Sales Process – Discovery Stage

The next step in the sales process, after you’ve set a plan for the call, is to pick up the phone, make the call and start asking questions.  Its the sales process – discovery stage.  It sounds simple, but you’d be surprised how hard this can truly be.  I remember when I first started making cold calls, how nervous I was before I picked up the phone.  It almost always took 10-15 calls before the nerves went away.  And even to this day, my nerves are still there.  I’ve learned, over the years, that if I plan the call, my nerves are less likely to be there and less likely to distract me.

Cold calling is a means to learn more about another company that might be able to utilize your product or service.  If you let the fact that it’s a cold call get to you, then you’ll fail to realize your full potential.  It’s best to break down the process into smaller actionable steps.  As you move through the process, you can check off what you’ve accomplished and move through the stages of the sales process to close more deals.

Sales Process – Discovery Stage – Step #2

Once you’ve figured out through the prospecting stage of the sales process who the decision maker(s) are, it’s time to qualify your lead.  This particular stage is important to uncover how your product or service can help solve a challenge or pain that the company is having.  It’s a step that is often left unfinished.  And when that happens, time gets wasted by the sales person as well as the prospects.  If this stage isn’t thoroughly worked then it’s hard for a sales person to distinguish themselves from any other person calling.  The right questions have to be asked to truly discover if your product/service will fit for your prospect.

Asking Questions

Why do we ask questions?  We ask questions to fully qualify the prospect.  Unfortunately, I’ve seen too many sales people get excited about a prospect only to find out deep within the process that it’s not a good fit.  They were not fully qualified; thus leaving not only yourself but the prospect frustrated and only hurting your confidence as a sales person.

Tough questions are important to ask early in the sales process.  Sometimes the only way to move through the stages of a sale is to ask the uncomfortable questions that will force the process to either keep moving in a positive direction or to stop it completely.  In some cases, stopping it was the best decision.  Obviously, in a perfect world, every company that you call moves along the process and ends up in a sale.

How Do You Improve

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but not every company called will result in a sale.  If that was the case then you wouldn’t be reading this to try and improve how you sell.  I’d love to tell you that after reading and applying this on a daily basis, that you would close every deal.  But that’s simply not the case.  The truth is, you’re just trying to increase your chances of closing each deal.  Even a 1% improvement over time will have an impact on your sales.

With the right questions, you can accomplish a lot in a short period of time.  The first thing to avoid when asking questions is the dreaded yes/no questions.  That is the quickest way to get off the phone with nothing learned or gained.  What if you were asked a question such as “do you have time to talk?”  What would your response be? Mine would be “no, I don’t.”  The conversation just ended.

You Can Only Control You

Often times the objections we hear are because we set it up that way.  I’ve heard many sales people ask, “do you ever…”, or “do you like…”, and the other end of the phone quickly gives a “no” answer.  It’s almost impossible to recover after hearing that.  By that time, you’re so deflated that you simply say, “thank you for your time”, and hang up.  This not only hurts your confidence, but it leaves you frustrated and even irritated.  And that will only hurt every single call you make after it.  You can’t think about the last call.  You have to move forward and figure out how you can improve upon it.

It’s okay to make some assumptions when calling prospects.  Such as, if they picked up the phone, then they have a few minutes to talk.  Now that doesn’t mean you’re in just because they answered the phone, but that does mean you have 30 seconds to show why they should have a conversation with you.  If you work for a company, then they’ve put together material for you to use as an opening.  What works for me is simply;

“Hi, my names Tim and I work with X company.  The reason for my call is to understand your current process with Y and my goal is to show you why I think I could help your company.” 

Then I go right into asking my first open ended question.  If you ask a question right after your initial statement then they’re less likely to get you off the phone and instead they’ll answer your question.  At that point, you’re having a conversation and the sales process can begin.

Try to ask open ended questions.  The questions will vary by industry but they should encourage a conversation.

Here are a few examples:

  • What does your current process look like?
  • What is most important to you when deciding on a vendor?
  • What are the current challenges you’re facing?
  • Who are you currently working with?
  • What does your budget look like?
  • What is your timeframe for making a decision?
  • How does your role within the company affect the business?
  • What do you like most about your current provider?
  • What part of your current process can be improved?
  • What are your expectations for this type of product/service?
  • How did you decide on your current vendor/product?
  • Tell me about an average day when it comes to that service/product?
  • Tell me about your goals for the business, what do you hope to accomplish with this service/product?
  • What steps do we need to take to become a partner?
  • How do we become a part of your process?

There are literally thousands of different questions you can ask. Find the best ones that fit your situation. Do your best to keep them open ended or make them choose an answer.  An example would be, “Do you prefer X or Y when it comes to your process?”.  Questions like that can be helpful if you know where you want to go with their answers.

In Summary

At the end of the day you’re simply having a conversation about their business.  Try not to read your questions like an interview because you’ve lost the advantage of asking open ended questions if you do.  It’s about building rapport with the person on the other end of the phone.  The answers should prompt additional questions to ask on that topic or should be a good transition to the next one.

Go back to step 1 on planning and there’s no reason you won’t be able to control the conversation with the topics that you want covered.  But don’t be afraid to go on a tangent if your prospect takes it a different way, just remember to go back to your topics before you end the call.

The next critical step after the sales process – discovery stage is to truly listen to what they are telling you.  More on that with the next post.

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