I spend a lot of time interviewing sales leaders to diagnose their sales challenges. The number one theme I hear? Their teams don’t know enough about their customers. They don’t ask the right questions, don’t ask enough questions, and don’t apply what they learn to sell more.
Typically, my question back to them is, “So what are you doing about it?” I’m a firm believer that teams will rise to the expectations of their leaders, but those expectations need to be clear, succinct, and consistently applied and measured.
I also know that it takes 30 to 60 days of consistent focus to change behavior (the behavior of the sales professional AND the leader). Widespread, long-term change is daunting, though, so, here is my challenge to you… Take a 60-Day Sales Discovery Challenge with your team.
- Develop a laundry list of customer information you expect your team to know at each stage in the sales process, then ask them for it. Ask them when you talk to them 1:1 about an opportunity, and ask them on your pipeline calls in front of the whole team. If they don’t know the answer, ask them how they plan to uncover the information, and then… follow up to make sure they complete the task. This, by the way, is not micromanagement. If you have a team that routinely does not ask the right questions or does not actively seek the right information, it is your responsibility as a leader to change this behavior. One question asked one time with no follow up will not change the behavior. Your team needs to know what you expect, and they need to understand that they will be consistently held accountable for knowing this information. Furthermore, the more good questions you ask of your team, the more easily you will be able to engage on important opportunities, spot risks, and identify areas where you can help push for a win.
- Pair your expectations with motivation. Demonstrate how this information can be valuable to the sale. Link positive outcomes by sales stage to discovery data. Relate stories of how you, or others, have successfully utilized information to advance or win an opportunity. Often times, sales professionals are not completely clear about why they need to gather certain types of information – once they understand the need for it and how it can help them win, they will be more motivated to uncover it.
- Be prescriptive about how to uncover the hard information. We find that often times sales professionals want to uncover the right information about an opportunity or an account, but they don’t know the right way to phrase the question, they don’t know who to ask, or they just aren’t comfortable asking the question. There are two ways to tackle this.
- The first approach is one-on-one coaching. If they have tried to find out the information, seek to understand what steps they took and collaborate with them on a new strategy. If they don’t know where to get started, provide some guidance about who to ask, and role model the question for them in plain English. Sometimes they just need to hear how to ask the question, especially if they might be uncomfortable asking it, and your stating it in plain English will provide them with helpful phrases they can mimic. This can reduce anxiety and help them to get the information that they need.
- The second approach is utilize the power of your team. Get the team together, outline the information they need to uncover, and ask them to build a bank of questions they can ask to get the information. Try to let them take the lead so that you can understand what even your more seasoned reps are saying in the field. They will benefit from learning together as a team.
- Nurture dialogue and follow-up skills. Natural dialogue is the best way to get customers to share information and collaborate, but a firing round of multiple disjointed questions does not create a natural dialogue – in fact, it feels a lot more like a census survey. Work with your team to plan for how the customer might answer their questions and what they want to understand next. Share key phrases that a customer might say, and show how these phrases are valuable to the account or opportunity. Work to instill in them a natural curiosity about the question – the more they want to understand the customer’s response and the more valuable they see how this will be to the sale, the more natural their follow-on questions will be. Discuss and role model potential follow-up questions.
- Follow through with coaching. Once your sales professionals have gathered more information, make a consistent point to coach them on how to use this information to strengthen relationships, identify opportunities, or advance and close opportunities. Be very clear about the linkage between the customer information and the next steps they are taking with the customer. Ask them how they might apply this discovery process to other opportunities they are working, and start the process again.
To create real change in sales discovery habits amongst your team, I recommend the following sequence/cadence across 60 days (roughly 9 weeks):
- Week 1: Spend week 1 outlining what good looks like, where the problems are today, and developing a very tactical plan for your sales people to follow to improve their outcomes.
- End of Week 1: At the end of week 1, hold a team meeting. Outline your plan, your observations, what additional information you think your team needs to collect, and (most importantly) why this is critical to their success. Ask your team to work together in groups to develop better questions they can ask to get the information they need.
- Beginning of Weeks 2 - 9: At the beginning of weeks 2 through 9, schedule time with specific individuals to discuss their client interactions for the week and where and how they plan to uncover new information. Observe your team members in action during each week. Provide real-time feedback and role model what you want them to do. Allocate time during team meetings to discuss what questions are working or not working and help them to collaborate with each other to solve their discovery challenges.
- End of Weeks 2 - 9: At the end of weeks 2 through 9, identify where you aren’t seeing desired outcomes from the enhanced discovery process. Follow up with those individuals to discuss what they have learned and how they plan to use that information to create momentum with their customers.
Editor's Note: This blog was originally published in March 2018, but has since been updated for completeness and accuracy.