During these challenging times of a global pandemic, medical professionals have been stretched to the limits with their constrained resources. As a patient, it can be challenging to get an appointment and many hospital procedures have been postponed. Despite this, a positive experience of a recent visit to the doctor made me consider how similar the experience was to the early stages of a sales process and what we can learn from it.
There could have been the temptation from my doctor to rush the consultation to fit in more patients in the day. However, this wasn't the case. He had to fully understand my problem well before prescribing anything. During that consultation, I did the vast majority of the talking as he guided me through different topics.
This can be a challenge we see in the sales cycle too. We sometimes (or often) hear from sales that we don't have time for discovery; we need to go straight to the demo to help increase the velocity of the sales cycle. This is something with which I wholeheartedly disagree. Skipping discovery will rarely increase sales cycle velocity because we can then only give a generic demo and we won’t actually understand why we are having a conversation. Had my GP done the same, he would have run the risk of prescribing the wrong treatment.
During discovery, it is important not to focus solely on what the challenge is with a current process, but why it matters to your stakeholder. Do they have a specific agenda? Do they have a KPI or goal that makes this particularly important for them?
Rushing (or skipping) discovery is always bound to create a false economy. It may allow you to demonstrate the solution sooner in the short term but will rarely lead to closing the deal earlier.
Why Listening Matters
When I visited my GP, I noticed he actively listened to me. I did the vast majority of the speaking during the consultation as it was clear he was making notes and understanding what I said. Active listening conveys respect and builds trust. As Solutions Consultants and Sales professionals, we can become trusted advisers by using this skill. Solutions Consultants shouldn't be seen as individuals who are merely good at demonstrating software. We can actually understand the problem and give advice which will help clients solve their challenges.
It is only through shared knowledge, transmitted in both directions, that vendors and customers can co-create an authentic, viable solution to their problem as well as a realistic road map to achieving it.
The Cost of Hurried Discovery
Compressed discovery carries real risks. In the medical world, practitioners would become more likely to prescribe ineffective or undesired solutions and miss pertinent information that would have altered their recommendations. The same goes for Solutions Consulting.
The other side of this is that a lack of discovery diminishes the joy of understanding and solving a challenge; the reason so many of us are in the role of Solutions Consulting. This will ultimately contribute to higher rates of burnout and churn. These consequences have clear personal and financial costs on the team.
There are increasing numbers of potential solutions to the inefficiencies that restrict clients of vendors’ time and attention. These include delegating lower-expertise tasks to non-PreSales team members, such as providing Sales Executives and Business Development Reps with a high-level discovery checklist to obtain fundamental information from the client.
Technology can now also play a part in increasing efficiency, such as demo automation tools which can provide an overview of products and analytics along with insights into individual stakeholders' preferences and priorities. AI tools which record and transcribe meeting notes can greatly reduce the overheads that come with taking notes and filling in a CRM. With these techniques, we can create more time for active listening. Unhurried discovery may be elusive, but it is possible.
Beyond time pressures, the typically unquestioned roles that PreSales and clients assume also inhibit relationship-building. If we move too quickly to demo, we lose the relationship between the two parties.
The best Solutions Consultants are able to build this all-important, medical-like relationship as it helps them put their clients at ease and extract more information. This allows them to provide much needed technical expertise to their clients rather than a standard demonstration.
Stakeholders can also fall into a trap of being a “good participant” by not wanting to interrupt a presenter. Instead, with a good relationship, a demonstration should be two-way. It should be more like a conversation where clients can stop the presenter to ask questions (and vice-versa) at any point to get the most out of the meeting. If clients are unwilling to challenge presenters, they may also understate their concerns and request less than they desire.
When a Solutions Consultant and client can break down barriers and form this all-important relationship, they can make progress because neither party has all the answers. Only the client knows their organisation and processes inside out, but only the Solutions Consultant can have a full understanding of what their product is capable of.
Knowledge Sharing in a Changing Environment
Not hearing a client's full story or situation harms both the client and the vendor. As Solutions Consultants, if we don’t fully understand the challenge, how can we ever share knowledge among our peers? How can we ever improve as an organisation in a market with varying challenges and dynamics? For Solutions Consulting Leaders, it is our role to enable good knowledge sharing among our team to instill continuous improvement.
Here are some steps to improve knowledge sharing:
Share experiences effectively. This can be in the form of detailed win/loss reports were wins can be replicated and losses and be analysed and learned from. This can work on a more granular level too. How did we solve a specific challenge or objection in a meeting? We can use this expertise during discovery for future clients to help understand their challenges and build credibility.
Offer training and development for discovery. Build skills either through formalized training courses or informal internal roll-play among peers.
Customer advisory boards. Customers can make suggestions on improvements or even share experiences of how they are utilizing a product. Outcomes must be effectively communicated with Solutions Consultants to arm them to have more challenging conversations with clients.
A way forward
Much like in medicine where best practices, guidelines and new treatments are being introduced, we must evolve to keep up in the markets in which we operate. Efficiencies must be found to enable the time to have a good discovery with clients. We will reap the rewards later in the sales cycle.
We must listen generously so that we nurture authentic, bidirectional relationships that give clients and vendors a sense of mutual purpose that no best-practice guideline or algorithm could ever hope to achieve.
By having better discovery, we can move away from “art of the possible” demos or “harbor tours” by allowing Solutions Consultants to add value that no best-practice guidance or algorithm could ever hope to achieve.
Thomas Edwards is an experienced Solutions Consultant for Financial SaaS Solutions. He is also the Editor at The Modern SC - a website focusing on modern methods of Solutions Consulting and enablement. In his free time he enjoys playing music, holding Grade 8 certification in three instruments. He is also an avid fan Formula 1.
Connect with Thomas on LinkedIn.