Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Insufficient Discovery – Great Doctor Examples

Scenario 1:

Imagine walking into a doctor’s office and, before you can open your mouth, the doctor immediately writes prescriptions for a broad range of drugs…  The doctor then says, “Let me know if any of these drugs seem to help address any problems you have.”

Scenario 2:

Imagine walking into a doctor’s office and (again), before you can open your mouth, the doctor immediately writes prescriptions for a broad range of drugs…  A few days later you come back, at which time the doctor says, “So what seems to be the trouble?”

How are these different from presenting a demo to a customer before doing any Discovery?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Discovery - It Shouldn't Be Surprising That...

It shouldn’t be surprising that many sales and presales people are not be particularly skilled at doing Discovery…  Why?  When interviewing candidates for new sales and presales positions, we don’t explore their Discovery skills nearly in the same depth with which we evaluate other skills, such as the ability to deliver a credible presentation. 

Consider the typical process for assessing a new sales or presales candidate:

-          We review their resume and cover letter (note:  people are perfect twice in their lives – at birth and on their resumes!).  It is very rare that anyone claims to be proficient in doing Discovery as a resume “bullet”.

-          Next, we bring promising candidates in for an interview, in which we ask many questions about them and allow them some questions about us and our organization – this is typically as deep that our evaluation of their Discovery skills ever goes – a handful of questions about the position, responsibilities, objectives, the company, etc.

-          Candidates that survive an initial interview are often invited back to deliver a 30-60 minute presentation (on a topic of their choice) – we want to make sure that they have sufficient presentation skills, since it is an important skill for their role.

After a discussion with their references, we make a final decision, draft an offer letter and, once accepted, welcome the new hire on board.

Our assessment of candidates’ Discovery skills was limited to a few questions, mostly about the job and related topics.  We never really explored candidates’ ability to execute real Discovery.  We are much better at assessing candidates’ abilities to tell than to ask!

Here’s a recommendation:

For candidates that survive the interview (and presentation, if desired), invite the candidate(s) back to perform a Discovery session with you as the customer.  Let the candidate use their current company/offerings as the basis (and candidates can tell you what role you should play in terms of job title and other situational information).  This provides you with a direct method of evaluating their Discovery skills and methods, giving you much clearer insight into how each candidate may perform when working with real customers.

If you feel that strong Discovery skills are an essential part of your team members’ toolkit, then consider including a critical review of these skills during the interview process.  [Note:  if you have existing team members whose Discovery skills are less than desired, that’s where I may be able to help!]

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Improving Demo Delivery – Great Demo! Self and Team Coaching Tools

A number of Great Demo! Workshop participants and their managers have asked for help in improving their practices, particularly with applying Great Demo! core principles to demo delivery.  Accordingly, here are two tools to help individuals self-coach and managers coach their teams (in addition to the Assessment tools already available).

The first is a Great Demo! Demonstration Delivery Review Sheet.  This is a simple template that enables individuals or managers to review the results of specific demos in terms of the key Great Demo! delivery components.  Tracking these over time can provide a wonderful understanding of what learnings were retained and put into practice, what each individual is doing well and where there are opportunities to improve.

The second tool is a Great Demo! Key Attributes listing, which roughly assigns relative importance to each delivery element and aligns with the Delivery Review Sheet.

Send me an email at and I’ll send you these tools – I can also send the Assessment tools as well, if you don’t already have them.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Discovery - Burn Victims

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

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

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 (if any), when this all took place – and what were the outcomes for the organization and those who were impacted. 

If the answer is “No,” your response could be “Why not?”  It might be that the problem was never big enough to address (but now it is) or that prior solutions were perceived as insufficient (in what ways?).

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What’s in a Name? More Than One Might Expect – Consider “Discovery” vs. “Qualification”

The process of gathering information about customers’ situations is variously labeled “Discovery”, “Qualification”, “Analysis” and other terms.  Interestingly, the name used by your organization may encourage or discourage the effectiveness of the process.

Consider:  “Qualification” is (often) about putting boundaries around a sales opportunity:  “Is it adequately qualified?”  This may yield a limited set of answers to questions such as:

-          “Does the customer have a problem – have they admitted “pain”?
-          “Is there budget allocated?”
-          “Is there a time-frame in mind?”
-          “Do we know the pathway to purchase – who will make the decision?”
-          “What alternatives or competitors is the customer also considering?”

The answers to these questions tend to focus inwards on getting the deal done for the vendor.

“Discovery”, on the other hand, is all about exploration, and suggests images of uncharted waters, novel vistas, new viewpoints and ideas.  Discovery is a process of asking questions – that may lead to more questions.  It should be perceived as a “Archimedean Spiral” of exploration, covering more and more territory (look it up: 

One nearly consistent attribute of very successful sales people (those who consistently make or exceed their numbers and are a pleasure, generally, to work with…) is their ability to perform broad and deep discovery.  They ask “Why, who, when, where, what, and how” questions.  They plumb for details and search for high-level drivers.  To paraphrase a famous outdoors equipment company (The North Face), they never stop exploring.

Interestingly, people who are known as Discoverers or Explorers are often perceived as heroes – those who opened new worlds or brought new knowledge to light:  Captain James Cook, Louis Pasteur, Madame Curie, Captain James T. Kirk (even fictional explorers may be heroes!).  Contrariwise, the list of heroic people who were known for qualifying or putting boundaries around things may be much shorter!

Friday, November 11, 2011

“Why” Questions – Uncovering the Drivers in Discovery

“We need a new system…” says the customer.  “Great!” says the sales person, “We’ve got several possibilities for you…!”  And the discussion then proceeds to explore lists of features and functions, needs and use cases.  This is all wonderful, but what’s missing?

Why do you need a new system?” is a key question to ask, when appropriate.  The answer to this question may change the entire dynamic of the Discovery discussion and the resulting sales process.

For example, if the customer responds, “Well, we’ve been interested in a new system for some time…,” it may suggest that the customer is not really serious and that solving the problems inherent in the old system is not sufficiently important to change – it is not a Critical Business Issue.  This sales opportunity is a good candidate for a “no decision” outcome.

On the other hand, if the customer responds, “Well, the COO has mandated implementing a new system to drive down costs and she wants it in place before we complete an upcoming acquisition…,” then you have identified a Critical Business Issue (“reduce costs”) and a Critical Event (before the acquisition takes place).  This sales opportunity is much more likely to end with a completed order.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Discovery - Fail Early, Fail Cheaply

Far too many sales opportunities run far too long, for a range of reasons.  One simple example is not asking questions about “show-stopper” requirements early enough. 

A show-stopper issue is exactly that – is it an issue or requirement on the part of the customer that is:

1.       Absolutely required
2.       Non-negotiable
3.       Not available from you, the vendor (and there is not reasonable work-around)

A simple example of this is a customer who absolutely, positively desires an in-house implementation installed on their own servers (and you only offer SaaS, with no possibility for installation on customers’ servers).  For some customers, this might be a objection that can be overcome, but for others their position may be fixed and unchangeable.

It is best to understand this early in the sales process, during Discovery, rather than later on, to avoid unnecessary investment by both the customer and the vendor in demos, additional meetings and other discussions.  Imagine how the customer Champion would feel, after organizing a series of demo meetings for key players in multiple departments, to learn that the solution simply won’t fit!  (Very angry).  And then imagine what that ex-Champion would tell his or her peers at the next conference about that vendor…!

Contemplate making a list of show-stopper questions or issues to add to your Discovery documents and outlines – and be prepared to ask these questions during Discovery.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Provocative Questions – Starting Discovery

Using provocative questions is a great way to start conversations and move a discussion into Discovery.  A good provocative question causes your customer to:

-          Rapidly qualify himself in or out as a reasonable prospect
-          Agree that there is a problem to solve
-          Open up to further questions

For example, imagine you sell sales process management/automation software and are at a conference with piles of prospects present.  You join a table for lunch with 8 other people and everyone introduces themselves briefly.  Someone asks you, “What do you do?”  Your response can range from boring to intriguing:

Boring:  “We sell sales process automation software.”  (Yawn…)
Typical:  “We help sales teams improve their processes.”  (OK thanks, next…)
Intriguing:  “Have you ever seen a sales team document their opportunities consistently?”  Hmmmm, interesting…!)

For the intriguing option, a “No” response (often accompanied by a wry smile or wince) tells you that the prospect has that problem – and the prospect may immediately volunteer more information, “No, in fact our sales people “sandbag” on deals they are confident about and have “happy ears” on far too many opportunities that never close…!”  At this point, you can comfortably launch into Discovery questions about the team, sales cycles, current process, etc.

The key to formulating strong provocative questions is to take a key indicator or qualitative measurement of what you do and rephrase in the form of a question. 

For example, in the world of demos, I love to ask, “Have you ever seen a bad software demo?”  If the response is yes (and it often is…), we are off and rolling comfortably into a Discovery conversation.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Sales Manager Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive Dissonance is the uncomfortable situation of trying to rationalize ideas that conflict with one another.  Sales managers (and presales managers) are often highly susceptible – particularly with regards to skills and methodology training.  Managers are generally very happy to provide training for their teams – but often don’t participate, themselves, in the classes.  In many cases, they believe they already know the material (even if they’ve never seen it!) – they may believe that since they are managers then they (somehow) already know it. 

In my experience there is often a gap between the actual level of understanding of concepts and the perceived level of understanding, particularly with sales managers (this gap can often be large; I’ve been victim to it myself when I was in sales management).  The result is an inability for sales managers to assess, track and coach their teams – leaving sales people to either subscribe to the ideas on their own or (quite often) go back to their old ways. 

In the world of software demos and Great Demo! methodology, here’s a good example of this in action:  if the number of demos done (or requested to be done) in the absence of Discovery is uncomfortably large, this suggests that sales people are not practicing the key ideas.  If this number continues to be large over time, this then suggests that sales managers are not coaching their teams to improve their sales people’s performance.  I’ve noticed a fairly close correlation between these situations and managers not participating in the Great Demo! training for their teams.

Similarly, if the team’s “no decision” rate is uncomfortably high, this may (again) suggest that insufficient Discovery is being done, as well.  Here’s a simple test:  examine the opportunities that led to “no decision” and then examine if Situation Slides were generated and if they were complete or sufficient.  Specifically, was there a clear Critical Business Issue?  Delta?  Critical Date/Event?  The lack of any one of these increases the likelihood of a “no decision” result.

The moral? 

Good managers provide training for their teams.  Great managers participate in training with their teams – and coach to reinforce, support and improve performance for each individual.