In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that I am a self-professed sales discovery devotee.  Across my 25 years of selling technology solutions to the enterprise, show me a top performing sales rep or sales team and I’ll show you a sales rep or sales team that does discovery exceptionally well. In fact, top performing sales teams insist on conducting a thorough discovery process with all of their prospects as a standard part of their sales engagement. Many of the best sales reps that I have worked with simply will not work with a prospect that refuses to allow them to complete their proper discovery process.

Why is sales discovery more important than ever?  For starters all data shows that prospective buyers are not engaging with sales reps for approximately 60-70% of their evaluation or buyer’s journey (e.g. siriusdecisions: Buyers are doing research on line, speaking with their peers, analysts, trade associations and industry pundits…. essentially everyone but the sales rep.  All of this puts the sales rep at a distinct disadvantage as the buyer has much more control over the evaluation process, tends to be much better informed and will quickly weed out the marginally prepared sales rep.

But there is hope! Just as there is a plethora of information available on line for the buyer to conduct their research without having to engage sales reps, the same opportunity exists for the smart sales reps to do their research and due diligence without having to be engaged with the buyer or prospect.    Think about all the information that is available on companies and their employees in just a few keyboard clicks.

I can access any publicly traded companies’ annual reports complete with the “Chairman’s letter to the shareholders”, which always contain great insight into their strategic initiatives and business challenges for the upcoming years.  I can set up a Google alert on any company and have delivered to my email inbox any new news on that company.  Courtesy of LinkedIn, I can read profiles on all the key stakeholders within a company.

The LinkedIn profile is a treasure trove of information for any sales discovery fanatic.  I study LinkedIn profiles as if they were a deep-rooted psychological, sociological and cultural analysis of that person.  It’s not just what college did they attend, what companies have they worked at and what roles/titles have they had.  They can inform you as to the personality and style of the key stakeholder.  Do they prefer small or large companies?  Do they stay at the same company for long periods of time or do they move around a lot?  What does their career trajectory look like? What kind of responsibilities and strategic initiatives have they worked on?  What groups are they members of and how involved are they?  Are they leaders or followers?  Are they conservative in nature or risk takers?

You really can find out a ton without even having one conversation with the buyer.  You can do Google searches on key stakeholders and find papers that they have authored or videos of them presenting at a major conference.  You can search Facebook and find their profiles to see who they are friends with, what do tone do their posts have (i.e., political, social, cultural etc.) what they do for hobbies, how active and progressive they are or aren’t on Social Media, etc.  It sounds a bit like a stalker but it never ceases to amaze me when a sales rep or sales team does not exploit this discovery opportunity today.

Discovery done well is the foundation for your sales strategy.  Great sales teams “out discover” their competitors and peers and as such, simply know a lot more about the prospect company, their key stakeholders, the internal and external relationships and dynamics, what is important to them, what isn’t, how they buy, their culture, etc.

Discovery is at the heart of every win/loss analysis.  Virtually every win will be a result of your sales team doing a good job of discovery, finding out the key bits of information and insight, formulating the right sales strategy based on their discovery findings and executing against it.  And every loss will highlight some level of a discovery failure from your sales team didn’t engage a key stakeholder, didn’t find out key decision criteria and weighting, or was missing key information that resulted in a bad sales strategy.  Some of the smartest discovery decisions that your sales team can make are when to walk on an opportunity or deal.  Some deals are not winnable (e.g., being sober about how your solution is aligned to their needs versus competitive options), or they are deals that are not worth winning (i.e., can never make the customer happy, major pain in the ass type customer, not worth the revenue that they will pay you).

Please share some of your best practices sales discovery stories and good selling to all!