How to structure a discovery call with a hot sales prospect

How long does a typical first sales meeting of discovery call last?

30-60 minutes. As a rule we have certain objectives to accomplish, and we only have a certain amount of time. It is reasonable to assume that we will only have 40 minutes to accomplish our objectives. Structure and pace your first meeting to accomplish your sales objectives within 40 minutes. Be prepared for less.

Even if someone is very interested in what we have to offer, after an hour or so, energy levels start to wane. Once you have laid the groundwork for an additional interaction, stop.

Example. If it normally it takes 3 or 4 interactions close a sale, even if the prospect is willing to get all the info in one session, it may not be in our best interest to give it all to them at one session, as we decrease the chance of future interactions, and future interactions are critical to creating the trust necessary to eventually close the deal.

When you are in control, you are conscious of how much time you have and you are conscious of where you are in relation to where you should be at that meeting.

Table of Contents

Stages to facilitate a discovery meeting

The three phases of a first meeting.

  • The commercial.
  • Inquiry into understanding the past, present and future of the company and the individual to whom we are speaking.
  • What is the next step. Ask for the next meeting.

The commercial

After initial banter, the first step is to present a brief commercial about your company or offering. You might ask the prospect if it would be helpful to have some brief background on the history of Mega Company Inc. Boom. Then go into brief commercial. Background only. No suggestion as to a recommendation or what might be best for them.

The commercial should always end with a question. So a question might be… A. Have you ever used radio to market your business? B. What other marketing tools do you use? C. What are your major concerns in these areas?

Balance between going with the flow with the prospect and accomplishing your objectives for that interaction or meeting.

As a general rule if we lose control over what is discussed at that first meeting, we diminish the chance for a 2nd meeting or accomplishing our sales objectives.

Winning and losing discovery call behaviors

A major sales environment is fluid, and things rarely go as planned, but there are winning and losing behaviors. There are steps that are more likely to lead to a sale and steps that are less likely to lead to a sale. You need to know the difference.

If we lose control over the sales process and the prospect ends up determining what is discussed and what happens next, then the odds of the prospect and our company ending up on the same page and getting a check is minimal.

You need an agenda that leads to a new account. Your prospect doesn’t have one.

If we can’t keep close to our well-planned roadmap to success, we have to remember that the prospect doesn’t have a roadmap likely to lead to our company getting the business. They have no roadmap.

There is little risk to steering a prospect back to a process or stage that we know from experience is necessary for them to pass though, for the result to be that our company gets a check.

If the prospect is unwilling to pass through those stages you have a choice, do you think that varying from proven experiences so greatly is going to positively impact the chance of advancing the sale.

What does a successful first in-person interaction look like?

It is important to have a clear idea of what we consider the successful first meeting to look like in a perfect world.

As we vary from that model, we can make a rational decision as to how far to go. We are in charge of determining how far to go, not the prospect.

There is a school of thought, and some very very successful salespeople adhere to this with much success, is that if at any particular time the prospect will not engage in a discussion of what the salesperson wants to talk about, that the salesperson will end the sales process.

He/she will explain that the purpose of this meeting is to determine if there is a mutual basis of doing business. If the prospect will not take the time to answer certain questions or engage in certain activities, they end the process as they feel that their needs are not being met.

They simply state that the purpose of the session is to determine whether they will be able to do business together at any particular time. You need to get information to determine whether or not it makes sense to work together. And if the prospect will not talk about what needs to be discussed to make that determination, the meeting is over. Without certain info the odds of closing the account is low low low, so why bother?

All too often salespeople are afraid to let go. Most of the time because they do not have clarity about the circumstances most likely to lead to a sale and the circumstances that are probable doom, and wasted time.

Being direct about our purpose is not a problem. Being direct, saying something like “Look, we are trying to make a decision as to whether it makes sense for both of us to have a business relationship, in order to do that each of us need t share information, if you are not willing to share that information that is fine, but we would choose not to invest additional time pursuing a relationship,” is not a problem.

List of open-ended discovery call questions

The inquiry phase.

What has happened in the past, what is happening now, what are the plans for the future? For the company and for the individual we are meeting.

Brainstorm and write down specific questions you might ask at a first sales meeting.

What is the company history with this type of service?
Have you personally done a lot of work with this service?
What have you accomplished in the past with this service.
Did it work
How happy were you personally with the way things worked out?
How did you decide that?
Why did you select that process?

As most people have worked with companies like us in the past it would be important to ask questions about that history.

Ask how and why questions. We should ask questions in depth about the past, as this gives us our first clues as to how individual and company are thinking,

When asking about the past, indirectly you are also asking how they selected a particular vendor.

Then we ask questions about the present

What are you trying to accomplish now?
How does your company usually operate in this area?
How do you usually do this?
What are you doing now in regard to these services?
Why are you doing it this way?
Why did you choose this method?
How is it being used?
How is it working from your point of view?
Why does the organization track this information?

Enable them to talk about how they view the present situation.

The most valuable discovery question… is there anything else?

It is always about the individual and the organization.

As to future questions, we now are trying to lay a foundation for our request.

What would you personally like to accomplish in the future?
What is the company trying to get done in the long term in this area?
How would you like to accomplish that?
When would you like to achieve that goal?
How will you be evaluating your current system?

Your discovery call checklist and agenda

Point is to develop all the info necessary to move the sale forward or to make a mutual decision not to, at least for the time being.

We may very well conclude that the odds of us winning this piece of business are not high, or they are not close to making a decision, so it may be best to make a mutual decision not to pursue a piece of business at any particular time.

Many times, there is a reluctance to go into depth with these types of questions. Many times, salespeople hesitate to give the prospect an opportunity to express any doubts, fears or regrets. In our environment it is important for us to know their doubts and fears so that we can address them or else we will not get where we want to go.

If you hear a price objection, that is really something else being masked. When you follow this process, you are giving people the opportunity to vent the real issues.

In a major sales environment, it has to be assumed that there will be multiple contacts. We have to assess when the most appropriate time is to ask the right questions.

What comes after a discovery call?

Additional meetings give you an additional opportunity to zero in on the prospect’s needs. If we try to accomplish too much at a first meeting, we can “skip stages.Going through each stage well is a prerequisite for making the sale.

There usually will be some sort of summary. When you said… your comments… it makes sense for me to put together a preliminary outline… to demonstrate the following.

We should come up with some sort of template to obtain commitment for the next session or demo.

What is the recommendation for what may happen next in a way where they are likely to agree to a next session?

Everything we say is in only to relation to what the prospect says during the meeting.

Sometimes the client has difficulties they don’t know they have and there is a temptation to describe solutions to problems which they have not expressed. It is important to focus and respond specifically to what they say and the concerns they express. Nothing else at this stage.

“Sell” the best and highest acceptable next step possible.

Always ask for the next appointment.

What do you consider to be acceptable next steps after a first sales meeting with a new prospect?

It is absolutely not, we will do something, and the prospect does nothing.
Or, we will all think about it.

They will put info together, provide reports?

Set up meetings with additional decision makers or influencers.

What do we request from prospect between first and 2nd sales conversation?

Ask for specifications

Ask for a conference call between that person and practice manager in preparation of next meeting.

We should clarify the range of requests we make of prospects. The more they interact with us, the more time they spend with us, the more comfortable they get and the greater are the odds that they will eventually feel comfortable writing a check.

Have objectives, an agenda and a game plan for the first substantive sales conversation, which lays a solid foundation for your sales process. If your process, or questions are weak, your sales foundation will be built on sand. Good luck with that.

Be willing to walk away if they will not sufficiently participate in the process you know is most likely to result in a sale.