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Perfecting the Sales Discovery Call in a Virtual Setting

Customer conversations

virtual sales discovery call


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In recent months, the sales professional’s virtual discovery call has become a complicated part of the sales process. The reason: even the customer is increasingly unclear on their needs as they race to reevaluate, reconfigure, and revitalize their business amid the pandemic.

Leaders have been forced to find new footing on shifting ground. As a result, the virtual discovery call must become a precision instrument that can uncover these nascent challenges to determine if the solution is a fit and can deliver timely value.

Here we examine what sales professionals need to do to fully understand the customer’s needs during a virtual discovery call. With these skills, sales professionals will ensure that they fully grasp the customer’s challenges and that they allocate their time to opportunities where they can bring value.

Develop a Targeted, Three-part Model

The virtual discovery call is an early and important opportunity for the sales professional to understand the customer’s needs. The challenge: time is short, and even the customer might be unclear on what needs are most pressing. Therefore, the sales professional needs a targeted approach that makes the best use of everyone’s time. The solution is a three-part model.

1. Create a Questioning Strategy

Sales professionals need to know what they will ask the customer. Here, it is useful to leverage a funnel approach in which the questions begin broad and gradually become more specific.

Initially, the sales professional needs to understand the customer’s core objective and why it is important. Any following questions should explore the customer’s current operations and how they differ from what they believe is ideal. From here, the sales professional can dig deeper to understand the customer’s longer-term plans, goals, business drivers, and feelings about the sales professional’s organization. Finally, the sales professional needs to understand the internal decision-making process, timeline, budget, and the stakeholders involved in the decision-making process.

When selling in a  virtual setting, it is important to use simple phrasing to keep people engaged throughout a lengthy questioning process. Sales professionals should avoid the tendency to over-preface each question.

2. Float Ideas

Second, with the information learned in the above questions, sales professionals can consider floating ideas. It is important to remember that floating ideas is not the same as positioning a solution. When a sales professional is floating an idea, they are articulating their experience to build credibility, stimulate conversation, and drive a deeper dialogue about needs and challenges.

Sharing experiences, leveraging stories, and using relevant data sets are examples of ideas that can be floated to guide a more prescriptive dialogue while also building credibility and differentiating with expertise. The goal of discovery remains the same: understand the customer’s needs and ultimately determine the best solution.

3. Check for Additional Needs

Third, the sales professional must check for additional needs. These may be needs that were not important enough to be highlighted early in the conversation but are still influential to the buying process. Asking about these additional needs is a natural opportunity to ask the customer to prioritize their needs. The answer to this question provides valuable insight to the sales professional who can use the information to later structure the way they position their solution.

Checking for additional needs and understanding the customer’s priorities underscores the key idea underpinning the virtual discovery call: listening. The sales professional should spend no less than 70% of their time asking questions and listening, and no more than 30% of their time floating ideas.

Prepare for the Virtual Challenges

If the customer is going to open up and share their challenges, they must develop a level of trust with the sales professional. The distance of a virtual medium makes this process difficult.

Therefore, sales professionals must enter the virtual discovery call with an awareness of the new set of challenges present and equip themselves with the new skills necessary to overcome these challenges.

Research from social psychologists at Stanford offers some clues on how to do this.

Develop Trust Fast

First, sales professionals must remember that trust is more likely to emerge when there is a clear understanding of the roles within the group. As the Stanford researchers explain, “role-based interaction leads to more rapid development of trust than does person-based interaction.”

By understanding the role each decision maker inhabits, the sales professional will be better equipped to speak to individualized concerns. As the researchers note, placing the focus on each person’s role will help sharpen the contrast between them so that everyone is clear on what is expected of the others.

For example, a sales professional will need to address a procurement professional in a different way than they will a quality control manager. The procurement professional is tuned to factors like cost and ROI. In contrast, the quality control manager will need to see the sustainability of the solution.

Engage All Decision Makers

Second, sales professionals must ensure the virtual discovery call engages all of the decision makers. The value of this approach is seen in research in The Role of Trust in Global Virtual Teams, which shows “the critical link between communication early in the life of a virtual team and early trust.” Developing this trust requires more than stakeholder attendance — it means earning the stakeholder’s attention. The two are not the same.

The inclusion of a stakeholder in the call does not signal their buy-in — or interest. In fact, a decision maker facing numerous other responsibilities, many with high priority, may choose to log in and tune out. It is the sales professional’s job to recognize that just because a customer is on the call does not mean they are aligned with the value proposition of the solution.

Overcoming this challenge means directing questions to specific individuals in the call. By soliciting feedback from customers by name, the sales professional can ensure stakeholders stay engaged.

Understand the Needs of All Stakeholders

Third, trust will emerge in a setting in which the individuals in the group depend on one another for success because the same Stanford research shows us that trust forms within interdependent groups.

Sales professionals should adopt this finding by using the virtual discovery call to understand how their solution not only addresses individual needs but also the larger, overarching needs of the organization. Additionally, the sales professional must be aware of the increased difficulty of doing so in a virtual setting. Often, the conversation can become one-dimensional, as extroverted stakeholders vocalize their thoughts, while those who are more reserved remain silent.

With trust, the sales professional can lead the customer to the solution through a consultative diagnosis. This diagnosis occurs when the sales professional creates a visual story of how the solution capabilities will address the customer’s needs. This approach helps the customer contextualize the solution and picture it at work in their setting.

Understanding the Customer’s Changed Needs

As businesses continue to adapt and adjust to the pandemic setting, the virtual discovery call has become an important way for sales professionals to revise their long-held assumptions.

Relearning the customer’s path is critical because doing so enables the sales professional to focus the right skills on the right sales opportunities. Additionally, understanding the customer’s new challenges equips the sales professional to become more prescriptive in their approach and lay the groundwork for positioning a solution. This evaluation of customer needs occurs across six key factors.

1. Pain

The customer’s pain is their central challenge. Today, virtually all companies are experiencing multiple pain points each in competition with one another for a solution.

2. Power

The power is the hierarchy of decision makers. Everyone has a unique set of leanings that influence their decision to proceed with a purchase or simply remain focused on the status quo.

3. Vision

The sales professional must determine if the stakeholders agree on a singular vision for the solution. Importantly, the sales professional can use the answer to this question to determine if their solution offers differentiated value.

4. Value

ROI justification and the need for evidence-based selling has never been more critical. Therefore, the solution must offer a level of value that satisfies a much more stringent definition of value. Sales professionals must properly quantify the value of their offering in a way that outweighs the pain.

5. Collaborate

The sales professional must determine if the customer is collaborating with them and if both groups are progressing to a decision. The sales professional will know that the collaboration is real when everyone has agreed on a mutual plan of action.

6. Compelling Reason to Act

Decision makers are compelled by an entirely new set of factors in today’s setting. For many, the prospect of mitigating risk looms larger than goals like earning market share. Sales professionals must determine if the customer has a compelling reason to act. Without one, there can be no sale.

A smarter and more targeted approach to the virtual discovery call can yield insights that rise to the level of a competitive advantage.

With a structured, repeatable approach and highly tuned critical selling skills, sales professionals can get to the center of the customer’s changed needs faster while simultaneously guiding the conversation and qualifying the opportunity to determine if the pursuit offers value.

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