Well-trained sales reps identify buyer’s needs by asking a series of scripted questions. This exercise can uncover useful information for the rep, but it provides little value to the customer. For many buyers, the ‘discovery’ sales call is the second, third or fourth interrogation with the same questions by yet another competitor.

Why does this matter? Executives are changing the way they make purchase decisions. Some are altering their evaluation criteria. Others are involving more people in the decision-making process. Some are changing their preferences for how they want to engage with your sales team. Decentralised decision-making is becoming centralised, and centralised decisions are now being made regionally. Failure to understand how executives are buying will prevent you from growing revenue.

How often are you shut out of a major opportunity at the beginning of the sales cycle, simply because you didn’t understand buying behaviour – the way your prospects conduct their discovery? Shift your focus to learning how your prospects discover solutions to their problems. End the interrogation sales call. If you can learn how your target market makes buying decisions, you will participate in more deals.

3 Steps to end the interrogation sales call

1. Interview recent new customers to identify their discovery process

Focus on net new customers because they have not developed a trusted relationship with your sales team that can bias their discovery practices towards your solutions. Customer discovery journeys differ. World-class sales organisations generally complete a series of six or more interviews to identify common themes and practices on the buyer’s journey. Multiple products, services or channels may require more and different interviews.

Related: 6 Sales Negotiation Secrets of Professional Buyers

QUESTION: What was the trigger event?

Before any buyer begins the search that ultimately leads them to your solution, something happened that made it imperative to learn more about your product or service. Understanding the origin of the buying journey helps you to refine your ‘Ideal Customer Profile’ to better target future buyers.

QUESTION:  What is the first thing the buyer did?

The two most common actions are to launch an Internet search or pick up the phone and call someone. The latter action results in a referral and quickly engages the buyer in your selling process where your sales team can contribute to the buyer’s discovery process.

Buyers who start with an Internet search often do not engage with a sales person until they have completed an investigation of potential solutions using the online resources that you and your competitors provide. This is where the buyer-seller disconnect happens because buyers are more educated than you think.

QUESTION:  What did the buyer already know when they formally engaged with your sales team?

Focus on the buyer’s use of web resources – white papers, blogs, online demos, videos, product specifications, ROI calculators, etc. Inventory your own online resources and your competitor’s. Provide the buyer with a checklist to remind them of their journey.

Include other marketing resources – events, newsletters, outbound messaging, advertising, etc. Inventory these resources and create a checklist. Be sure to ask which resources had the most significant impact or value in the discovery process.

Ask where your sales team was able to add value or help to advance the buyer’s discovery in ways that could not be achieved by the other resources. What knowledge gaps did the sales team fill?

If the buyer used a documented evaluation process (spreadsheet or matrix), ask them to share it with you. For each decision criterion, what evidence or resource did they use? How were the factors weighted?

2. Interview non-customers of lost opportunities

This can be a bit more challenging, since you normally do not have a strong relationship with non-customers. Their insights are especially valuable because they can pinpoint an essential ingredient that your sales process may be missing.

The questions are similar to those asked of new customers, but the focus is on closing the gap between you and your competitors.

Focus on the non-customer’s use of web resources. What resources did the winning competitor provide that aided their discovery journey? Using your inventory checklist, ask what was missing from your online resources.

Ask questions to spot where your sales team failed to advance the buyer’s discovery process. What was redundant and time-wasting? What knowledge gaps did the sales team fail to fill?

Related: 7 Questions Sales Leaders Should Ask About The Buying Process To Win More Deals

3. Construct a buyer’s ‘discovery map’

Synthesise your findings by using a flowchart to build a discovery timeline. The end result will be a buyer’s discovery map that will enable your sales and marketing team to understand how to intersect with the buyer and immediately add value.

Identify patterns in the discovery process of your sample population. Note the sequence in which the resources are engaged.

Use the discovery map to train your sales people on the buyer’s process. This will save time during sales calls and build credibility. Your sales team should let buyers know that they will not waste their time because they understand the buying process.

Provide your sales team with stories of how other buyers approached the discovery. These help to build rapport with buyers who are currently on the same journey.

Knowing your buyer’s discovery process – their buying behaviour – will put your sales team ahead of the competition and enable your sales process to deliver world-class performance.

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Josh Horstmann

Josh Horstmann

Josh Horstmannis a Managing Principal at SBI. He specialises in sales and marketing alignment strategies and has worked with clients in manufacturing, ecommerce, software, financial services and technology sectors.
Josh Horstmann

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