Discovery in the Sales Process

In order to enhance our success at making a sale we want to make sure we understand what the buyer is seeking. I know, it sounds obvious. How many times have you gone into the store looking for something and the seller tries to sell you what they want to sell.

Before we can present the best solution, we need to understand more about the buyer’s situation:
–    Where they see the need
–    The impact of that need on him/her personally
–    Impact on their organization and
–    How they will make a buying decision.
–    We will want to know if others are involved in the process.
–    We need to know who can say yes.

They may see a need. However, it might be a “nice to have” as opposed to a requirement or a burning need. We need to identify that. And in some cases, we want to remember that the need may be bigger than they realize or it may have a value they haven’t quantified. That is why we do discovery. To help the buyer uncover their needs and quantify the value of filling that need to them and to their organization.

There are a number of steps to Discovery. We can think of it as a Physician going through the diagnostic phase of an examination. We would not want to go in to the doctor, feeling bad and have them just say, “Here, let me open up and perform exploratory surgery.” No, we want them to take some time trying to find out what’s going on before they open us up.

So first, we want to gain permission to ask questions. Then we want to explore their situation. We begin by asking general questions and then move to specific questions. So for a basement remodel, I might ask:

•    How do you plan to use the space?
•    What are your thoughts on layout?
•    How many rooms do you envision?
•    What have you considered?

•    What colors did you have in mind for the walls?
•    What are your thoughts on flooring carpet or tile?
•    When did you want to be complete
•    Do you have a budget? How much?

Where possible we want to ask open-ended questions to gain an understanding of what they are thinking and to get them talking. The more they talk in the sales process the better our chances of success. Instead of, “do you want it in red or green,” we might ask, “what colors are you looking for?”


Once we get a sense of what the buyer is thinking, we want to see, and we want them to see what the impact of their need is.  Often times buyers think that things are good enough and they don’t realize that there really is a better way so we want to draw out the cost, (economic or opportunity cost) of the status quo. Here we are asking things like:

•    How much do you spend per month re-working those widgets?
•    What would happen if you could attract another seating at your restaurant?
•    How much money can you save if you are able cut your cycle times by 15 minutes per unit?
•    Does cash flow affect the cost of capital when leasing new equipment?
•    How is your sales department, impacted by production times?
•    Once that remodel is complete how will things be different in the way you use the house?

What we are doing here is getting back to the value proposition, and where our proposal will impact the buyer. By identifying the current state of affairs and the cost or impact that the current state of affairs has on the business and the other players in the business; the buyer is now more likely to consider a solution. Our biggest competitor is not the other company offering what we do. Our biggest competition is often the status quo.

It has been my experience that if I conduct Discovery properly my chance of making a sale goes up radically. Take the time to develop questions that your buyer wants the answers to. Like our basement remodel example, they may want to finish the basement but they do not have the vision of what is possible. A good designer can make the difference between ho hum and wow. A good discovery process and the appropriate targeted solution, makes the difference between a satisfied buyer and an advocate.

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