What is discovery? How does it fit in to an enterprise sales process? Why is it important? The answers are best told through a real world story. I was providing sales advisory services to a large software company that had cobbled together a “suite” offering through acquiring various small point solution companies. They were trying to transition the sales team from a tactical sales price point and process to an enterprise solution selling model along with the corresponding higher price point. Sound familiar? I interviewed a sample size of 25-30 of their sales reps, including equal distributions representing the different levels of sales performance. The interviews were fairly straightforward in that I was asking a lot of questions about how they were selling, what was working, what wasn’t working, what they needed to sell more effectively, etc. I would detour from the “script” when I picked up on interesting responses that deserved deeper probing. Predictably, I discovered through this process that the vast majority of their sales team were comfortable selling tactically at lower price points, shorter sales cycles and with lower level decision makers. In fact, they insisted that upper management didn’t understand that the market wasn’t ready yet for the enterprise or “suite” solution. Yet, they also were quick to point out that their primary competitor was doing a much better job than their own marketing team at positioning. Ironically, this primary competitor was actually leveraging an enterprise sales process, selling to the “C” level and building strong domain expertise and credibility through their sales engagement model. When I brought my findings and recommendations back to management, the biggest missing piece in their sales process was a discovery step. There was a people challenge as well since you typically won’t experience much success asking someone who has trained their whole life as a sprinter to start competing at the highest level as a marathoner (and vice versa).
The punch line to this story is that management claimed to understand what discovery was and how important it was to an effective enterprise sales process, yet they consistently demonstrated through their actions that they thought discovery was really thorough qualification. I’m really passionate about discovery because in 20+ years of selling to the enterprise, I have never met a single top sales performer that didn’t fundamentally understand that effective discovery is the cornerstone of any successful sales engagement. I’ve been preaching the importance of a sound sales discovery process for years and have conducted numerous training sessions with sales teams to help mentor this area that is sorely lacking.