Sales opportunities don't just spring up out of thin air. You have to uncover them during discovery. Sometimes you need to help the client uncover them. Either way, if you aren't prepared to ask the right questions, and if you don’t have the correct focus when asking those questions, they could be precious opportunities lost.
Think about an archaeological dig. It’s a delicate process to uncover the relics. You use different tools. It takes finesse and patience. If you are too aggressive, you may crush the artifact and brush it away with the dirt. It’s a perfect analogy for the sales discovery process. If you are too pushy, the opportunity is lost.
So, what’s the correct focus for a sales rep during discovery? She knows her product. She believes her product will work well for the client. She has all the slides, charts, graphs and other support documentation to prove it. Shouldn’t her focus be on selling her product? The answer is no. Yet, many reps spend the majority of a discovery meeting talking about their product.
“Don’t Sell the Product. Sell the Solution.”
This is strong advice, but you might ask, “the Solution to what?” ej4’s founder, Paul Russell says, “Instead of talking about what you’re selling, talk more about how your customer needs what you’re selling and how what you’re selling meet or satisfies his need. Your customer will only buy the solution you are selling because he receives a benefit…..and that only works if the benefit satisfies his unmet need.”
You have to find out what that unmet need is. If you are selling to a business, the unmet need could be a source of new revenue, or a means to reduce expenses. More profit is created by either increasing revenue or reducing expenses. Most businesses, unless they are a non-profit, exist to create profit. Therefore, unless the client is a non-profit, you might want to first consider that their unmet need is to create profit. If you are selling to consumers, the unmet need could be financial income or cost savings, but it could also be time savings, effort savings, convenience, bragging rights, gastronomical satisfaction, or a multitude of other needs or problems that need a solution.
Finding the problem will lead you to the best solution for your client. Here are four important reminders when uncovering leads.
1. Build trust and rapport
People like doing business with people they know, like and trust. People also like and trust people that communicate “well” with them. Determine which communication style your client has and then adjust your style to match theirs. Let the prospect know the purpose of your questions - they should see that you’re trying to genuinely understand their business and determine if there’s a solution you can offer. They might also soften a bit when they hear you describe problems that you have solved for your other clients.
2. Ask the right questions at the right time
Have a list of questions prepared before the meeting, but don’t be a slave to your script. Their answers to your questions will likely bring up follow-up questions. By being prepared in advance, you can shift the conversation in the direction that will uncover their true need. Remember to always ask open-ended questions (who, what, when, where, why, how). Questions that can be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ won’t necessarily get you the information you need – you don’t want to limit their ability to answer in any way. Take notes, it’s a sign that you’re truly interested and engaged.
3. Dig deeper
Once you’ve uncovered areas of opportunity, continue to ask questions, repeating some of the words that they’ve used to show that you are listening and understand what they are really saying. Delve into the opportunity, and continue to ask open-ended questions. The more they talk, the more you’ll learn.
4. Summarize and set the stage
Once you've uncovered the opportunity, state it to your prospect clearly - again, trying to use as many of their words as possible. Confirm that you 'got it right' and then suggest how you could help solve this problem. If they agree that your solution may be a fit, set a clear expectation of what happens next.
Many sales have been lost because the sales rep was selling to the wrong need. It's one thing to assume you have their needs, it's another to know you do. There’s only one way to find out….ask.
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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on March 6, 2014, and has been updated for freshness and comprehensiveness.