Structuring a Successful Discovery Meeting

It only takes a moment for a meeting to spiral out of control. A question you weren’t prepared for, trying to jump right to a new feature or any number of small fumbles can through off your rhythm and ruin the meeting.

New and nuanced sales techniques make the sales process so increasingly complicated that it’s easy to forget the basic structure that allows meetings to succeed.

Discovery meetings, in particular, can seem intimidating, as though the success of the sale depends on that one meeting entirely. The truth is, the purpose of a discovery meeting is simply to find out if your company and the prospect are a good fit. It’s a delicate balance of personal skills and sales savvy.

If you’re not careful, it can become a sort of interrogation, as both parties approach with a barrage of questions and expectations. If you don’t maintain control of the conversation, you can come out of the call realizing you either talked too much or didn’t come out of the meeting with the answers you needed.

Fortunately, the structure for a successful discovery meeting is actually very simple. Emily Meyer outlines five primary components of the discovery meeting, and other experts in sales remind us what each of those stages should look like.

Rapport Building

It’s well known that personal rapport is often key to a successful sale. Even just five minutes of introductory conversation goes a long way in making both yourself and the prospect more relaxed.

While many reps are trained to jump into the sales pitch as soon as possible, Marc Wayshak, the founder of Sales Strategy Academy, suggests adopting “a more casual and genuine approach to connecting with your prospect,” so that you don’t give the impression the potential customer is just your newest project rather than a person with genuine business needs.

Find some common ground, and start there. Even a generic point of connection such as the weather or a connection you have to their location could suffice. Perhaps they were referred to you by someone you both know, or they presented you with a question in their initial contact that you can now answer.

Agenda and Purpose

Before you launch into the discussions of how you could best help your prospect, it’s important to reiterate the purpose of your meeting. In her sales blog, Melinda Chen recommends a phrase that is “confident, but not sales-y.” Stating your purpose also demonstrates that you still have control over the meeting, even if the personal rapport veered the conversation off topic for a moment.

Emily Meyer notes that this won’t sound as intimidating as you think, because taking the lead takes the burden of sustaining conversation off of the client’s shoulders. Research even shows that successful sales calls are those where the rep does a substantial portion of the speaking.

Questioning

This is where the meat of the discovery happens. Share the challenges you have observed in the industry, and ask the prospect about their own. Marc Wayshak admits that prospects will “want to answer questions about their deepest frustrations because they’re deeply interested in them.” That said, the questioning should ultimately be focused on the client, and the questions you ask should be aimed at determining whether the business relationship is a good fit.

You should also avoid spending time on the wrong kind of questions. For example, Melinda Chen laments that many prospects ask about pricing very early in the conversation, when it is often too soon to tell which services they may require. She recommends steering the focus back to the client until you can offer a proper answer to that kind of question, rather than coming up with an answer on the spot.

Presentation of Value

Once you know the prospect’s needs in better detail then you can present how your product or service can meet the client’s needs. State the potential value of your company to theirs and the benefits that come with working with you.

Instead of spending too much time on price or cost for the prospect, frame the conversation around their expected ROI and benefits.

Closing

In closing, consider next steps. This doesn’t mean making a sale right away or getting an immediate commitment from the customer. But it does mean deciding how you’re going to move forward.

Sometimes, moving forward might mean walking away. Wayshak warns that “you can expect at least 50% of prospects to be a bad fit.” It’s important to remember that doesn’t mean that you have failed. Maybe what you have to offer isn’t yet a priority for this prospect. Perhaps they honestly can’t quite afford to buy from you. Whatever the case, in some cases it is okay to walk away with the conclusion that this sale isn’t going to work out.

If it is promising, don’t hesitate to schedule another meeting or to move to the next stage of your sales process. At this point, you can decide with the prospect what the best next step is, and the prospect should be comfortable leaving that next step in your hands.

Sales Reps, Take the Wheel

Don’t be afraid to establish and maintain control of sales meetings. Using simple steps and strategies, you can strike the balance between personal and professional that will leave a lasting positive impression on your prospects.