Discovery calls and first sales conversations: A guide to run them

There is a first substantive interaction with every multi-step sales process.

Whether you label it a first sales meeting, discovery call or demo, the first interaction may be the biggest influence on whether you close a deal or not.

That’s right; it’s not the magic words you try to come up with when a deal is slipping from your grasp that matters most, it is how you laid the proper foundation for the close that matters most. Do the right things in the beginning and you don’t have to grasp straws at the end.

The first interaction clarifies your strengths and creates a solid foundation and springboard toward a close.

Or, can be a great opportunity lost because your prospect didn’t grasp your value and enough reason to move forward.

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How to run a discovery call

Conduct future sales calls with a plan that communicates:

  • your value
  • positions you favorably against competitors
  • enables your prospect to choose among alternatives
  • gains commitment for the best most attainable next step in the sales process.

Here are some key concepts.

The 2% difference makes all the difference

Closes hinge on the 2% difference. Your first meetings and discovery calls extract that 2% difference.

You win or lose most accounts by a hair.

You need to be a bit better than others to win, a 2% difference. It is the earliest stages of your interactions that you extract and clarify what will lead to that 2% difference. If you handle things right in the beginning, when push comes to shove at the very end, you will have the substance and specifics to nose out the competition.

Are your sales proposals explorations or confirmations?

Proposals should be confirmations, not explorations.

Proposals that end up closing are much more confirmations of concerns & terms already discussed, than fishing expeditions hoping to land the big one.

If you think of proposals as confirmations, then you must discuss the core components of your proposal to resolve differences or concerns.

If you are collecting just enough basic information to deliver a pretty much standard boilerplate proposal, thinking you will find out what they think and adjust from there, your closing percentage is nowhere near where it could be.

Discovery call questions, not a presentation

Top producers and closers prepare questions; the rest prepare presentations.

If you believe, and I think you should, that closes hinge on the 2% difference. And, that proposals should be confirmations, not explorations, then you will have to decide how best to find out what the 2% difference is in the mind of your buyers.

You will need a plan to have an actual conversation about all major points before you can confirm them in your proposal. Prepared presentations do not lead to that.

You cannot confirm something in a proposal that has not been discussed.

You can not resolve doubts and fears of your prospect if they are not drawn out and discussed.

You will not close an account if there are unresolved doubts, or the prospect cannot choose among alternatives.

It is estimated that more than 60% of discovery calls result in no sale to anybody.

That is because potential buyers are unable to choose among alternatives. If you help your prospect to choose among alternatives, your closing ratio will go up.

There shall be no sales proposal before its time

Like a fine wine, there should be no proposals before it’s time.

Too many companies and individuals seem to think that making proposals is a goal. It’s a numbers game the knucklehead’s shout. But if the proposal lacks a solid foundation because the proper work hasn’t been done to include or confirm the necessary elements, it’s not a proposal. It’s a wish, dream, or prayer.

You sell by appealing to actual needs and resolving doubts.

Not by discussing what you think they need, not by trying to convince them of anything, but by drawing out issues that make the eyes of your prospects light up.

Good questions, preparation, and practice make that possible.

Will the juice be worth the squeeze.

What would it take for your prospect to buy? To change vendors?

You might think having a better widget or providing superior service is enough.

That, if the prospect concludes that you are “better,” that you will get the deal. Nope.

Your prospect may conclude that you are a superior vendor, that you are worth the time, but many times, that is not enough. Your decision-maker has many demands on their time. You might be “better” and yet not be more important than the other 25 demands on their time.

You might win the battle of “being better” yet lose the war if that difference is not more important than all the other demands on time and resources.

If there is no 2nd meeting, there will be no check

Almost all of my clients work a multi-step sales process. It is common for there to be multiple meetings or interactions before a deal is ultimately concluded. If it usually takes 5 meetings/interactions to close a deal, and you don’t earn the 2nd meeting, there will be no check.

During the discovery call or first sales meeting, you are not making a sale so much as you are trying to lay a foundation for a sale.

That foundation enables additional interactions. You had to “sell” the first meeting, and you also have to sell the 2nd and 3rd to make sure it happens.

What happens during a discovery call: three parts

Break the discovery call into three parts: The commercial, the questions, confirming the next step.

The Commercial

After very brief pleasantries, you need to start working on meeting objectives.

You want to:

  • frame the discussion
  • orient to your strengths
  • relate credibility
  • minimize your weaknesses
  • draw out doubts/concerns so that you can alleviate them.

You might get down to business by saying something like this. “Would it help if I took a minute to review my background and why people choose to work with me?”

The answer is always “Yes.”

Discovery call opening script example

I might say something like this.

“Almost all of my clients, start their sales process with a meeting or discovery call. When they get in the door at the right level, they can close, but if they are not at the right door at the right time, their competitors get the account. I have done work for recognizable names such as Bank Fargo that sent me into every one of the sales territories years ago and Mega-Pro, which is the #1 franchisor in the country, and venture-backed startups, but most of my work is mid-size or emerging companies that need a process that works to get in the door. Have written five books on the topic and my scripting book was on Amazon’s list of top sales and selling books for more than three years.

Every project is a bit unique, but the common themes are getting to the right people, scripting, communicating value, objections, and follow-up. The most common comment I get from clients is “wish we had done this earlier.” Most of the quantum leaps come from organization, focus, and effectively implementing the basics well rather than the latest greatest strategy of the month.

Many companies who use me to get meetings, ask me to help them convert those initial meetings to solid 2nd and 3rd steps. People seem to like that I did this before teaching it, set more than 2,000 C-Level sales appointments. So that is a little about me, tell me about your situation and what you are trying to achieve.”

Notice in that spiel that I was setting the agenda, relating credibility and expertise and highlighting the issues that are typical client hot buttons or play to my strengths. Do the same.

Structure first sales conversations: Three stages

The middle, questioning stage of the first sales conversation

You will sell and close based upon what people tell you matters to them.

At this stage, big picture, you are trying to:

  • Earn a commitment for the best next step you can get
  • uncover specifics that motivate the buyers
  • crystallize the options and consequences
  • rub salt in their wounds.

Remember, the clock is ticking

First sales conversations have a time limit. It might be 30-60 minutes, maybe more, maybe less.

But the bottom line is that you must flush out things sufficiently before the discussion ends. You need to leave enough time so that you can close on a solid next step. You must make sure there is enough time left at the end for you to secure the next step.

“Oops, times up, got to go.” “I’ll be in touch, send me something, or my people will be in touch with your people,” often leads to that great prospect never talking to you again.

“Great meetings,” after which the prospect vaporizes, were not that great.

How often has it happened? You sweat and with tremendous effort gain a commitment for a discovery call or first sales meeting. You think the meeting went great, that you are superior to their current situation, the pricing is right, and then they vaporize. You call and call to touch base again and hear nothing but crickets. Happens all the time.

You must properly choreograph your discovery calls or those “great meetings” will vaporize

Remember, if you don’t secure the 2nd or 3rd interaction, there will be no deal.

Your early interactions, especially the first interaction, is where you lay the foundation for the next meeting on the way to the close.

If your first meetings or discovery calls need to convert at a higher level, contact us to discuss.