Discovery meetings are an absolutely crucial part of sales. The ability to run discovery meetings well is one of the most important attributes a rep can have.
In this article, we’ll look at how to structure a discovery meeting.
We’ll learn how to set an agenda, the key things you need to do during your discovery meeting, and how to close the meeting to give yourself the best chance of getting a next meeting.
Table of Contents
- What is a Discovery Meeting?
- What To Do Before a Discovery Meeting
- What Should You Cover In a Discovery Meeting?
- Why Follow This Discovery Meeting Structure?
- What To Do In a Discovery Meeting Opening
- What is ILPA?
- Breaking Down ILPA’s Purpose and Message
- Wrapping Up a Discovery Meeting for Future Conversations
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What Is A Discovery Meeting?
In sales, a discovery meeting is an initial meeting with a prospect, in which you ask questions to understand the needs and pain points faced by the individual and their business, so you can understand how your products can most effectively meet their needs. It is also likely to include you giving some information about your product, and taking questions from the prospect.
What To Do Before A Discovery Meeting
A successful discovery meeting doesn’t start when you pick up the phone. It starts well before. You need to do three things. Do your research, make a plan, and set an agenda. You would expect sales reps to have done their research on a client, but many neglect the plan and the agenda.
When there’s no agenda, it translates to you not caring
If there is no agenda, the meeting attendees often think there’s no plan in place and as such will be a big waste of their time.
When you put a simple yet thoughtful agenda in EVERY calendar invite, it tells the prospect that you’re serious, you have a plan, and the meeting is not going to waste their time.
For a salesperson, the practice of creating an agenda for every meeting allows them to clearly think and articulate what they want to get out of the meeting and how the agenda items are going to move the prospect to the next step in the sales process.
It’s an amazing way to prepare for a meeting and an easy reminder to yourself on where you are in the sales process.
I always make sure that when I create the meeting invite, I add the agenda in immediately, so I don’t forget, and nothing gets lost in the cracks.
Here’s a sample agenda for the first meeting:
- Learn more about your goals and initiatives
- Discuss our approach to work management
- Demo of our product
- Next steps as applicable
In five simple yet effective bullets, you’re able to tell your prospect to:
- Be prepared to answer questions about their business.
- Relax and that you’ll give them clarity about your business/product.
- Wait for next steps should they like what they see.
Agendas are VERY tactical and pretty simple to implement across even a large organization. You just have to make the commitment to do it and call people out for not having agendas be it for internal or external meetings until it becomes a habit.
Armed with your agenda and your knowladge about the client, you’re ready to go into the meeting.
What Should You Cover In A Discovery Meeting?
Discovery meetings have a natural anatomy. If you adhere to this on EVERY call you can significantly increase your chances of closing a deal.
It’s basically the same as the agenda I outlined above.
ALL meetings consist of 5 major components:
1) Rapport building
2) Meeting opening
3) Questioning (discovery or deeper level questions)
4) Demo/presentation/discussion of what you are selling
5) Meeting closing
All components have a very deliberate and important purpose. Control. When your prospect feels like you’re in control then they do not feel like they have to take control.
Why Follow This Discovery Meeting Structure?
Having this meeting structure and control sends the following messages to your prospects:
1) You know what you’re doing.
2) They can feel comfortable letting you lead the discussion.
3) They can relax and listen to your message.
4) They don’t have to worry that you will embarrass them in front of their colleagues they might bring into future meetings.
5) It gives them an understanding of how all other meetings will be conducted.
When a prospect jumps in at the very beginning and tries to take control it’s because they do not want to look bad in front of their other colleagues or they’re not confident you have control.
Building a relationship with your prospect to then alleviate that anxiety puts you in a very strong position to lead the meeting and the deal cycle.
People would much rather have someone else take the reins than have to do it themselves.
What To Do In A Discovery Meeting Opening
The concept of a meeting opening was first introduced to me when I was at Experian. Our sales trainer Ed Wal used the acronym ITPAM to help us easily structure and script our meeting openings.
Check out Ed Wal’s book on Solution Selling
With sales and sales tech evolving at the pace that is, I believe ILPA has replaced ITPAM.
What is ILPA?
I use this structure for EVERY meeting. Once you’ve earned your first meeting, it’s easiest to start writing out the script in preparation for this. There is a particular purpose and underlying message for every component of ILPA. We follow this script as below:
2) Last time we spoke (this could be you or our sourcing SDR)
First, let’s see what an example ILPA script looks like.
It’s great connecting with everyone. To give you a little background about my role, I work with some of our largest enterprises that have fairly complex marketing programs and teams. These companies are tasked with large goals yet often have limited resources and need to find ways to execute more work faster while still maintaining quality and visibility.
My role is to understand what your marketing and business goals are. We can then figure out whether our project management and collaboration software can help you above and beyond what you are currently doing.
2) Last time we spoke
I know you spoke with Jake and mentioned your interest in
project management and collaboration software. I have also done additional
research on your business but I definitely have some questions that will help guide what I share about Wrike.
The purpose of today’s meeting is to give you a high-level sense of what we do.
In terms of an agenda, I would love to start by asking you a few questions. I’ll then share more about Wrike and give you a demo of the technology.
At the end of our meeting, we can decide whether this is worth exploring further and I can recommend next steps. Or on the flip side, we might decide this is not worth pursuing or a fit and we can part ways.
Does that work for you in terms of a rough agenda for today’s call?
The script sounds a little different from one AE to the next. The structure, however, is always similar whether it’s your first meeting or last meeting in the sales cycle.
Breaking Down ILPA’s Purpose and Message
Now that we know what an ILPA sounds like, the next thing to understand is the underlying purpose and message.
ILPA is about control but the components of ILPA guides your prospect on how to respond.
Let’s break this down.
Notice that my introduction is not “My name is Emily and I am an AE here at Wrike!”
That’s not an introduction. The purpose of an introduction is to give your prospect a sense of familiarity to companies you work with so that they can relate to it.
Secondly, the introduction is to ensure your prospect understands you’re there to learn more about the business to figure out whether you can help them (not sell them). Often salespeople forget that our main purpose is to help companies with a consultative selling approach. And by helping companies we are able to sell product or services.
Lastly, your introduction provides your prospect a mirror to how they should provide their introduction. If you just say “My name is Emily and I am an AE,” then when you ask your prospect about their role they will say, “Hi I am Maria and I am a Creative Director.”
There is so much to learn about your prospect through how they describe their role. You’ve got to start with setting the right tone with your introduction and giving your prospect guidance into explaining details around their role.
2) Last time we spoke
This provides your prospect reassurance that you’re taking this meeting seriously and have done your homework and prepared. This is one of the ways you can nail your follow-up.
It also sets the expectation that you still have questions and you expect them to participate and answer as it’s in their best interest.
Sets the expectation of what the meeting is going to be about and will cover.
Often customer/prospects have unrealistic expectations of a first meeting. Stating the purpose allows you to set the expectation that you won’t be able to cover everything and that subsequent meetings will be necessary to properly evaluate.
I’ve already talked about how critical an agenda is for a meeting. You should have provided it before the meeting started but now you need to reinforce it.
Doing so sets the expectation that you will have questions. It also sets the expectation that your prospect’s participation and attention is critical.
It provides the prospect reassurance that they will get what they need from the meeting as well. And it sets up expectations for what will happen at the end of the call. It lays out from the beginning that there will be next steps if they are interested and that you will provide guidance (remember people love to be led).
And it reassures that if it’s not a good fit or their interest in what you do is low, that it’s a perfectly acceptable outcome to part ways.
Prospects are often very concerned that the salesperson is not going to take no for an answer. This not only puts them in an uncomfortable position but also makes you look like a desperate salesperson.
Wrapping Up a Discovery Meeting for Future Conversations
There are three keys to wrapping up a discovery session so that it sets you up for future conversations and even a nice deal!
The key element here is that you ask genuinely probing, open-ended questions. You aren’t trying to guide your prospect to agree with you. You’re trying to understand them and their business goals.
The art of asking probing questions is a complex one, but I would emphasize two things.
First, you aren’t asking questions just to get to the conclusions you want. You’re working with the prospect to understand who they are and what they need. That means listening to the answers.
Don’t ask only leading questions. Ask questions that provoke deep thought in the prospect about their own business and their processes, so that you can see what’s really important to them, and understand how you’re going to deliver for them. Avoid questions that use the word “or” because that narrows down their options.
Second, start with role, end with goal.
In other words, start by asking broad questions about your prospect and your role in the organisation. I like to use something like these:
1) Tell me about your role.
2) Tell me about your team.
3) What are you trying to accomplish as a team this year?
4) How is your team measured?
5) Are you going to hit those goals?
6) What happens if you do/don’t?
7) What top challenges do you face?
Then try to get from there to your prospect’s main goal. What is the job they need to get done?
Then you get to the point where you’re going to demo your product.
Here the principle is that you want to leave them wanting more.
Too many reps spend the whole meeting giving an exhaustive demo. They don’t get to hear the client’s needs. They don’t get to grips with the problems and pain points. They just bombard the prospect with information about features.
Remember how I said that people were always looking to be led. That’s because they don’t want to work hard.
It’s hard work to understand all the cool things your product does. Do you remember having to learn? It took ages. Don’t make them do it. Just cover the real high points, and try to focus on the stuff that they need to know.
And don’t focus on technical features. That stuff is important but it’s BORING. Tell a story about the product, and how it solved a problem for someone like them.
Closing The Meeting
You must have heard the term Always Be Closing.
The first time I heard it, I wasn’t sure what it meant.
It does not mean always closing the order or the deal. There are products and times where it’s appropriate to ask for the order on the first call but in Enterprise software sales it would often be ridiculous. What it really means is that you must always be moving onto the next step in the sales process.
Also published on Medium.