Skip to content

There’s More To The Discovery Process Than Identifying Needs!

by David Brock on April 19th, 2011

After Qualifying, I believe the Discovery Phase of the sales process is the single most important part of the entire process.  If executed well, it is where the customer lays out the road map for how the sales person can win the deal.  Yet too often, sales people lose this opportunity, choosing to race through the process so they can get to Proposing and Closing–after all isn’t that what sales people are supposed to do–pitch and the famous, “always be closing.”

Too often sales people use the Discovery Phase as just the part of the sales cycle where they understand the customer’s needs and requirements.  These sales people shape their questions in a way that helps them specify the solution— we need two of these, we need to have this throughput, we need these features and functions, we want this level of performance. and we want this price………    These sales people are so focused on pitching their solution, their questions only give them the information they need to pitch the solution.  They fail to learn anything about how to win the business.   

But there’s so much more to discover in the Discvoery process than needs and resquirements.  Just a short list might include:

  • Understanding what the customer is trying to achieve and how this project relates to the attainment of their goals.
  • Understand what is driving the customer to change, to consider something new, why they are buying.
  • Understand what impact the issues have on the customer—both their business and the personal impact on each individual.
  • Understand who their competition is, what other alternatives they are considering, why they are considering them, what they think about each of them—oh, by the way, what they think about us.
  • Understand how they are going to make a decision–who’s involved, what their roles are, what each of their needs, issues, and priorities are.
  • To help them organize themselves to make a decision, to coach them how to buy—if they aren’t buying your category of products every week, they may not know how to buy.
  • Understand the impact of doing nothing.
  • Understand how they hope to justify the implementation or the purchase and where they will get the funding.
  • Understand what each customer involved in the decision expects and how we might meet their expectations.

There are many more, but I’ve made my point.  By taking the time to question, probe, and learn, the customer gives us all the clues of what it takes to win—they give us the road map to success.  Taking the time to help the customer assess alternative approaches and to explore, helps the customer discover new things that may be critical to their decision.  Once we have guided the customer and ourselves through the process of discovery, selling becomes very simple –we just follow the roadmap!

Too many sales people miss this.  Instead, in their rush to proposing, they know what product they have to propose, but they don’t have any of the other information to position their solution show why the customer should select them.  Since they haven’t “discovered” everything about what the customer is seeking to do, they never address these issues, consequently it’s up to the customer to figure it out — unless the competition has helped them figure everything out because the took the tiem to truly discover.

As you develop your sales strategies, do you know what you are trying to discover?  Are you trying to figure out what to sell or how to win?


(As a side note, understanding how your customers will make a decision is one of the most important things to understand in the discovery process.  We’ve just published a Free eBook on Understanding How Your Customers Make Decisions.  Just email me at to get your free copy!)

From → Uncategorized

  1. Another great post here! Great thoughts on the discovery process and how to make the most of it.

  2. I agree with Steve…this was an excellent post!

    I think one of the challenges is that many sales people don’t know what questions to ask and if they do, they are hesitant to ask because they’re afraid the questions are too intrusive.

  3. Yuegang Zhao permalink

    Great post, Dave. I could not agree more. Many times I ran into a sales person ignoring the importance of discovery and rush into proposal/quote and only to find out that they have to do it again since the customer changed their requirements, or even worse, lost the bid because a competitor created a better solution by better uncover customers’ hidden needs.

    • Yuegang, I’m really happy to see you contributing to the discussion! I know your observations come from practical experience. Thanks for sharing them.

  4. Yuegang Zhao permalink

    Dave, after reading so many great blogs from you, I could not resist 🙂

  5. Discovery is important not only during the sales process but sometimes post-mortem as well. We lost a deal the other day, customer rejected our proposal. They said our quote/price was too high.

    Was price really the issue? Or was “Your price is too high” a knee-jerk reply–and price was not the issue, but something else?

    Now the salesperson has to go back and try to find out what the ‘real objection’ is. There are a myriad of possible scenarios to consider. The customer was just doing some old fashioned tire kicking; The proposal did not include an ROI statement, i.e. if you spend X you’ll see X X X as a return in XX time; The salesperson did not qualify the purchasing authority of the prospect; The prospect was not made aware of the true costs associated with maintaining the status quo, i.e. doing nothing.

    It’s a challenge all right to go back and find out what the real story is, but consider this—if the salesrep can’t get the prospect to state what the real objection is, how can he/she expect to close them? In other words, was a credible and viable relationship established over a period of time or was it a scenario where the customer asks, “How much would it cost me for you to do _________”. If that’s the case, then a real need was not established. The customer was not made to acknowledge their pain points and made to consider the consequences of inaction.

    • Great observation Mario! Rushing through the discovery process causes us to miss the real issues the customer is concerned with. Trying to back track, either late in the sales process or in the post mortem is never as effective. Generally you are trying to catch up, find out where you went wrong, maybe shift strategies and correct mis-steps. From a customer point of view, none of that is value added time. We create much more value with the customer by covering all of this early in the discovery process.

      Thanks for joining the discussion Mario, hope to see you here frequently. Regards, Dave

  6. Spot on David! The “rush to close” by shortchanging or skipping the front end of the sales process is a prevalent problem I see in my practice. Also, the focus on deal mechanics (the obvious things like working on an RFP response or making a product presentation) at the expense of doing the real sales work (qualification, discovery, influence strategies, etc.) seems to go hand in hand with the “rush to close” syndrome…Then they wonder why their close rates are so low!

    • Great observations Don. You win or lose based on what you do and discover in the front end. But too many skip that, and, as you state see the results in low close rates and annoyed customers. Thanks for taking the time to comment. Regards, Dave

  7. Great points about the importance of not rushing to close! We had a great conversation with Jonathan Parrott the embraces the importance of discovery on this week’s podcast at SalesTuners.

    In a nutshell, he asks questions. He makes a point to learn about people. And he listens.

    Great blog! Keep up the good work, here!

    • Thanks Ty, clearly asking questions is critical in the discovery process. But I don’t think just asking questions is sufficient. The customer is going through their own discovery at the same time. As a result, it’s a huge opportunity to teach the customer–not about our product/solutions, but about the issues they are considering or should be concerned about. It’s an opportunity to help the customer organize themselves to buy. It’s the chance to engage the customer in helping them determine what they really want to achieve, the risks and other issues.

      Thanks for the comment.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. It Doesn't Matter What We Know, It's What The Buyer Needs | Partners in EXCELLENCE Blog -- Making A Difference
  2. The Untapped Power of Sales Discovery Skills | :: transforming sales results ::
  3. The Untapped Power of Sales Discovery Skills -

Leave a Reply

Note: XHTML is allowed. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS