Thursday, April 8, 2021

Seven Skills Levels for Stunningly Successful Discovery – Webinar – April 22


April 22 at 9:00 AM Pacific Time, 12:00 Noon Eastern Time, 18.00 Central European Time.  Register for this webinar here!

Many sales and presales practitioners say they are skilled at doing Discovery – but are they?  Where are you on this progression?

We’ll discuss a simple method to assess, based on six levels of increasing proficiency, culminating in a seventh level – an integrated Discovery Methodology:

  • 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 customers represented across the Technology Adoption Curve, including “burn victims”, disruptive and new product categories, highly transactional sales cycles, and other scenarios.
  • Level 7: Integrates and aligns the skills above into a cohesive Discovery methodology.

In this webinar, we’ll explore each of these along with the potential impact on your sales, renewals, and expansion processes.  Looking forward to your participation...!

Monday, April 5, 2021

“Let Me Close My Door” – A Discovery Story of Trust and Credibility


Here’s a true story:  I was about 45 minutes into a Discovery call with a VP of sales, discussing his team’s demo skills.  As part my assessment of a team, I typically ask about their Discovery abilities.   

Accordingly, I asked, “What percent of your team does a good job doing Discovery?”

He replied, “…About 20%...”

I thought about that a moment and then asked a bit differently, “Hmmm…  What percent of your team thinks they do a good job with Discovery, but you know they don’t?”

I was pleasantly surprised when he said, “…Hang on, let me close my door…!”

And then, a moment later, he continued with, “…About 80%!”

I realized several important things had happened:

  • He was sharing information with me that he did not want to share with his team.  Wonderful!
  • But why was he willing to share this?  Because I had earned his trust and generated sufficient credibility that he was willing to do so – and in the process, he revealed a much deeper problem.

Interestingly, later on he also shared that he had known that his team’s Discovery skills needed improvement, but it never made it high enough on his list to address – until he articulated the “About 80%” measurement to me.  He realized that this was a core problem, impacting everything downstream:  solution design, demos, POCs, proposals, discounting, and more.

The result was that he asked to expand the Great Demo! Workshops for his team to include substantial segments focused specifically on Discovery methodology – a 33% increase in the deliverables.  

Not a bad outcome for asking that one additional question!

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Great Demo! Virtual Public Workshop May 18-21 – North America

Our next North America Virtual Public Workshop will take place May 18-21 – you can find registration and additional information here.  Seats are limited…!  

The sessions will take place Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, May 18, 20, and 21.  You can also contact Julie Hansen for more details.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Demo Data – Another Angle


I’ve blogged about the need for demo data to reflect real-life problems and situations, including the ability to find and surface problems, identify opportunities, and explore exceptions.  I can add one more to the list:  the ability to identify certain gaps – when things that should be happening aren’t happening…

A real-life example of this recently happened to me, when I discovered that certain emails were not being delivered to me…!  This was only recognized via a phone call (thanks Dave) – and these situations can be easily overlooked.  We are much more likely to notice the appearance of something new than the absence of something occasionally expected.

This use case can be very insightful:  detecting and providing alerts when things aren’t happening as a change from previous patterns.  Sounds like a great opportunity for some AI tools!

Thursday, March 25, 2021

The Ignition Demo: A Conversation with Peter Cohan – Podcast

I joined Randy Frank of Navattic to explore the “Ignition Demo”, the spark needed to engage early stage prospects in the buying journey.

We discussed the risks of ignoring today's "just browsing" prospects (who become tomorrow's buyers) and the challenges of traditional “overview" demos for those who are “just browsing”.  We also explored how to move the sales and buying processes forward (by a full step!) through the use of Ignition Demos, employing either human or tech touches.

You can find the full 13-minute conversation here and on the Navattic website.

Monday, March 22, 2021

“Customer Fill-in” – A Terrific Demo Tip


I was watching a series of demos that highlighted vendors’ customer-facing intake forms and portals – and all of these demos exhibited the following SAD (Stunningly Awful Demo) artifacts:

  • The vendors claimed that end-customers can complete the process “in 5 minutes or less…”, but… 
  • They turned the 5-minute workflow into 15-30 minutes of click and talk, click and talk…!
  • They all used obviously fake demo names and data
  • They covered many or most of the possible pathways and options, sometime exhaustively
  • It was also obvious that the demonstrators presented the same demo pathway dozens of times
  • The prospect was largely or completely silent through the entire process
  • And the vendors never asked the prospect to provide input any into the workflow…

Here’s a truly terrific tip:  Invite your prospect to be the end-customer and fill-in the form by proxy, through you.

Let’s say your software offers an intake portal for consumers who want a loan.  You say to your prospect, “OK, let’s have you play the part of your customer.  Let’s use fictitious names and info as appropriate, but otherwise you tell me what to enter on each screen…”

On each new screen you can prompt your prospect or provide guidance, if necessary – but let him or her go through the process from start to end. 


  • You and your prospect actually complete the intake form in 5 minutes (proving your original claim)
  • Your prospect gains a first-hand vision of how the process works
  • Your prospect thinks about desired options – and asks these questions either during or immediately afterwards
  • And is your prospect engaged during this?  Yes indeed!

This approach is called “Customer Fill-in”.  

Any time there is an option to choose from (and you don’t care about the choice), invite your prospect to make the choice.  They’ll be engaged and develop a growing amount of ownership of the process and the result.  Delightful!

Thursday, March 18, 2021

How Do You Determine the Technical Win?

The goal for many presales teams is to secure the Technical Win or Technical Close.  I’m curious, what criteria or measurement do you use to determine whether the Technical Win has taken place?

For example, is your definition based on the opinion of one or more individuals in your organization, or specific metrics, or positive affirmation from the prospect, or something else?

Separately, how often do you achieve a Technical Win but fail to close the business (e.g., due to “No Decision”, loss to a competitor, or other negative outcome)?

Monday, March 15, 2021

What is the significance of 33334?


That’s how many copies of Great Demo! have been purchased (not including those that have been resold or passed around).  This means that at least 33,334 people have been exposed to the Great Demo! methodology – but how many folks have actually changed their habits as a result of reading a book?

People and companies make claims about numbers all the time – for example, I’ve heard vendors claim:

  • “We have 2500 customers…”  (But how many of these are actually happy, referenceable customers?)
  • “We’ve trained 100,000 people…”  (But how many of these are actually applying the training?)
  • “Our customers report 50% more productivity and 25% less waste…” (But is this most or many customers – or just one?)

Accordingly, I am curious:

  1. If you’ve read Great Demo!, what kinds of improvements have you seen with your demos?
  2. What ideas from the book have had the most impact for you?
  3. And finally, what parts of the book would you like to understand more clearly – e.g., specific ideas or implementation with your software and sales practices?

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Should There Be Both Sales AND Presales Motions?


HubSpot defines Sales Motion as, “A sales motion is the combination of the actionable steps and general sales philosophy an organization employs to sell a product or service to prospects and customers.  Sales motions often vary depending on the nature of the company enacting them and the buyer persona that business is trying to appeal to.”


A search on Google for “sales motion” yields “About 18,800,000 results”, with hundreds (likely thousands) using the exact term…


Searching “presales motion” generated “About 1,390,000 results”, but with only one using the exact term.  (Which was done by me, describing Great Demo! training on the Presales Collective Education page.)


Sadly, there is no definition for Presales Motions…  Perhaps there should be!  Here’s a draft, based on the HubSpot wording above:


“A Presales Motion is the combination of the actionable steps and general presales philosophy an organization employs to secure the technical close or win for a product or service to prospects and customers.”


Some examples of Presales Motions?  How about:

  • Discovery that complements and goes beyond sales’ Discovery
  • Vision Generation Demos (could be both sales and presales motions)
  • Vision Reengineering
  • Solution Mapping
  • Technical Proof Demos
  • Executing POCs (and “workshops”, POVs, etc.)
  • Any “motion” that is done exclusively or typically by presales in the process of securing the technical close or win…


Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Demo Data: The Importance of Problems, Gaps, and Exceptions

I was working with a vendor on an example demo and we identified a dashboard to serve as an Illustration (a “Wow!” screen for that use case) – but while the dashboard had all the right data elements, the data itself was uncompelling.  There were no problems, gaps, or exceptions exhibited.  Everything looked “OK”. 

While this could be a good example of a desired future state, it is insufficient to build vision of how problems are surfaced and solved.  


When you are creating demo data, be sure to include at least three sets of scenarios:

  1. “Before” scenarios, where important problems are clearly represented;
  2. “During” scenarios, where these problems can be shown being addressed;
  3. “After” scenarios, where the history of problem(s) identification and resolution can be presented.

Even better, in addition to problem-based use cases, also consider including outlier situations – e.g., intriguing gaps in time-series, exceptions to otherwise regular patterns, and opportunities to be exploited.  


Bring your demo data alive…!  For more ideas on improving your demo environment, see our article on the topic at  Enjoy!


Additional Note:  Even if your demo environment lacks this data today, there may be an easy way to “doctor” the data using one of the emerging demo enablement/automation tools.  Stay tuned for more on these new tools as they appear…!

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Great Demo! Public Workshops

We are working on scheduling a number of Great Demo! Public Workshops in the next several months – please let us know if you have interest:

  • How many people would you plan to include?
  • What is the general location of these participants (e.g., the Americas, EMEA, Asia Pacific)?
  • Do you have specific good or bad timeframes?

Note that this is in addition to the Workshop already scheduled for EMEA folks (April 7-9, 2021) - Click here for more information about this Public Workshop.

We will likely schedule sessions to run over three consecutive days (e.g., Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday).

Contact us at with your preferences or if you’d like more information.  Thanks!

Monday, February 22, 2021

Uniqueness – A Terrific Discovery Question for Highly Transactional Sales

In transactional sales processes, where orders are relatively small and cycle time is rapid, doing Discovery can be challenging – but is still critical!

You have limited time to gather sufficient information to enable you to propose a good solution for your prospect – and similarly time is short to ask enough questions so that your prospect feels that you have done enough diagnosis.

One simple way to accomplish this last item is to ask your prospect, “Tell me, what makes your organization unique?  Are there any cultural or other attributes that differentiate you from others in your space?”

The answer to this question can feed into your diagnosis, as well.  Let’s say your prospect responds, “Yes, we have a culture of constructive questioning – people are encouraged to challenge assumptions.”  You can reflect this information in your description of your offering later in the conversation, with “Our dashboard enables your team to explore issues more deeply, which is in alignment with your constructive questioning culture…”

Additionally, your interrogation of the prospect’s perceived uniqueness is a way to outflank your competition.  If your competitor has limited their Discovery conversation to a traditional brief extent, such as simple BANT, you have gone far beyond this with your exploration of uniqueness.  

The prospect will visualize you as a better fit (everything else being equal) because of the fact that you tapped into something very specific to the prospect’s organization.

Very simple, very effective!

[Note that these uniqueness questions aren’t limited to Discovery conversations for highly transactional sales processes – they are great Discovery questions in general…]

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Discovery Questioning Skills – Doctors vs. Lawyers

Consider the following, with respect to Discovery questioning strategies:

  • Doctors seek to understand, so that they can offer an accurate diagnosis;
  • Lawyers seek to understand, but with a bias so that they can move the discussion to or from a position.

When doing Discovery, consider using both types of questions – “Diagnostic”, simply seeking to understand the prospect’s situation, and “Biased”, seeking to move or change the prospect’s thinking.

Diagnostic Questions should be the majority in your Discovery conversations, if you are trying to build trust and credibility with your prospect.

Use Biased Questions when you are working to:

  • Reengineer a prospect’s vision of a solution
  • Outflank competition
  • Deeper or broaden “pain” beyond simple diagnosis – e.g., reengineer the prospect’s understanding of their current situation.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Assessing Discovery Skill Levels – How Does Your Team Rate?

Many sales and presales practitioners say they are skilled at doing Discovery – but are they?  Here’s a simple method to assess, based on five 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.

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.  


  • - 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.

5 Skill Levels for Doing Discovery


  • 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.

These 5 levels represent a simple method of assessing the state of your team’s Discovery skills.  Note that 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, dealing with “burn victims”, starting Discovery, “Why” questions, uniqueness, and many more.  (Contact us if you would like to discuss.)

What do you use to assess your team’s Discovery skills?

Copyright © 2021 The Second Derivative – All Rights Reserved.

Friday, February 5, 2021

What If Your Demo Meeting Ends Early? Give That Time Back…!


A number of Great Demo! practitioners note that many of their demos no longer consume the time previously allocated for their demos – they ask, “What should we do with the remaining time?”


For example, let’s say you scheduled the demo meeting for an hour and you have completed everything you and the customer wanted to accomplish in the first 40 minutes – what should you do with the remaining 20 minutes?


Give it back…!  


There is nothing sacred about the unit of time called an “hour” – if you are done, and the customer has had everything they wanted in the demo addressed, be done.  




Tell the customer, “That’s 20 minutes you get back in your day from ____(Insert your company name)...”  They’ll love you for this…!