Can you name the most important step in the sales process?

Chris Bennett


There is one step in the sale process that has a disproportionately large impact on whether your sales team makes a sale or not. Can you name it?

It’s the discovery meeting or the first meeting with a new prospect.

Why is the discovery meeting so important? Because there’s no other step in the sales process in which the salesperson can accomplish so much in so little time.

Accomplishing a lot in a short amount of time adds tremendous efficiency and effectiveness to your work and is the key to sales gains, productivity gains and lowering the cost of sales.

What can a salesperson accomplish in the discovery meeting if he is on his game?

  • Find out if they are qualified for money, desire and timing
  • Build trust and rapport
  • Learn about the company/person, their goals – get the “lay of the land”
  • Uncover their needs
  • Uncover additional sales opportunities
  • Uncover their costs of living with their problems (pain in $$$)
  • Learn their decision making criteria
  • Find out what their decision making process is
  • Uncover objections
  • Collect the numbers you’ll need for ROI selling
  • Get referrals
  • Uncover their critical success factor
  • Find their emotional hot button
  • Learn the key metrics they use to measure growth/success
  • Turn them into a coach or champion to help guide the sale
  • Create strong closing momentum

A sales rep who is on his or her game can accomplish all of that in roughly 60 minutes, whether they are in B2B sales or B2C.

In order to crush one’s numbers and improve the quality of the customer experience at the same time, a salesperson has to master the discovery meeting. What is the key? The answer lies within the word itself… discovery.

The key is developing the ability to ask specific types of questions, in a specific sequence and aimed at gathering very specific pieces of information.

There are at least five different types of questions required to master the discovery meeting. (And I’m not talking about open or closed-ended questions.)

If your salespeople can master this questioning skill and ace their discovery meetings, they will:

  • Uncover more opportunities per call
  • Fill their sales funnels
  • Shorten the sales cycle
  • Improve the quality of the experience for the customer
  • Get fewer objections
  • Close more and increase sales
  • Protect margins better
  • Feel more confident about themselves and the way they do business
  • Get more testimonial letters and referrals
  • Eliminate stress and pressure from the first meeting
  • Increase activity levels

I had one customer group of sales engineers increase their sales funnels by 325% and their closing rates by 125% in less than six months by mastering the discovery meeting.

In my 24 years of sales experience, 18 as a trainer and coach to many of the Canadian Fortune 100, whenever I see a sales organization unhappy with its results it always tracks back to the way they mishandle the discovery meeting.

Here are some of the ways sales pros sabotage their own success in discovery:

  • They talk too much
  • They talk product or solution too soon
  • They show product info and brochures
  • They focus on themselves, their credibility, expertise and their company
  • They try to sell too quickly

See the trend?

Without a practical, structured questioning methodology (written questions on paper) to use as a framework for discovery meetings, most salespeople sabotage their own success by talking too much.

Solve the real problem

If you’re not happy with your sales team’s results, the odds are high that their questioning skills protocol for discovery meetings is off kilter. There is no wiser, more cost-effective, practical and impactful place to invest training time and money than in learning how to master the questioning skills for the discovery meeting.

Yes, product knowledge, prospecting and presenting are important. But the discovery meeting is more important. A salesperson can’t even get to presenting and closing if he strikes out in the discovery meeting.

If you want to grow sales and customer satisfaction/loyalty scores dramatically higher this year – refocus and refine your team’s discovery meeting questioning skills.

Chris Bennett is President of Vancouver, British Columbia-based Peak Performance, a sales training provider.