The Power of Questions In Discovery

Asking questions is a powerful way to start any relationship, and the way you sell is no different. Learn the reasons why asking good questions is so powerful early in the sales process, how to formulate good questions, and a few specific questions you can ask.


Full Episode Transcription:

Hello and welcome once again to the Liston.io show, episode number four. I am crazy, crazy excited that you’re here listening to this right now. I know that the podcast just launched and so I just wanted to start today by saying thank you so much. Thank you for listening to more than one episode. Thanks for hanging out here. I hope I’m delivering a ton of value to you. Before I get started, I do want to ask if you haven’t already, and if you’re getting a lot out of this podcast, I would greatly, greatly appreciate it. If you could head over to iTunes, leave a review, whatever is honest and on your mind about the podcast, it would really, really help me spread the word to more people. Now, on today’s show, I will be talking about discovery and in particular, not just discovery, but the power of questions in discovery.

Now, I know this may seem a little bit esoteric and beside the point, but I promise you I’m going to present some research. I’m going to present some studies. I’m going to present facts and figures from online dating. Yes, we are going to cover it all today, but before I get into that, I do want to point you to a resource that may help you, so if you’re a consultant or someone doing consultative selling, I think this resource is going to help you out a ton. It’s called the 60 day sales plan, going beyond the referral, it’s a free online seminar that I have. It’s not live, but you can go sign up immediately right now, www.60daysalesplan.com. In there, I will show you the process that I use to help my clients both coaching and training clients in order to improve their selling process, their selling skills.

Let’s talk about discovery, shall we? When I think about the sales process, I really think about it in a few steps. So number one is a lead. Someone is interested in speaking with you. They may be interested in what you have to offer. They may have indicated that interest directly or indirectly through your different marketing channels, or maybe they just said, hey, I’d love to jump on a call. Right, but basically they’ve indicated their interest to you. The second part now is discovery. Once you have someone’s interest and you are going to start a conversation with them, right? Discovery is just a fancy word for the first conversation or maybe the first several conversations. We need to go learn about our potential client. I don’t define discovery too narrowly, so kind of the classic sales literature suggests that the discovery process is 15 minutes and we’re just quickly going to put them into my little questioning factory and we’re going to find out, does this person have the budget authority need and timeline badge, right?

But I think of discovery in a consulting setting in a much broader way. I think about it as really understanding who is this person as a human being who wants to talk to me and need some help, what’s going on in their business, because that’s got to be the focus of our conversation if we want it to be really successful and I’m really looking to learn about four things in the discovery process and this could be over one call, it could be over several calls and that is what’s going on now. What would you like to happen instead? What’s the value of achieving that better future, better version of what’s going on and what have you tried to achieve it. So the point of discovery is to learn. It’s to learn about our client. The point of discovery is to learn about our client and that’s why I say don’t pitch during discovery, just don’t do it.

And the reason I say that is because the discovery process again, is designed for us to learn about our potential client. Now they may want to know enough to decide do they want to talk to us again? Can we help them? And so we may share with them in a very broad way, in sort of truncated or abbreviated way how we can help them. But we don’t want to go into our full pitch. We’re not going to give them a 20 or 30 minute rundown in the discovery process about how we can help them. That comes after discovery. That’s step number three where we make an offer and we tie it to the things that we learned in the discovery process, so hopefully by now you see that pitching during discovery is just out of order because for our pitch to have the power and impact that we wanted to have, it really should be tied to the types of things that we can learn in discovery.

Don’t pitch during discovery, so we know the point of discovery is to learn about our potential client. We know that there are several things that we want to learn, but why is that? Why is the point of discovery to learn? Well, I’d like to take a broader approach on this topic and ask a more basic question. What is the point of conversation? Why do we talk to people in the first place? I don’t want to get lost in the details of communication theory and there is not a single unified theory of communication. It does apply directly to sales marketing. I’d say much more directly to sales because it’s the exchange of information between two people or a small group of people in the case of if you and maybe some people on your team are selling to all the decision makers at your potential client, but usually initially it’s just two people exchanging information, so what are we exchanging?

So the point of conversation number one is the exchange of information, like I said, which really comes down to learning. The second reason we communicate and have conversations is impression management, also known as liking. So the information I’m presenting you here comes from an article on Harvard Business Review, Hbr.org. I’ll link to it in the show notes and the article is called the surprising power of questions. It’s absolutely fantastic. They also have a podcast on this topic which I’ll link to as well, which is just basically a rehash of the article, but they say the point of conversation is these two things, learning and liking. So what does this have to do with questions? People who ask more questions tend to be more successful in conversation and questions achieve both learning and liking, and that’s why people who ask more questions tend to be more successful. Let’s look at a study.

So in a study, some researchers looked at thousands of online chat conversations and they created two groups. In one group, they ask people to ask nine or more questions in 15 minutes. In the second group they asked people to ask four or less questions in 15 minutes. So what did they find? What they found was people who asked more questions were more liked. So remember, the second reason we engage in conversation is impression management or liking. And people who ask more questions are more liked. Well, what about learning or exchange of information? Well, the people who ask more questions, not surprisingly, we probably don’t need to assemble a research project to figure this out. But people who ask more questions actually learned more about their partner’s preferences. What was their personal life like? Do they have families? What do they like to do for fun?

On and on and on. What do they do for work? Where were they educated? All these kinds of things can be uncovered in a very, very short conversation. All right. Maybe you’re not convinced yet, so let’s look at another study. Separately, they studied speed daters and online daters, and what they found was, again, not surprisingly, the speed daters who asked more questions were more likely to be preferred for a second date. This isn’t strictly advice to be applied in your sales conversations. This is also advice to be applied in every conversation, not just in your life as a consultant, but in your life generally. You’re going to have more successful conversations, if you ask more questions. Now, you may be asking this. Okay, okay, okay. I get it. If I asked more questions and conversation, people are more likely to like me and I’m more likely to learn more.

Okay. Does this even apply to sales? Do we know that? Yes. Actually. So there’s a company called Gong.io, and what Gong does is they have call recording and analysis software. It’s a sales call tool for sales organizations and they’re able to go in and analyze calls in mass, so they did a giant, giant study and if you haven’t heard of Gong.io and you’re interested in data about what works in sales. It’s not exclusively focused on consulting, but I do recommend looking at some of their stuff, but what they found is that top performing salespeople spoke less than their average and underperforming counterparts. What does this imply? Well, this definitely implies that top performing salespeople are listening more. Actually, it doesn’t imply that it’s mandatory, right? If they’re going to talk less by definition, they’re listening more. In order to listen more, we have to prompt our counterpart, our potential client, your potential client.

You have to prompt them to talk and actually the difference between the top performing sales people and their average and underperforming counterparts was about a third less speaking. So top performers talked a little less than half the time average and under performers talked about two thirds of the time. Huge, huge difference, right? What I would encourage you to take away from this podcast, if nothing else, is that by asking more questions, you’ll be more successful in both your sales conversations and any conversations you have outside of sales. Now I’m going to get to the next part, which you must be thinking right now. Okay, great. So what do I ask? In one second, I’m going to get to that, but I do want to recommend something to you right now in that is Philip Morgan’s consulting Pipeline podcast. Now, if you’re listening to me right now, you may know that Phillip Morgan and I, we have a separate podcast together, it’s called offline.

We’re podcasting junkies, but if you like what you’re hearing so far here on the Liston.io show, if you’re interested in building a better consulting business, if you want advice from someone who’s a positioning expert, which Philip is, or some of his guests who have positioned their consulting businesses and really have been able to grow their businesses more profitably through positioning, marketing and selling of their consulting. I do recommend you go check out Philip Morgan’s consulting pipeline podcast. All you have to do is go to your podcasting app type in Consulting Pipeline, podcast, or maybe just consulting pipeline and you will definitely find it. I highly, highly recommend that and if you do go listen to Philip Morgan’s consulting pipeline podcast and you end up reaching out to him. Tell him that I sent you please, I’d appreciate it. So back to the big crescendo of this episode and that is knowing what to ask. Right?

So I’ve already talked to you about what the point of discovery is. It’s to learn what the point of conversation is. It’s to learn, but also to manage the impression that you make, which is to create liking. Quick side note on liking. There’s a wonderful book called influence by Robert Cialdini. I would say it’s the preeminent or at least most popular book on the topic of persuasion and one of the key factors of persuasion is liking in the book and it’s no coincidence that in order to have successful conversations there has to be some amount of liking. So that’s another resource that I’ll point to in the show notes that you can go check out. But there’s just a mountain of evidence that liking is absolutely critical. So let’s dig into this. What I want to do is give you first of all, a way to think about how to ask effective questions and also I’m gonna give you four really key questions that I think are extremely valuable.

I use them all the time and I find that they just spur a lot of conversation. So the way to think about questions is really two types of questions. One is I do recommend favoring open ended questions. The reason I recommend open ended questions is that you get to hear whatever is on the mind of the person you’re talking to, right? It allows them to just riff, be free and open about whatever they’re thinking about. Now, in some cases you may have a hard time getting them to start talking, but first of all, that’s okay. There are ways to deal with that, but in most cases I think what you’ll be surprised at is people will just tell you a lot. If you’re willing to sit and listen, and that brings me to another point. You have to be willing to sit and listen, right, so remember, don’t pitch during discovery, which means we have to listen in order to learn, which means we’re going to put our stuff aside in favor of letting our client talk.

We’d want to be a participant in this conversation of course, however, a lot of people are inclined to go on a little bit too long or to share their experience whenever they can relate to something that the other person is saying, but what I want you to do is consciously resist that a little bit so that you’re in listening mode. So the first type of question that I recommend you ask are open ended questions and that’s going to be the thrust of the questions I recommend to you. The second thing I recommend you do is ask followup questions. Ask follow up questions. It is so important, I have to say it twice and the reason follow up questions are so important is the person you’re talking to may mention something that seems completely insignificant to them but is extremely valuable and interesting and insightful to you.

And so when they opened the door to one of those things, we’re gonna want to ask a follow-up question? Can you tell me more about that? Hey, I just want to go back to something you just mentioned. Can you say more about that? Another way to do it, asking a follow-up question is just to repeat the way they ended, whatever it is that they were saying. So if I’m on the phone with a potential client and they say, one of the things that’s really going wrong here is we’re just not able to generate new business that doesn’t come from referrals. And I could say something like, oh, that doesn’t come from referrals. Well I didn’t ask a specific question, but they know what to do with that. They know that I want them to go down that road a little bit more and tell me more about it.

Alternatively, they tell me more about that strategy. You can just say, oh, I see. So you’re not getting new business outside of referrals. Can you tell me more about why you think that is? Now we’re having a conversation that’s extremely meaningful, right? So when you go into discovery favor these open ended questions and asked plenty of follow-up questions. By the way, this also applies to every other conversation you will ever have in your life. Open ended questions, follow up questions. This is really where the gold is in conversation. So let me give you some example questions that can use in your discovery process today and I know that’s what you’ve been waiting for. So I’m not going to keep you on hold any longer. So number one, the number one question I recommend you ask is simple. What’s going on? Tell me why you wanted to have this conversation.

We’re basically asking the same thing and what that question does is it sets the tone of the conversation to be open and hopefully transparent and it gets your potential client to tell you whatever’s on their mind and whatever brought them to this point where the two of you are engaged in an exchange of information. That’s what we really want to know. What is going on? What’s happening. Now, you’re going to need to ask plenty of follow up questions once they start. People may have things on their mind like they want some particular result, but we want to dig a little bit deeper than that. Right? So a next question. Let’s say someone says, again, I want more new business outside of referrals. Let’s just stay with that example. A second question that you should be asking is, well, what have you done to address that? Or what have you done to fix that?

And what I want to do is uncover past attempts and understand why they worked or why they didn’t work. Again, the goal of the discovery process is to learn not to pitch anything and so if we asked questions like this, we can’t help but create a better understanding of what’s going on with our client and whether or not ultimately we might be able to help them because maybe we can’t and we need to know this kind of thing. If we want to make a determination based in reality and based in a range of predictable outcomes, whether or not we can actually help them. The third question I want to give you is this one, and this is one you have to ask every single person, what would success look like? Alternatively, if you could wave a magic wand, what will happen ?

Related to that, You may ask a question like, how will know if you achieved it or how will you measure that? What this is going to do is it’s going to uncover the value to your client of improving their situation. How do they think about the difference this will make in their lives? How do they think about the business impact? How do they think about the emotional impacts? I want to know all of that stuff and you can find out if you just ask the right questions. And finally the last question I want to leave you with is this, would you like to continue the conversation? Now, this is a simple one. Right? Years ago, Seth Godin wrote a book called Permission Marketing. In that book, he posited the thesis that the age of interruptions and brute force advertising is going away because we have so many choices and there are so many people contacting us and there’s so much competition for our attention that what we really need to be focused on is how can we get people to give us permission to continue a conversation.

And I would say the same exact thing applies in sales. So I asked this question, would you like to continue the conversation? Now, sometimes people say yes and they don’t mean it or something changes, but that’s okay, but what we want to do is get buy in from people. Understand are they into this? Give them permission to leave also. would you like to continue this conversation and just so you know it’s not gonna hurt my feelings if you don’t think this is a fit or you don’t want to keep talking. That kind of thing will put both parties on the same page and bolster rapport and liking. We already talked about liking and that’s the kind of thing that will increase liking, right? Because we’re not turning up the heat on anybody, we’re not saying, okay, great. Get out your calendar. The next step is for us to talk again, whether you like it or not, right?

You’re asking for permission, so just to recap what we talked about today, who’s we? It’s just me in here. What I talked about today is the power of questions in discovery and we talked about what discovery is and it’s purely just an exercise to learn about our potential client. We talked about the point of conversation, developing learning and liking, and we talked about the four questions that I recommend you ask and those are what’s going on. What have you done to fix it? What would success look like, and would you like to continue the conversation? I do recommend you just try immediately favoring, asking open ended questions, asking follow up questions and just plain old asking more questions.

So that’s my advice to you and that hopefully illustrates the power of asking questions in your discovery process. Once again, if you want more help with my online seminar, 60 day sales plan, going beyond the referral, it will walk you through the exact process I use with my training and coaching clients in order to get them more sales and develop their sales skills and process. Once again, my name is Liston and I hope you have a fantastic day. Bye