer is seeking.

Every customer interaction will be most effective if we approach it (as the seller) first from the buyer’s perspective. When the buyer appreciates our genuine mission, they will often respond to our questions more thoughtfully. If the buyer sees we truly want to understand, they will embrace the time to share a more valuable, more honest response. And correspondingly, the buyer will welcome insights we, the seller, can offer about leading practices and solutions that may help them redirect course.

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