We get the Discovery process wrong–period, full stop.
Most of the time we actually fail to do discovery. Look at your inbox, I suspect 95% of the prospecting mails you have say, “Organizations like yours have this problem–we solve it. Our product has these capabilities…..” They end it by asking to schedule a meeting or demo. These sellers never try to discover the problem, they assume the problem that supports their pitch.
When we do try to do discovery, too often it’s “discovery with an agenda.” We ask questions that enable us to immediately switch the conversation to our solution. “Do you have a problem with sales performance?………..Well our solution improves sales performance in these ways, can we schedule a demo?” Again too often we are so focused on pitching our solution, that our questions fall short of real discovery.
Some fewer sellers do a much better job at discovery. They focus on understanding, characterizing, and qualifying the problem. They refrain from pitching a solution until they understand the problem the customer is experiencing and their “needs” in solving the problem. Once they thoroughly understand it, they can then present the solution in the context what they have learned from the customer.
This is very powerful, too few sellers understand how to do this, too few execute this level of discovery.
But it still misses a critical issue. It assumes the customer understands the problem. It assumes they can characterize it, that they have done the work to diagnose the problem, determine their needs, understand the risks, and narrow the solution set they are considering.
The reality couldn’t be more different. The discovery process is really about the customer and their learning process. It’s learning the questions they should be asking themselves and their colleagues; it’s learning who should be involved; it’s discovering why it’s important to address and resolve; it’s discovering what others have done; it’s identifying the need to change and the consequences of not changing, it’s understanding risks; it’s getting support for addressing the issues and making changes in the organization.
And this is where customers struggle the most. Trying to understand the problem, it’s impact, and deciding to take action is where they struggle. It’s outside their experience base, it’s outside their daily job responsibilities. If they knew how to do it well, they probably would have preempted the issue much earlier.
But this is where sellers create huge value. We work with customers facing similar issues every day. We see the things they do to understand the issues, to change, and to succeed with the change. We also see those who have failed and the impact of those failures.
We bring deep expertise in understanding the problem and what others have done in addressing this. But it requires us to change our discovery process, focusing on the customer’s discovery and learning. Our questions have to help the customer focus on understanding the issues, risks, need to change. Until the customer thoroughly understands these, presenting solutions is meaningless to them.
But once they understand this, once they understand the problem, they reach a point where they ask, “Can you help us?”
Only then is it appropriate to talk about solutions. The customer is ready to learn, they can intelligently assess the solutions with greater confidence.
When we do this. amazing things happen-some counterintuitive:
- Once they have great confidence they understand the problem, they will have greater confidence in making decisions around the solution. FOMU/ FOFU is profoundly reduced. From the seller point of view, the number of “no decision made,” plummets.
- In creating value with the customer, helping them better understand the problem, we’ve actually positioned ourselves as a trusted partner in moving forward. We become more favored as they move to a decision.
- We help them simplify their buying process. We are too familiar with the “spaghetti chart” buying processes customers take. Starting, stopping, shifting priorities, shifting directions, and so forth. Largely this is a result of their failure to do the front end work of really understanding the problem. Working with them helps them become much more confident, effective, and efficient when they move into buying.
- And because we’ve increased their understanding of the problem, giving them greater confidence they are doing the right thing in the right way, their buying process is actually shortened dramatically. Based on our experience, we see total buying cycles reduced by as much as 30%.
We need to understand the customer’s problem in order to engage them effectively. But, the customer needs to understand their problem to make a decision in which they have great confidence.
Somehow, it seems if we do this collaboratively, we create a win-win.
Jeff Williams says
Do you find there is often a certainty struggle? Do customers approach a solution partner after and because they are certain they already understand their problem?
David Brock says
This is such a fascinating question Jeff, thanks for posing it. Sometimes, particularly for highly transactional purchases, where customers have deep buying experience, there is a justified certainty. But too often, there is what I call, Faux Certainty. They think they know, but they really don’t If you reflect back to the famous Gartner Spaghetti diagram, where customers start in one place and wander all over; or you look at the data on buyer regret, or you look at the Jolt Effect data on 60% of buying decisions end in no decision made.
All of those buyers had some sort of “Certainty” about what they were doing, when in reality they didn’t know what they didn’t know.
This is where great sellers dominate, they don’t accept the certainty at face value. They ask questions to validate it, or to get people to think differently.
Really great question. Thanks so much Jeff! Regards, Dave