Discovery call success: 14 key drivers

The aim of a discovery call is that a qualified buyer will ultimately agree with us on working together.

There are several key concepts that are determinative of that result. You must know these concepts and conduct your meeting consistent with them.

1. The 2% difference gets the close.

In order to meet the needs of buyers, we need to extract from the prospect specific motivations and concerns sufficient to overcome the tendency to do nothing.

At the end of the process, if you are not sufficiently ahead of your competitors or the option of doing nothing, you lose the opportunity. We must extract the specifics that will lead to this winning difference. Upfront as early as possible. It is from these specifics that you will decide your focus, questions and follow-up questions that will lead to you possessing the winning difference at closing time.

2. Proposals should be confirmations, not explorations

I first heard this concept expressed by Dr. Alan Weiss, a leading consultant to consultants. If you sell high-priced intangibles, I would recommend reading his books. That a proposal should be a confirmation, not an exploration.

Let’s start with what you do not want to do. You meet with a magnificent prospect to submit a proposal as quickly as possible. Once submitted, you can discuss it with the prospect, change the terms, add what is missing and delete what the prospect doesn’t like. That is not the way to close deals.

The greater the variance there is between what a prospect considers acceptable and what you propose, the less the chance of reaching mutual agreement.

Great variances between what prospects want and what you propose lead to friction between you.

You want to minimize the amount of thinking that a prospect has to do. What is the one thing a prospect cannot do while they are thinking about it? They cannot buy. They cannot buy because they are thinking about it. If you give prospects too much to think about, guess what they will not buy as they are thinking about it.

If you view a proposal as a confirmation that presupposes that you have already discussed major terms. You are merely confirming these understandings in your proposal.

In order for a proposal to be more confirmation than exploration, you need to ask questions and follow-up questions to discover buyer wants and motivations, but also anything that might derail the deal.

You must work a deliberate questioning strategy in order to “confirm” all major issues before crafting a proposal.

3. Prospects rank us against competitors and the status quo.

During a discovery call, buyers are considering their options. You may end up losing a deal because of a competitor. But it is just as likely that your prospect decides not to do anything. Status quo wins, you lose.

If prospects don’t sense a difference worth pursuing, you are out.

The discovery call is where you must maximize perceptions of credibility and value. If you don’t do it here, you may not get a chance later.

The ranking of your or your company vs others and the status quo starts here.

4. You must be prepared to showcase your strengths

Right up front, when you have limited time, how are you going to communicate your strengths? That requires a plan. What statements will you make in your opening comments? What stories and examples are “must tell” and how are you going to relate them during the meeting? What questions are you going to ask that would communicate trust and the competitive differences you bring to the table?

If you are not prepared to do this, the odds of a 2nd meeting plummet. You don’t want to be at the end of multiple meetings and a proposal wondering why your prospect has vaporized. The biggest reason is that you held back in the early stages. Therefore, you could not identify and expand upon the real issues throughout the buying process.

5. How will you minimize weaknesses

We all have weaknesses in the minds of buyers. Whether real, imagined, expressed, there are issues that will derail a deal if left unresolved. How are you going to draw out these issues such that you can deal with them?

6. Removing the debris between their needs and your solutions

No matter how credible you are or how much of a benefit you might provide, if there are doubts in a buyer’s mind, there will be no agreement. You need a strategy to draw out doubts that could derail a deal. If doubts remain, the odds of agreeing plummet.

7. Top closers prepare questions; the rest prepare presentations

If you believe that getting a new account is determined by slight differences brought to the surface, we uncover those differences with a purposeful questioning strategy. That is how you close deals among the wavering middle.

You need to sway those in the uncertain middle. Between the layups (those that are a perfect fit, immediately see your value and can’t wait to sign) and the tire-kickers and price shoppers (nothing we say will make a difference and we don’t want them anyway.)

You need to focus on those that are dissatisfied on some level with their current situation and are trying to decide whether to choose a competitor or stick with the devil they know.

Your questioning strategy will bring out the slight differences that provide the crucial difference at closing time or not.

8. How are you going to rub salt on their wounds?

Some prospects have problems they don’t recognize as problems. Others don’t fully appreciate the consequences of problems they recognize. Part of your job as a sales professional is to provide all the information prospects need to make their best decision.

If a prospect sees a problem as a mere annoyance or no big deal, when in fact that problem, unfixed, could lead to major unbudgeted expense, negatively affects other things, wastes employee and managers time, frustrates clients, and will ultimately lead to corporate bankruptcy and the end of the world, it is your responsibility to fully inform them of the full potential consequences of the problem.

Most excellent prospects will choose to do nothing, rather than pick you or a competitor. They stick to the status quo as they do not fully appreciate the benefits you bring or the pains you can help them avoid.

Educate them. Rub salt in their wounds.

9. How will you crystallize the consequences of the status quo vs your solution? Of your solution vs a competitor?

Prospects must see enough value to take action. They must clearly visualize the difference between their current situation and what you can do for them. If a prospect does not have clarity as to what is possible with your help, there will be no purchase.

The perception of the benefits you will provide must be maximized and as clear as possible.

Awareness of the full cost of current problems and inefficiencies that you will eliminate must be appreciated.

The potential for future loss must be known and fully recognized.

In the early stages, you must help the prospect have clarity about the benefits you will bring, the problems you will remove and the future exposures to loss you will eliminate.

The clearer those things are in the buyer’s mind, the greater your chance of a worthwhile new account. If clarity as to how you will improve their business condition does not exist, or if perceptions of your value are unclear or cloudy, the odds of moving to a 2nd meeting and a future close plummet.

10. The clock is ticking. Don’t make this mistake.

You have a lot of bases you must cover on a discovery call and the clock is ticking. To build a sound foundation for a future sale, you must cover a lot of bases. You must convey sufficient credibility. You must extract real buying motivations and the specific benefits desired. Hesitations and doubts that can derail a deal must be expressed so that you can address them. You must summarize it all. After that, you must end by reaching an agreement on a solid next step.

Do not make the mistake of running out of time before you can summarize how their situation can be improved and the next step to take.

Too often, reps run out of time on the discovery call. Credibility has not been fully developed. All buying motivations are not discovered. Key needs have not been expressed. Hesitations and doubts are still unknown. You have not summarized how their business situation might be improved. There is no clarity about improvements. Next steps are not defined. You have run out of time. The prospect must go.

You must manage the time you have and cover all the bases. If you run out of time before doing so, the odds are high that qualified prospects will slip away.

11. Competing against not only competitors and the status quo, but all other project options on the decision maker’s plate

It is not enough to be better. It is not enough to cost less.

Whether someone will decide to invest in you will be relative to all other options.

You might be a better solution or cost less but if that is outweighed by hesitations or doubts about your credibility, about you doing what you say you will do, about transition issues, about concerns regarding scheduling, time delays or cost overruns, about support from other team members, software compatibility or what color your car is, there will be no deal.

There will be no close if there are major hesitations or doubts about realizing your benefits.

But you also are competing against all the other improvement projects on your decision maker’s plate.

Let’s assume you are clearly a better option, better quality, less cost and there is no hesitation or doubt about realizing benefits promised if they hire you. But buyers have other options for their limited time and resources. If you deliver X benefit but for the same time and effort, there is another project that will deliver xxx benefit, guess what? Your proposal will not be accepted.

Why not? Because although you are credible and a better option, the decision maker can get more benefits for the time and money invested by going with another project.

That is why it is critical in the early stages of your interactions that you communicate credibility and clarity about the potential benefits to be delivered. If you are not perceived as credible or the benefits to be gained from you are not clear, that will be balanced against hesitations and doubts about achieving the goal.

12. Be prepared to contrast price vs cost

There will always be a lower priced option. But a lower price does not equate to a lower cost. Unless you want to win the race to the lowest price, lowest margins and constant worries about bankruptcy, you must be able to communicate why your higher price provides the best value. Price is not the same as the cost.

People and companies willingly pay premium prices when they feel it is in their best interests to do so.

People willingly pay competitive prices even when there are lower priced options.

A lower price does not equate to lower cost if the quality is not the same, if dependability is not the same, if there is a higher risk of a breakdown or additional costs. Lower price does not equate to lower cost if there is a greater chance of quality issues or defects that would mean more management time, customer dissatisfaction, employee complaints or additional expense later.

If you are anything other than the lowest price option, you must be prepared to broaden the issues discussed so that your higher price is accurately perceived to be a better value.

13. Specifics win. Generalities lose.

The specifics that will earn a close must be extracted upfront, not toward the end of the process, nor after the proposal is delivered.

If you believe, and I strongly suggest you do, that most closes are earned by a nose, not a mile, then you must draw out specifics that when expanded upon, will provide the 2% difference at the end.

If the benefits, wants and concerns are not elicited early, they cannot be fully developed and discussed. If the prospect has a need that is not expressed, you cannot address it. If the prospect has a hesitation or doubt that remains unknown, you will have no chance to remove that doubt and the odds of closing plummet. If the prospect is misinformed on something or holds erroneous beliefs that remain a secret, you have zero chance of correcting them and, again, the odds of a close plummet.

You should never assume what the needs and wants of a prospect are or should be. You satisfy prospects by addressing needs and wants that are expressed. If a prospect doesn’t think it is important, you should not be addressing it.

In order for you to end the race 2% ahead of competitors or doing nothing, you must fully know the needs and wants of the prospect. If there are hesitations or doubts and you cannot address them, those unknown doubts will drag down your closing ratios.

You should be constantly asking yourself, “Will the details and specifics I am communicating overcome the urge to do nothing or work with a competitor?”

14. Top performers prepare questions. The rest prepare presentations.

What would most distinguish a professional salesperson from an amateur? An order-taker from a closer? The answer would be the quality of their questions and follow-up questions.

The biggest mistake made in discovery calls is to make a presentation or demo the focus of what is discussed. In these instances, the belief is if prospects see how good you are that you can make a sale. The problem with this is that the discovery call is focused on you and your assumptions about what is important or should be important. Rather than addressing the concerns and issues of buyers, you address what you assume to be important. Often, in the discovery calls I listen to, the prospect says very little. Therefore, you do not know what the issues of importance are to this future buyer.

Plus, many presentations and demos are boring. They don’t hit the issues of primary concern to buyers. Valuable discovery call minutes, should not be spent, on issues of little or no importance to buyers. They also tend to be filled with industry jargon and superlatives that are immediately discounted by buyers.

If you are meeting with a qualified active buyer, what is the most important thing you need to avoid? Being deselected. When you use up the precious 30, 45 or 60 minutes, you typically have on a discovery call focusing on your presentation or demo, rather than the buyer, the odds of you being deselected go way up.

Later in this book, we discuss discovery call strategy. Let’s assume you have an active buyer that is a good fit for your services. To close a deal, you are going to need a 2nd meeting and maybe a 3rd, 4th or 5th. If you have features or benefits that would be highly desirable to your potential buyer, by using questions and follow-up questions, you can identify the issues of most concern to the buyer. After you have all the buyer’s issues on the table, you can touch upon how you would solve them. Maybe, based upon what they tell you, you could show selected slides from your presentation or features from your demo that can be more deeply explored in a 2nd meeting.

Big picture is it usually takes multiple interactions to build trust and get all the major issues on the table before even thinking about submitting a proposal, I mean a confirmation.

Don’t focus on your presentation. Ask the right questions and follow-up questions to get all the issues on the table. You want your buyer looking forward to the next discussion.

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