Discovery Calls & Demos
SDRs spend months getting in front of buyers, all for the chance to book a discovery call.
Before this meeting, sellers and their brand are usually unfamiliar to the buyer: only their frustrations about a problem and the curiosity to solve it is driving the relationship forward.
However, the relationship between a buyer and seller changes forever after the right discovery. Trust is built, synergies are found, and the foundation for a future closed sale is solidified.
What happens during discovery that creates such drastic, rapid changes in how buyers perceive and interact with salespeople? How does a rep conduct a discovery call successfully?
Discovery is the true beginning of a prospect’s experience with a brand, where the buyer and seller officially connect on a scheduled meeting to discuss, align, and find potential synergies.
With effective discovery, sellers can better align with buyers, stick out against competitors in the sales process, and identify the hidden value in deals that other salespeople might miss.
Before You Start
Modern buyers are more self-educated, independent, and information-driven than ever before.
In the past, salespeople were a critical part of a buyer’s journey to discover problems, quantify their impact, learn about solutions, and evaluate options.
However, today’s organizations rely much less on sellers: decision-makers often do their own research, identify solutions, and compare vendors before ever starting a sales conversation.
Combined with more stakeholders, tighter vetting processes, and greater transparency between competitors, buyers have evolved to better control a sale and weed out unneeded purchases.
This reality has made it incredibly difficult for today’s salespeople to successfully gain trust, stay top-of-mind, and influence decisions throughout the buying process.
It’s also highlighted the importance of great sales discovery: buyers must trust a seller before they ever let a rep enter their world and influence their thinking.
To improve sales outcomes, it’s essential for SDRs and AEs to understand the discovery process and how it can be used to build trust, qualify opportunities, and position a future sale.
Why Qualification Matters
Sales organizations could spend millions of dollars handing out discovery calls or free consultations to anyone willing to show up.
There’s a very big reason why this doesn’t happen: costs are involved in every step of the process from finding and generating leads to discovery calls, proposals, and closing.
In addition, it’s likely that not every buyer can afford or even make use of a company’s solution.
With limited resources, organizations must clearly define the best types of accounts to target based on firmographic data, use cases, the potential value of a deal, and more.
However, there’s a difference between an account that’s worth the marketing budget and one that’s valuable enough for an AE.
How does marketing identify which accounts to invest budget in converting? How does business development know when a buyer is qualified enough for sales?
Organizations use different buying triggers or events to identify exactly when it makes sense for marketing, business development, or sales to be responsible for next steps.
Terminologies such as Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL), Sales Accepted Lead (SAL), and Sales Qualified Lead (SQL) are common qualifying stages used to define the value, positioning, and next steps of a buyer’s journey with the organization.
With a clear qualification process, SDR teams can increase the quality of leads generated by marketing, reduce wasted time on bad fits, and better position sales for the discovery call.
Every Discovery Call is Different
Much of the sales development role is structured, defined, and repeatable.
Lists are targeted. Outreach is scripted. Activities are data-driven.
Even conversations leading up to the meeting can be semi-automated. However, everything changes the moment a salesperson gets on a live discovery call.
There are several layers that need to be managed in a discovery call:
- The person (personality, tendencies, preferences)
- The professional (priorities, expertise, career path)
- The company (market environment, team structure, direction)
In the meeting, it’s on sellers to navigate the unknown waters of discovery by using new information and the flow of conversation to get a comprehensive picture of a buyer’s situation.
While structure and preparation can help create consistency in the discovery process, much of a discovery conversation will be distinctly unique from buyer to buyer.
How can a salesperson gather the information their organization needs while simultaneously building trust and guiding the buyer through a conversation that’s actually valuable?
Lack of predictability in discovery is why it’s so important for salespeople to deeply understand their industry, their buyers, and the many situations they might encounter in their market.
Rather than a repeatable, coin-operated process, the discovery meeting is where organizations can gain real-time intelligence on key markets and personalize the sales experience for buyers.
Call Expectations: Buyer vs Seller
Discovery provides the chance for buyers to describe their situation, confess their troubles, and learn about potential solutions for a better future.
At the same time, salespeople are expected to unearth specific information about the buyer, check boxes to qualify the deal, and find ways in between to influence their thinking.
This creates a natural conflict on the call: Buyers want to share little and gain as much as they can, while sellers must learn as much as possible and share little until the right moment.
When this conflict isn’t addressed, the gap between the buyer and seller widens:
- Reps become interrogators or talk too much
- Buyers guard information or zone out
- Reps lose control over the conversation
- Buyers rush to an overview or pricing
- Reps miss critical pieces in discovery
- Buyers leave feeling misunderstood
To conduct discovery successfully, it’s critical for salespeople to manage the fine balance between what buyers need from the call versus what the sales organization expects to learn.
Sales Discovery & Demos
Through persistence and great prospecting skills, a meeting has been booked!
While product, price, accessibility, and brand are all factors that can impact a sale, one of the most important is the quality of a buyer’s experience going through the sales journey.
A poor discovery call can leave buyers confused, push them to look elsewhere, or completely ruin a brand’s chances of closing the deal.
A great discovery call can create compelling realizations for the buyer, unearth hidden value within the deal, and accelerate momentum towards a closed sale.
With a clear understanding of general sales discovery, sellers can create more consistency in initial meetings, gain more control over the sale, and better influence the direction of buyers.
Research & Call Preparation
Discovery isn’t easy.
Every buyers’ situation is unique and it’s the salesperson’s job to get a clear picture, align with their direction, and guide them through the process of finding a solution.
Buyers expect salespeople to do their homework, be prepared, and know how to navigate a conversation about their specific situation without hand-holding by the prospect.
After all, buyers choose to give up their time to the seller in exchange for the promised value that is created through being vulnerable in a discovery conversation.
To make the most out of every discovery meeting, it’s critical to have the right planning process so that sellers are informed and equipped to handle the different situations that buyers face.
Preparation is key for sales discovery!
Reps can’t effectively navigate a discovery call without first understanding their industry, market, and the common use cases that often bring buyers to a discovery call in the first place.
Beyond general knowledge about their environment, reps should do enough research to get an understanding for the real human being on the other end of the call:
- Where was this person before this role?
- What are their priorities & responsibilities?
- How do they contribute to the buying process?
- What’s unique about them as an individual?
For example, a seller might start call prep by researching account-level information. How large is the company? What teams are involved? How are their competitors doing?
From there, they can move to research on key deal stakeholders. Who would use the solution? Who else is involved in the purchase? Where does the prospect fit into the picture?
Finally, the rep can find more information about the specific person on the call to personalize the conversation to the buyer’s personality and preferences.
With the right call preparation process, it’s much easier to relate to the buyer, influence their thinking, and build trust towards the next step in the sales process.
For salespeople to effectively navigate discovery calls with very unique people in different situations, it’s critical to build the skills of how to ask great questions within a conversation.
The right questions can provoke thought, create realizations, and position the seller as a trusted advisor on the buyer’s journey to purchase.
The wrong questions can provoke reactions, create confusion, and flatten engagement.
While there are hundreds of potential questions that a salesperson can ask buyers, it only takes a few of them to make or break the outcome of a discovery call.
Here are a few best practices to keep in mind about sales discovery questions:
Ask Open-Ended Questions: Create the beginnings of a longer conversation with questions. Instead of asking closed-ended questions that can be answered with a few words, position discovery questions to expand the discussion.
Probing Questions: Sellers can use probing questions to help gather specific information to diagnose problems, but can come off as interrogatory if they’re not presented carefully. Probe as much as needed to align with the buyer, but weave these questions into the flow of conversation.
Dig Into Process: Go beyond understanding what buyers do. Use “how” questions to paint a clear picture of the specific steps within their process to generate results.
Thought-Provoking Questions: Thought-provoking questions help sellers reframe the buyer’s situation from a new perspective so they can identify roadblocks and potential solutions. Use these questions to guide buyers on a journey of realization about their current state.
Don’t Accept Vague Answers: Buyers often respond with half answers. Don’t let them. Push to define unknowns, clarify implications, and get to the root of what’s really happening.
Validate Understanding with Questions: Interpretation is everything and sellers regularly misunderstand, underestimate, or ignore potentially critical information. Make a habit of repeating a buyer’s response to verify that everyone is on the same page about the answer.
The art of asking great questions and conducting smooth sales discovery is incredibly difficult, but the right best practices can help ensure sellers create the best experience possible for buyers.
Problems & Impact
Problems drive a sale.
Buyers purchase solutions to create a future state that can solve an issue, close a gap, or improve upon their current situation.
Without clarity around the problems a buyer has, it’d be difficult for any salesperson to effectively gain trust, influence thinking, and create urgency around finding a solution.
To fully understand a buyer’s pains, sellers must first ask questions to paint a clear picture of what’s actually happening, why it’s being done that way, and what prospects think about it.
For example, business service industries often struggle with hiring, training, and onboarding team members to help them scale. If a buyer resonated with this problem on a discovery call, the rep would dig further to clarify exactly what they struggle with and why they’re struggling.
However, it’s not enough to simply identify a problem: buyers must consider the actual impact of letting these problems continue unsolved for them to realize that a solution is necessary.
It’s the seller’s job to use questions in the discovery process to guide buyers to their own realization about the severity of their situation. Without impact, it’s easy for buyers to shrug their shoulders at a problem and maintain the status quo out of sheer convenience.
Once a rep has unearthed the specific problems driving a sale, they can use the impact created by those pains to provide the buyer with a reality check about why their situation must change.
When a buyer has taken the steps to explore their situation, expose their issues, and examine the impact of their problems, sellers gain tremendous leverage to use in creating a sales opportunity.
Presentation & Demo
The transition from discovery to selling is very delicate.
While the primary purpose of a discovery call is to gather information, qualify, and align, that’s not enough to motivate buyers to move further into the sales process.
First a seller must reveal the real pains disrupting a buyer’s current situation, but then they have to transition into a conversation about how a brand’s solution can fit into their future vision.
Without this pivot into a true sales conversation, buyers miss critical information about how the brand is uniquely positioned to help solve their problem instead of competitors.
In this phase of the sales process, sales organizations use a variety of presentation methods depending on the type of solution they sell and the type of buyers they serve:
- Spoken Pitch
- Overview Deck
- Product Demo
- Customer Story
Regardless of how the seller presents, it’s critical to make the pivot at the right time.
Some sales teams start the call with a presentation, but those that wait until the end are holding back because they see the value of using sales discovery to personalize their presentation.
Buyers are unlikely to find interest in a brand or take action if they’re unqualified, aren’t aware of their problems, or don’t see any urgency in solving these issues.
By conducting discovery before transitioning into a sales presentation, sellers can tailor their overview to stay focused on the most relevant topics and avoid areas that likely won’t resonate.
With practice and deep knowledge on buyers, salespeople can smoothly pivot discovery conversations from exploring a buyer’s situation to considering valuable future states.
Tips & Best Practices for Discovery
Even with years of experience and continuous practice, a salesperson can’t guarantee a successful outcome on every discovery call they book.
The reality of sales discovery is that no two buyers will ever have the exact same combination of circumstances, problems, and consequences.
Some deals just aren’t qualified. Some calls just don’t go well. Some buyers just aren’t nice!
However, there are a variety of sales methodologies and best practices that reps can implement to help maximize the value generated by a discovery meeting before, during, and after the call.
Speed & Building Credibility
Today’s buyers rely less on salespeople to buy, which implicitly means they no longer have to wait on sellers to access information, compare vendors, and move forward in the buying process.
Prospects typically connect with as many reputable competitors as they can find when considering a purchase, so brands must race against each other to compete for conversations.
The faster the momentum, the better the chance a salesperson has to close a deal.
In fact, a 2014 report from XANT (formerly InsideSales) found in a study that 50% of buyers chose the vendor that responded first.
Even after a discovery conversation, speed continues to be a major contributing factor to beating out competitors and moving deals to an eventual close.
However, speed can’t replace the need to be a credible choice. Can a brand hold up and pass an acid test after being compared to other competitors?
Before a buyer ever invests time in a seller or accepts the pace of a sales process, they often do the due diligence to see whether or not a brand is reputable enough to warrant a conversation.
Credibility can be built in a variety of different ways, but here are a few tips around how to build credibility with a buyer before, during, and after a discovery call:
- Make the Sales Experience Seamless
- Share Unique Market Knowledge
- Personalize the Impact of Their Problems
- Empathize with Their Specific Use Case
- Use Customer Stories & Testimonials
Combined with speed, credibility can be used to immediately capture attention, stick out of the crowd among competitors, and influence thinking even after the discovery call.
Don’t Be Afraid to Disqualify
Salespeople face so much rejection, it’s often hard to be the one that says no to a deal.
After all, why would a seller deny themselves the exhilarating opportunity to sell?
Sales is not just about closing deals to generate revenue: selling is about closing deals with the right types of customers so that outcomes are positive and account expansion is possible.
Buyer interest, engagement, and willingness to purchase are great, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’d be a good fit for the solution or a good customer for the brand.
Unfortunately, many salespeople fall into the trap of trying to sell to bad-fit customers because they’re blinded by the excitement of winning a sale.
What is the impact of closing a customer that isn’t a good fit?
After a deal is won, the brand must onboard the customer and commit continuous resources to retain their business. With limited time to spare, the team must grow this new relationship while still managing existing customers.
Every new customer impacts the success of other customers.
Since the customer isn’t a great match, it’s likely they’ll take more time, energy, and morale from the team to make their outcome successful (if success is even possible).
Even if a positive outcome is delivered, it’s more likely that bad-fit customers will still expect more, ask for concessions, or cancel the engagement early.
Qualification exists to weed out these deals early so that time isn’t wasted in prospecting, selling, and serving an unqualified buyer.
Don’t be afraid to say no to a buyer. Not only does it prevent negative customer experiences, it also saves time that a seller can instead spend focusing on the right buyers.
Navigating Deal Stakeholders
Beyond startups and small- to mid-sized businesses (SMBs), it’s very rare to close a deal where only a single decision-maker signed off on the purchase.
Most buyers involve a variety of stakeholders to evaluate, consider, and make a B2B purchase:
- Individual Contributors (Users & Adopters)
- Middle Management (Implementers & Enablers)
- Impacted Department Heads (Bystanders & Observers)
- Executive Leadership (Vision Keepers & Motion Creators)
Every stakeholder has varying influence on the direction of a deal, along with their own unique perspectives and concerns about how a solution could potentially impact the company.
In addition, stakeholders within a sale are all connected in some way through organizational structure, process, or hierarchy: one stakeholder opinion can change the trajectory of a sale.
To maintain control, salespeople need to become familiar with all of the stakeholders involved in a purchase and proactively navigate through this group of people to move the deal forward.
Which stakeholders are championing the deal internally? Who has concerns or reservations? What does each person need to buy-in to the sale? How does everyone’s expectations differ?
With access to the different stakeholders in a deal, salespeople can gain better visibility into the direction of the sale and improve their ability to unblock and accelerate the closing of a deal.
Everything changes once a buyer goes through discovery.
After months of cold prospecting & follow-up outreach, SDRs achieve the win of booking a discovery call with a prospect on their list.
The moment a seller gets through a discovery call, they instantly stand out among the other competitors still researching, reaching out, and hunting.
The right discovery process can give salespeople the confidence to navigate conversations with any qualified buyer in their market, regardless of situation or buying stage.
With the right best practices behind sales discovery, sellers can consistently outcompete other brands for customers based on the value they provide in the sales experience.