Many sales and presales practitioners say they are skilled at doing Discovery – but are they?  Here’s a simple method to assess, based on seven levels of increasing proficiency:

  • Level 1: Uncovers statements of pain.
  • Level 2: Uncovers pain and explores more deeply.
  • Level 3: Uncovers pain, explores deeply, broadens the pain and investigates the impact.
  • Level 4: Uncovers pain, explores and broadens, investigates impact and quantifies.
  • Level 5: Uncovers pain, explores and broadens, investigates impact, quantifies and reengineers vision.
  • Level 6: Applies these skills to the broad range of prospects represented across the Technology Adoption Curve, “burn victims”, disruptive and new product categories, transactional sales cycles, and other scenarios.
  • Level 7: Integrates and aligns the skills above into a cohesive Discovery methodology.

Let’s explore each of these briefly…

Level 1

When doing Discovery, if your presales or salespeople simply uncover “Pain” and go no further, then they are novices.

For example, the prospect offers, “Our current process is manual…”  Many vendors leap to propose a solution at this point – let’s call this Level 1 Discovery.

Basic – and clearly insufficient…!

Level 2

Vendor representatives with slightly deeper Discovery skills ask follow-up questions to explore the pain more deeply.

Example:

  • The prospect says, “Our current process is manual…”
  • Vendor replies, “Sorry to hear this – why is this an issue?”
  • Prospect responds, “Well, it takes too long to get the reports we need and there are often errors in the reports…”

This shows a step up in skills attainment – Level 2.  The pain is a bit deeper and the impact is beginning to be understood, but we can go (much) further…

Level 3

Practitioners at Level 3 seek to understand more about the impact of the pain on the immediate and extended prospect organization – let’s continue the conversation:

  • The prospect says, “Our current process is manual…”
  • Vendor replies, “Sorry to hear this – why is this an issue?”
  • Prospect responds, “Well, it takes too long to get the reports we need and there are often errors in the reports, because of the manual process…”
  • Vendor asks, “What’s in these reports and how are they used?”
  • Prospect answers, “Well, the reports give us visibility into where we have problems to address. When the reports are late – which is nearly always – the delay results in unhappy internal customers…”

This conversation continues, exploring the content of the reports, how they are consumed, the nature of the problems, how the user population is impacted, and how addressing the process impacts the prospect’s goals and objectives.

This discussion broadens and deepens the exploration of the pain and seeks to look beyond the workflow.  Who else is impacted and in which departments?  Is this a local pain or something that affects the organization more extensively?

Level 3 is all about understanding impact.

Where can we go from here?  To uncover value!

Level 4

At Level 4, presales and salespeople quantify the pain, using the prospect’s own numbers.

For example:

  • Vendor says, “You noted that it takes too long to get these reports done – how long is it taking today?”
  • Prospect responds, “Oh, it takes about a week – 5 working days…”
  • Vendor asks, “How long would you like it to take – or need it to take – to feel you’ve really addressed this problem?”
  • Prospect answers, “Well, if we could get these done accurately in a half a day, that would be terrific…!”

Now we have a tangible Delta of value – the difference between the prospect’s current state and their desired future state – of 4.5 days.  Our vendor should further explore this by asking how often the reports are generated, how often errors occur (and what happens when they do) and how much time is consumed by the team creating these reports.

The answers to these questions might result in the following exchange:

  • Vendor summarizes, “So, if I understand correctly, generating these reports is currently consuming nearly 1.5 FTEs annually, and taking 4.5 days longer than you want – in addition it is causing below-desired internal NPS numbers for you and your team.”
  • Prospect responds, “That’s correct – and I hadn’t really internalized the full cost of this problem until now…!”

Level 4 skills are all about uncovering value.

Can we do better than this?  Absolutely…!

Level 5

Practitioners at Level 5 reengineer the prospect’ vision of a solution.

In our conversation from above, our vendor asks the prospect to describe or share an example of the report currently used.  After viewing the report, the vendor realizes that it is lacking certain capabilities or possibilities, and explores these with the prospect:

  • Vendor notes, “It looks like you have a good basic view of the what’s working and what’s not in these reports, but they are static, if I understand correctly… Would it be useful or interesting to be able to drill down to find the root causes, right from the report?”
  • Prospect responds, “Wow, yes that would be terrific – that would save a lot of time…!” [How time savings might also be explored here…]

Our vendor has now proposed an improved version of the report – and the prospect has agreed this would be better.  This is one example of Vision Reengineering – going beyond the prospect’s initial vision of a solution.

The ability to execute this kind of Vision Reengineering is a Level 5 skill.

Level 5 with a Differentiating Twist

Vision Reengineering is also an opportunity to outflank competition.

In our example conversation, our vendor realizes that he/she has a relevant capability that is not matched by the competition and introduces it as follows:

  • Vendor notes, “Many of our other customers, in similar situations to what you’ve described so far, found it very useful to have these reports sent automatically to the consumers via an email link – but only when there was a problem to be addressed. Our customers report that they didn’t waste time accessing reports where there were no issues – in some cases, they reported saving several hours every week.  Is this a capability you’d also like to have?”
  • Prospect answers, “Wow – yes, that would be really helpful for us as well…!”
  • Vendor offers, “Great – let’s plan to include it in the demo…”

Here, our vendor rep has introduced the alert-based capability – a key differentiator – and turned it into a Specific Capability that the prospect wants and expects in a solution.

The folks at Level 5 not only reengineer vision but also competitively outflank.

Brief Digression

We’ve outlined a representative subset of Discovery skills to enable an easy assessment of Discovery skill levels.  There are many other skills not addressed in this simple ranking system, including managing timing and flow, probing methods, workflow analysis, going beyond the workflow, starting Discovery, individuals vs. groups, “Why” questions, culture and uniqueness, and more.

The take-away is simple – there’s much more to be learned than what is represented in the 5 skills levels defined so far!  Which takes us to…

Level 6

The skills and levels outlined above are terrific for “standard” prospects – but sadly there is no such thing as a “standard” prospect!  While many prospects fit within a reasonable range of situations and experiences, there are numerous types that extend well beyond the norm.

These include “burn victims”, Early Adopters and Technology Adopters, Laggards, prospects for disruptive and new product categories, repeat vs. first-time buyers, working with the C-Suite, transactional sales cycles, and other scenarios.

Burn victims offer a good example to explore…

Burn Victims – Fear and Loathing of Risk Unrewarded

“Have you tried to fix this before?”  Answers to this question can yield interesting and sometimes surprising information.

Customers who tried to address problems previously and failed are known as “burn victims” – and they tend to be very careful about subsequent solution proposals!

A “Yes” response requires careful follow-up questions.  “What happened?” is a good starting point.  You want to understand what actions were taken, what tools were purchased, what was implemented, when this all took place – and what were the outcomes for the individual, as well as the organization and others who were impacted.

There is great risk in change – often accompanied by fear and loathing.  And for good reason!

Have you ever seen an implementation effort fail?  Have you ever met a customer who was unable to gain the desired value from an offering?  Have you ever encountered someone who had to roll back to a previous solution?

In Discovery conversations, you need to determine if the prospect was a burn victim – and then explore exactly what happened.  Only by hearing and understanding the prospect’s sad story can you convince them that the same thing won’t happen with you…!

Level 6 Revisited

Another example is inherent in the range of personalities associated with different positions on the Technology Adoption Curve.  Innovators tend to require very little Discovery – they often synthesize use cases on their own…!  Early Adopters are similar, but typically want a reasonable level of Discovery to confirm their own opinions.

Early Majority differ (sometimes greatly!) from Late Majority in the level of proof required and the amount of corresponding Discovery.  Whereas Early Majority individuals may be satisfied with a Technical Proof Demo, as you move to the right on the curve, they’ll start to require POCs.  Late Majority players are much more likely to pursue an RFP process (and even further to the right expect an RFI followed by an RFP – and a high probability that the entire effort will end in “No Decision”!).

Laggards may never make a change – and no amount of Discovery will satisfy!

For another Level 6 example, consider transactional sales processes, where opportunity size is small and interactions with prospects are brief.  These scenarios require yet another version of Discovery (and demo) skills application.  See our article for the full story.

Level 6 practitioners are adept at both the questioning/probing methods and application of these skills to the special circumstances of the “non-standard” population.

What’s next?

Level 7

The skills discussed so far are just that – skills – and they beg the question, “when and how should these various skills be applied?”

Should a Discovery conversation begin with an exploration of “pain” or address prospect pain and solution vision later on?  Are there best practices for timing and flow?  How do you change topics; when do you employ Expansion Questions to dig deeper; what are good quid pro quo to offer along the way; how do you know you’ve covered enough?

And how do you, as an organization, ensure that the output of your Discovery conversations is consistent within your team?  How do you avoid CRM “Discovery” notes from untrained reps that consist of, “It’s a huge opportunity”?

The answer is that Discovery must be perceived as an integrated, cohesive methodology – where the individual skills are applied in a structured, repeatable process.

An Analogy – Let’s Build a House!

Contemplate a range of construction skills:  the ability to hammer nails, drill holes, saw wood, pour cement, connect wiring, plumb sinks and drains, install drywall, paint, etc.  Each of these skills takes time to learn and master.

Building a complete house requires both these skills and coordinated timing and flow.

In order to know what to build, an architect generates plans – a full set may include separate pages for the foundation, framing, plumbing plan, electrical and lighting, heating and cooling, roof and exterior, interior finish, cabinetry and fittings, and more.

The contractor takes the plans and coordinates the timing and flow of each step – that’s the methodology of construction!  You can’t install light fixtures and electric wiring until the framing is in place – but you also need to do the electrical before internal drywall and finish.

And imagine the disaster if a concrete foundation is poured – and then the contractor realizes that plumbing and electrical conduits should have been installed first…!

Methodology is what coordinates the individual skills with the correct timing and flow.

Back to Level 7 – Discovery as a Methodology

Our construction contractor works from a set of architect plans to know what needs to be built. Over a period of years, he or she has likely acquired the knowledge to lay out the timing, assemble the appropriate skilled workers as needed and direct them.  (And there are numerous books that lay out the process – a quick search on Amazon shows dozens…)

Similarly, seasoned sales and presales practitioners with many years of experience may have synthesized their own, personal Discovery methodologies – but each will have strengths, weaknesses, gaps and additions based on their personal experiences.  What is needed is an organizational Discovery methodology – that’s Level 7!

At the simplest, this means that vendor teams need Discovery outlines or templates predefined with recommended flow and timing.  A completed Discovery document for a prospect is the output of the process – and such completed Discovery documents should look similar from sales rep to rep and presales practitioner to practitioner.

A successful Discovery methodology works comfortably for both prospect and vendor.   At the end of the conversation(s), the prospect feels fully “heard” and the vendor feels fully enabled to propose a precise solution.

An assessment for Level 7 includes two “figures of merit”:

  1. Your organization executes skills at Level 5 at minimum (and at Level 6 for the typical range of prospects you encounter);
  2. You have consistent capture and documentation of the Discovery information defined as the complete set necessary to propose precise solutions, and to implement and enable your customers to achieve the agreed-upon value.

[Hint:  if your Customer Success team is confused or unclear about your new customers’ goals, use cases, and success criteria, based on your internal documentation, you definitely aren’t at Level 7…!]

7 Skills Levels for Doing Discovery

Recapping:

  • Level 1: Uncovers statements of pain.
  • Level 2: Uncovers pain and explores more deeply.
  • Level 3: Uncover pain, explores deeply, broadens the pain and investigates the impact.
  • Level 4: Uncover pain, explores and broadens, investigates impact and quantifies.
  • Level 5: Uncover pain, explores and broadens, investigates impact, quantifies and reengineers vision.
  • Level 6: Applies these skills to the broad range of prospects represented across the Technology Adoption Curve, “burn victims”, disruptive and new product categories, transactional sales cycles, and other scenarios.
  • Level 7: Integrates and aligns the skills above into a cohesive Discovery methodology.

These 7 levels represent a simple method of assessing the state of your team’s Discovery skills.

How do your team’s Discovery skills compare?

(Contact us if you’d like to explore implementing Great Demo! Discovery skills and Methodology at your organization…!)

 

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