Why you should use process, not problem questions in your discovery call
One thing seasoned salespeople know is that people buy from you because you are solving a problem. Problem-solving then is an essential piece to discovery if you want to show your solution’s true value. Understanding the customer’s problem is particularly important in solution-type selling when the product or service you provide solves complex issues, is an enterprise solution, or connects in some way to your customer's daily workflow.
The issue is, depending on your industry, asking the right questions can be challenging. When you ask questions like, "Where are you having issues?", "What is working and not working?", "What does success look like 90 days from now?", the customer doesn't always have good answers, or at least answers that lead to problems you can solve. This is because they oftentimes don’t recognize their own problems, nor do they have clarity on what success would look like if they worked with you.
I used to think that good discovery was about asking good questions and then following up with more good questions. Don't get me wrong, I still think curiosity questions and listening skills are very important. However, with the limited time you have with a prospect, I have found that the most effective set of questions is around their processes.
For example, let's say you sell AI software that creates better messaging so SDRs can be more effective in their prospecting. Instead of broad questions like, "What issues are you having?" ask "Would you mind taking me through your sales process starting with how you acquire qualified leads all the way until you close that lead?" As they start talking, you start typing. If you sell MarCom software, your question should be, "Take me through your team's content creation process from start to finish." If you sell financial services your question will be something like, "Take me through your processes, from receiving income, and reconciling your bank account, to how you pay your employees and your bills."
What makes asking questions about the process so powerful?
1. By getting prospects to talk about their process, you have created the most efficient framework to reveal problems.
I use this framework as a conversation blueprint that helps reveal problems that I can solve. Often, I stop the person at different stages and say things like, "Sorry to stop you, but just to clarify . . ." or ask questions like, "Are you happy with the way that is working, or do you hope to fix that?" By the end of their process, I now have 5-8 problems I can solve.
If you don't use their process as a framework it is more difficult to remember what questions you should have asked that you didn't. It also feels more natural following their process than if you just ask lots of questions. If the questions aren't connected it can feel more like an interrogation.
2. Getting prospects to talk about their process allows you to reframe their workflow into a success story using your product or services.
Here is what I mean. Let's say you are a company that provides financial services to small businesses. You ask Randy, the business owner to walk you through his process. In doing so he reveals several problems and wishlists. He is reconciling his bank account himself, taking him hours a week away from "more important" work. His project team collects receipts for their expenses and his admin spends "almost an entire day" a week manually entering them into Quickbooks. This stresses her out and she is unable to do her job as well as she could. HIs is still using manual checks to pay his bills and then has to wait for the check to clear the bank in a week so he knows what money he can spend.
Here is how you would reframe. You would explain to Randy that if he uses your services he would never have to reconcile again because you would take that off his plate. Instead of his assistant wasting a day manually entering receipts, you would set him up with technology that allows expenses to be paid from an app that also captures receipts all in one place. This would give her a day back a week. Finally, instead of manually writing checks you would set them up with technology that automates the bill-paying process and sends him an email to approve each and every bill.
3. By getting prospects to talk about their process you have been given information that not only makes the prospect feel seen, heard, and understood but also better positions you as someone with authority and empathy.
The most powerful presentation you can give to a prospect is to break down the process, the players, and the problems of their organization. If you have actively listened and can reframe their story by injecting your solution you will have many fewer objections and an easier path to close. Even if they don't close now, your sales process in itself has brought them value and you will be at the top of their list if something changes in their situation. I have had many prospects who chose not to use my services, yet still refer me to others because they had such a good experience.
Asking process questions is one of the best ways to frame a discovery call. Not all products and services connect to the company's processes, but whenever they do it would be a good idea to utilize this in your questions. Not only is it more effective, but you will stand out from your competition.