I recently exchanged messages with a sales professional who had a very valid concern about how to lead discovery.
He understood the importance of finding the buyer's true problems. He knew that if he could uncover problems, he could offer his solution if it was a fit.
But he was afraid: how could he ask the deeper questions without coming across as nosy or intrusive?
I’ve heard similar questions from participants in the sales training programs I lead.
“What if I ask the buyer about their problems, and they think I’m prying?” they ask.
I get it! Heck, it's a lot easier to talk about your product than it is to ask your buyer about their business problems.
But if you don't uncover their problems, your product will be irrelevant.
Your buyer will see it as "interesting" or "something to think about." But they won't buy. So you can't help them. End of story.
So here are three specific things you can do to uncover their problems - without feeling intrusive.
1. Open your discovery meetings with command statements:
A command statement is something like:
“Tell me what prompted you to take this meeting today.”
“Tell me about what’s going on in your business today.”
Notice how broad and open-ended these statements are. This is by design, because it allows your buyer to lead with what is most important to them.
Listen carefully to their answer, and don’t interrupt. Then ask responsive questions to follow the thread of what they’ve just shared.
(Notice how different this is from asking them questions about topics they haven’t divulged – now that can feel nosy.)
2. Preface the conversation with key phrases:
Your buyers aren’t used to sellers taking the time to learn more about their world.
So you may want to frame the conversation with something like:
“You may be used to salespeople launching into a pitch about their product. But there’s no way I can know what will serve you best until I learn more about your business. So I'd like to ask some questions first.”
With this introduction, you put your buyer at ease. They know to expect more questions than pitches (which they will appreciate).
Before you ask specific questions that dig deeper into a possibly sensitive topic, preface the question with an acknowledgement followed by “Can you help me understand…”
For example: Your buyer has just shared that their “Q4 results weren’t as good as projected.” You may shy away from asking more. You don't want to point out a failure! But that’s why they’re talking to you. They have a problem that needs help. You can’t help them until you understand.
Here’s how you can phrase your responsive question: “I know how hard it is when results aren’t as good as projected. Can you help me understand what those numbers looked like?”
Another example: Your buyer has just said something like, “And our team must meet this goal of XYZ by the middle of next year.”
You want to understand what’s driving that timeline. Preface your question with “I’m curious…” as in: “I’m curious, what’s driving the need to reach that goal by the middle of next year?”
Curiosity is gentle. Curiosity deflects tension. Curiosity is the antidote to intrusiveness.
3. Leverage your EQ
Your IQ is important, but in sales your EQ (emotional intelligence) will help you navigate the conversation like a pro.
· Pay attention to their body language in response to your questions. Do they close off, or sit up straight? Avert their eyes, or lean in?
Recently, a participant in one of my trainings shared that when he started asking a prospect about his business, he noticed that the prospect sat up straight, leaned in, and became more engaged in the conversation. That's how you know you aren't being intrusive!
· Pay attention to their tone of voice: follow the cues to know if they’re comfortable in the conversation.
· Check your own emotion: just because you feel nervous asking the question, doesn’t mean they feel nervous about answering it.
Own what is yours, and don’t project it onto them. Remember, this isn’t about you – it’s about helping them.
If you do notice that your buyer becomes guarded or defensive, acknowledge it by saying, “I realize that’s a difficult question to answer. We can come back to that later.”
Your buyer may just need a little time to absorb what you’ve asked. But I can guarantee that if you’ve asked an insightful question, you will build up your credibility. That's a lot more valuable to them than your likeability.
If you notice tension, it’s fine to course-correct and take the conversation in a direction that feels more comfortable. But don’t decide that prematurely for the buyer. Let them surprise you with how much they’re willing to share.
We live in a world of information overload. Everyone is competing for your buyer’s attention. You’d be amazed how much your buyer will appreciate you taking the time to learn more about their world.
Curious to learn more about the Gap Selling team trainings that I offer? Read more here.
******** Psychological safety is important for your buyer - and it's important for you as a seller. Read my blog on how vulnerability impacts sales performance.