All of our sales enablement engagements start with a discovery phase.  It is the linchpin of our success and the foundation for all of the quality content, Field Sales Guides and associated sales training that we deliver.  We identify a diverse set of subject matter experts (SMEs) that have field sales tribal knowledge on what is working well, what isn’t working well, where the selling effectiveness gaps are, the key customer case stories, etc.   SMEs typically include a mix of top performing field sales members (sales reps, system engineers (SEs), inside sales reps, channel sales, sales development and sales leadership) bottom performing or struggling sales reps, newer reps, product management, development, customer service, professional services and a few key stakeholders within their most successful customer accounts.

Each discovery call can last anywhere from 45 minutes to 2+ hours depending on what we need to cover and the depth of the content that we need to create.  By level of content depth, think of the college/university analogy; are we developing Bachelor’s level, Master’s level, Doctorate level or Post Doctorate level content and associated sales training?  It varies for each customer.  Commonly we need to do iterative discovery calls with the same SME or SME group based on what we learn after aggregating all of our discovery findings into an early stage content draft.

Just to provide context, each of the Guides that we develop typically range from 25-35 pages in length and a comprehensive Field Sales Guide (aka-the sales bible) can be from 75-85+ pages in length complete with charts, graphs, field anecdotes, and progressive graphics.

It can be quite challenging to distill and synthesize all of the discovery findings into coherent and meaningful content, and ultimately Field Sales Guides.  You have to apply discernment to determine which of the raw discovery findings and content is good and useful.  You’ll find that some of the discovery raw content you get is excellent and at the right level of depth for the content.  Conversely, you’ll find some of the discovery raw content is weak and not very useful.  And then a decent chunk falls somewhere in the middle of the discovery raw content quality continuum.  The middle bits are the one where you need to discern which parts are good, which aren’t and where you need to flesh out additional content depth.   It goes without saying that you can’t “teach” or make-up for field sales inexperience and the corresponding battle scars.  The only way you can properly discern is if “the discoverer” and person discerning has deep field sales experience.  The field sales experience doesn’t necessarily have to be in that particular field, because this isn’t product related content or training.

Our typical discovery process involves a minimum of between 15-20 total SMEs.  Although on larger projects, we’ve done as many as 150+ SME discovery calls globally involving translators to address all of the languages involved.  Each initial discovery call takes approximately one hour but can be longer depending on the level of content depth that we need to cover.  Then you aggregate and synthesize all of the discovery findings from the various SMEs.

You’ve probably gathered by now that the discovery process, synthesizing and distilling the findings can be an arduous, painful one…and you would be absolutely right:-)  However, there are those that also think you can simply send the SMEs a template of what you want the ultimate Field Sales Guide to look like complete with headers and sections, a brief description of what goes in each section and get a good response.  I’m here to tell you that there is no comparison to the quality and results that you will achieve if you make the strategic investment in a quality SME discovery process as outlined above.  There are always those that think that doing things faster and taking short cuts is better.  I vehemently disagree and from vast experience submit that you have to take the time and make the commitment to do it right.  Every.. single.. time.

There are two primary variables that dictate where on the discovery raw content quality continuum the outcome will be; namely the SME that is providing their answers to the discovery questions and the person conducting the discovery.  For the purposes of this blog post, we’ll call them the “discoverer”.

Context is really important in this process.  Here are some practical tips and advice to conduct effective sales enablement discovery.  So the discoverer needs to:

·       Know the background and domain expertise of the SME

·       Come prepared with a tailored list of discovery questions for that SME

·       Ask the discovery questions clearly so they are easily understood

·       Set the proper context with the SME so they understand what is the content outcome that you are driving towards and their role in it

·       Build credibility and rapport with the SMEs by having similar levels of deep field sales experience (i.e., you can’t fake it with experienced sales reps)

·       Understand when you are not getting what you need and keep asking the question until you get what you need, or ask the question differently to get what you need

·       Be respectful of the SMEs time and conduct the discovery process efficiently

·       Get concurrence from SME that you accurately captured their responses on key areas

Sometimes you find that the SMEs that were identified simple aren’t very good at articulating their tribal field knowledge to you.  Ironically, you’ll also find some SMEs that were supposed to be domain experts in certain areas that don’t have that domain expertise. Either they will tell you they don’t have that particular area of domain expertise or it will come across pretty quickly that they don’t.

Additionally, the SME or group of SMEs that discovery will be conducted with need to:

·       Come on time and prepared to dedicate themselves to the full time allotted without distractions or interruptions

·       Understand what their role is and what the end goal is supposed to look like

·       Honestly and openly answer discovery questions

·       Let the discoverer know when a question is not clear or confusing

·       Check to ensure that the discoverer understands what you think are the most important points and areas in your feedback and responses to the question (i.e., not all answers and replies are equal)

·       Be mutually respectful of the discoverer

Happy discovery & discernment to all of you sales enablers!