What YOU Can Do to Help Your Reps Master the Art of Sales Discovery

by on August 8, 2011 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Webinars for Sales Managers

Video Transcript

Operator: Hello and welcome to today’s conference entitled, “What You Can Do to Help Your Reps Master the Art of Sales Discovery”.

The general outline for today’s program is included in your handout. As a reminder, this call is being recorded.

Today’s speaker is Steve Von Hoene.

Steve founded Journey Learning with over 21 years of sales, management, and training experience. Steve’s ability to blend real-world experience and in-depth knowledge with solid training makes him an invaluable resource to our clients.

Steve, the audience is all yours.

Steve Von Hoene: Thank you, Erik and welcome everyone. Let me start by saying I’m not sure what you thought you’d be getting when you signed up for today’s session. But we may have a bit of a bonus for you.

Clearly, you’re interested in the topic of mastering the art of sales discovery. But we’re not going to just talk about the discovery process today. We’re going to talk about how you can teach your people to be better at the discovery process. Why? Well, because we believe that the concepts we cover today in regards to training your people will be applicable to developing your people skills by just about any topic.

You’re going to walk away from today’s session with a heads up on the most common mistakes that salespeople make in trying to sell their prospects. And two keys for how exceptional salespeople differentiate themselves and get their customers to buy from them.

In addition, why the way many companies typically train their people in these skills and many others is so deeply flawed. As a result, engagement in learning and improving is far lower than it should be. Knowledge retention is a fraction of what we’d want it to be. And the ROI on training investments is shockingly low.

And the fourth takeaway is that there’s a major shift in the way people are being trained today. And it has the potential to transform the performance of both managers and companies.

Now, before we get started, let’s talk about – I’m sorry, talk about training development in general. Why? Because the details on how to conduct an impactful discovery meeting or any other topic really don’t matter if the training you deliver doesn’t sink in and stick and your people don’t use it.

I’m particularly passionate about this topic because so much workplace training is ineffective. And I’d like to set a new foundation before we dig in to the specifics.

Let’s start by asking why do we need to develop our people anyway? It may seem obvious. In fact, you may think that everyone has the same thoughts as you do on this topic. But there are actually a lot of reasons.

I ask this question all the time when I’m with managers and owners. And here are some of what they say. See how many of their answers are different than yours.

Well, it’s usually more expensive to hire seasoned veterans. Plus there aren’t enough of them to go around. So we will probably need to hire people who will need to be developed.

Clearly, newbies need training. But experienced people often bring bad habits with them or at least behaviors that could be better. So training helps get people where we want them and maximize their potential.

Developing people is one of the best ways to retain them. Turnover cost lots of money. And if we’re not ready for it, lots of time too. Developing people is a great investment. As Covey says, we need to occasionally sharpen the saw. Even the best of us get complacent or stale if we’re not given the chance to recharge and renew our approach.

Besides saving our time looking for new people to cover turnover, training, when done right, actually saves us time and makes our people more independent, more committed and more engaged.

We actually work to teach our sales reps how to reinforce these concepts with their peers, thus, making them experts on the various content pieces. It’s like the old Chinese proverb about teaching them to fish versus giving them fish.

And like my old boss used to say, “Stevie, things are always moving and changing. You’re either moving forward or you’re moving backwards. I prefer to move forward.”

Speaking of moving forward, let’s move on to defining talent development. For me, it means giving people concepts for dealing with the chaos, confusion, uncertainty and ambiguity that we throw them into.

In sales, there’s a concept for making cold calls, a concept for dealing with price objections, a concept for managing paperworks, and a concept for handling rejection and many others.

Our job as talent developers is to arm our people with these concepts and the skills that go along with them. Without them, our sales reps could easily be defeated by the complexity of a very difficult situation we put them into.

Now, what is the biggest talent development problem all companies have? It’s that managers are accountable for it. If you’re a manager, you might be thinking, “Yup, that’s right. And that’s just how I want it.” But do you fully understand what goes into proper talent development?

Many managers don’t have the knowledge or skill for assessing their people’s needs, developing curricula, actually delivering the curricula or following up. How many managers were trained to do that? Not many. And those are pretty good at it generally don’t have the time or proper resources to train their people correctly.

The fact is most managers feel overwhelmed by their talent development role. So training which they perceive as a not urgent process oriented activity falls to the bottom of their priority list. Too often, it doesn’t get done. Or quite frankly, they don’t understand the complexity of it. And so it gets done and a half baked way.

And those managers who do know the training and developing their people really is important, feel that they have to apologize for their below average performance as talent developers.

Now, to help me prove this point, let’s watch one of our Quick Take modules on the sales discovery process called the Five Whys Technique. And then I’ll talk about what we learned and more about how to make it stick.

Now, as we get ready to watch this, consider the following points. Ever heard the phrase “spraying and praying”? Even if not, I’m guessing you get the gist as ineffective and offensive as spraying and praying is the customers, some reps still do it.

Thankfully, most sales reps recognize that they need to do some kind of diagnostic first. But what does that usually sound like? From whose perspective is the rep approaching things? Their own or the customers? Is it an interrogation, a series of leading questions or an open, honest series of thoughtful questions? And do our people even go down the right roads when proving for valuable information? And if they do, do they go far enough?

Who are your reps calling on? Are they high enough up the decision making ladder to gain the right kind of information? And if so, do the reps know enough about the person’s world to ask the right questions and understand their answers?

Do your folks assume that their prospects and customers see the whole picture or know where they have issues? Or are they good at connecting the dots for their contacts to see connections between their situations and your solutions?

And finally, where do your people fall on the sales skills continuum? Are they order takers, problem solvers or true consultants who can create opportunities where no need was previously even perceived?

Now, let’s just take a few minutes and watch the Quick Take.

Man: Welcome to this Quick Take rapid learning module. Today’s topic, Discovery: The Five Whys Technique to Uncover Hidden Customer Needs.

In Sales 101 we all learned that “Discovery” – questioning prospects to learn their true needs – is a critical phase of the selling process. We learned that in complex sales, it’s impossible to effectively “map” needs to solutions unless you really understand the customers “pain.” Discovery is all about “finding the pain.”

Sounds easy enough. But it’s difficult because it requires one of the hardest things a human being can be asked to do – listen. No surprise that among salespeople, discovery skills reflect a standard bell curve.

A handful wouldn’t spot an opportunity if it were written on a prospect’s forehead. A small percentage listen so intently and dig so deeply that they find the needle in the haystack almost every time. But most are average. They haven’t mastered the probing and listening skills that allow superstars to achieve breakthrough results.

In this Quick Take, you will learn, one, what it means to have a threaded conversation. Two, how uncover customer needs using the Five Whys Technique. Three, how the Five Whys will make you a consultative seller and help you turn more prospects into high value customers.

The Five Whys Interviewing technique assumes that to find the truth, you need to ask a why question about five times. Journalists, insurance investigators, police interrogators and job interviewers use it everyday and so do sales superstars.

Here’s a simple non-sales related example to show how it works.

One, why did that machine suddenly stopped? Because the fuse blew.

Two, why did the fuse blow? Because the fuse wasn’t the right size.

Three, why wasn’t the fuse the right size? One of our engineers put in the wrong one.

Four, why did the engineer put in the wrong fuse? Because somebody in the supply room gave him the wrong one.

Five, why did the supply room give him the wrong one? Because the stock bin for fuses was mislabeled.

Aha! It took five whys to drill down and find the real reason the machine stopped, because somebody mislabeled the bin.

Was the person trying to hide the truth? Maybe. But more likely they simply weren’t focused on why the machine stopped or why the fuse blew. When you’re questioning prospects, they’ll almost never cut right to a need that you can meet. Your questions have to help them connect the dots.

The threaded conversation is key. Notice that the question always takes up a thread from the previous answer. The first answer was, because the fuse blew. The second question is why did the fuse blow and so on.

Let’s look at a selling example. We’ll describe a situation then show how two different salespeople would handle discovery. The prospect is Ben, the VP of Operations at Alaska Transport who oversees a fleet of 500 trucks that travel rough roads in Alaska.

After receiving multiple cold calls, he finally agrees to talk to a rep from ACME Truck Supplies. ACME knows a little about Ben’s company, things they could find online or pick up in conversations at industry conferences. But to win the account, they need to know more.

First, let’s eavesdrop on Andy, an average salesperson at ACME and see how he handles the conversation.

Andy: So how tough are the roads on your tires?
Ben: Murder. But we’re pretty happy with the Goodyears we’ve been buying.
Andy: Must be tough on the entire vehicle. What other parts do you replace the most?
Ben: Shocks and axles.
Andy: Anything else?
Ben: Well, drivers.
Andy: We sell tires, axles and shocks but unfortunately, not drivers. So what are your needs when it comes to shocks?
Ben: The ones we buy from your competitor are fine. Their delivery is good. Warrantees are fine. I’m really not interested in switching vendors.

Andy has been locked out. And he’s not going to get back in because he doesn’t have the discovery skills to find Ben’s true needs. The best he can do is, “What are your needs when it comes to shocks?” That’s a weak product focused question that’s got a predictable answer. Andy’s a middle of the bell curve sales rep. He either lacks the killer instinct or no one ever taught him how to really dig.

Now, let’s watch a star in action. Imagine that Jennifer had started the conversation with Ben exactly as Andy have but had responded differently to Ben’s comment about needing to replace his drivers.

Jennifer: That’s interesting, Ben. Why do you say you need to replace drivers?
Ben: Because of the vibrators on those dirt roads which have gotten a lot worst in the last year.
Jennifer: Why is that such a problem?
Ben: It gets to the drivers.
Jennifer: Help me understand why?
Ben: Several have gotten to doctors who told them the vibration is bad for their internal organs.
Jennifer: How are you handling that?
Ben: We haven’t figured it out yet. In the past year, we’ve doubled the number of trips on empty loads which is when the vibration is worst. So we’ve had a lot of driver turnover.
Jennifer: Help me understand why it impacts your business when you lose good drivers.
Ben: We’ve got a potentially huge contract in the works and they have to back out of the bidding for lack of trained drivers.

Bingo. It took four whys and a how to get there. But Jennifer feathered out a huge threat to Ben’s business. If she can map that need to a solution, she’ll make a huge sale.

It turns out, Jennifer had worked with a truck fleet in the (roughies) that have the same problem. They switched to a high end load adjustable shock absorber that dramatically reduced the vibration when driving on rough roads with an empty truck. She mentioned this to (Ben) and suggested that it might work for him. Will he like to install the shocks on a few vehicles to test out the solution? How could Ben say no?

The key different between Andy and Jennifer is that for Andy, discovery is a conversation where either one, he talks about his products and hopes that customer will recognize something he needs or two, he simply asks prospects, “What do you need?”

Problem is customers often don’t know what they need. When Ben mentioned his drivers, he wasn’t making a joke. He was expressing anxiety in a very subtle way. But Andy didn’t pick up the sense of opportunity.

Jennifer did. For her, discovery is about probing with all five senses to find the prospect’s pain. And she has a tool, the Five Whys that she uses like a knife to peel away layers of the onion and find organizational needs that directly affect profitability and the long term health of the company.

Let’s sum up. The Five Whys Technique is an effective discovery tool that uncovers needs your prospects might hesitate to reveal, are vaguely aware of but feel no urgency to address or aren’t aware of at all.

The Five Whys is a potential career changer. Master it and you’ll move from middle of the bell curve results to outstanding results. You’ll send the message to prospects that you’re a consultative seller, that you ask great questions, that you’ve listened to their answers and that you’re a credible partner who can help them meet their business challenges.

Thanks for watching.

Steve Von Hoene: Okay, so as we just saw, the rep’s ability to get out of their own heads and into the customer’s is huge in helping them ask the right questions and listen for the right answers.

Ben was too focused on listening for product-related things he thought would point to a sale while Jennifer was more interested in really understanding the situation completely from the customer’s point of view. She was able to have a threaded conversation and used the five whys technique perfectly to help her gain a sale.

What you just saw was an example of something we call “chunked learning”. It did not attempt to cover the broad topic of how to sell successfully. What it did was take a content piece of that topic doing a good diagnostic and present it in a simple, short, meaningful way.

Here are some of the things that the module accomplished. It showed why one sales rep – your typical rep – was unsuccessful in moving forward with a prospect. It showed how another rep’s approach was better at bonding with the prospect and learning critical information, thereby opening the door for a sale to happen and then presented a very doable concept for your reps to take away and try immediately. And it did all this in less than nine minutes.

Our belief is if your sales reps had exposure to learning like this, they would retain more. They would do more and do more better and want to come back for more. The key word here, “more” and for much less.

Let’s continue our earlier discussion about why this training approach works better. Let me show you very quickly why so many managers underperform in their training role.

Back in 1885, the guy who invented the term, the “learning curve”, a German psychologist named Hermann Ebbinghaus, conducted studies on learning retention. He created learning events and then observed how much learners forgot at various intervals if there was no follow up.

Here is what Ebbinghaus called the “forgetting curve”. Retention falls off sharply in the first few hours and days. After a month, people forget 80%. In fact, there I ask all of you what (Jennifer’s) five questions were. This study has been replicated many times and we’ve all experienced what Ebbinghaus calls the forgetting curve. Think about it.

We’ve all come back from a conference or a training session with a big binder full of valuable insights we got. And we’re eager to make big changes to implement everything we learned. But after a week or two or three, the book is on the shelf and we’ve reverted back to our old habits. Without follow up, the concepts we deliver in training events just flat out don’t stick. It’s a rock solid law of the universe. And since we all know this, we must all be doing tons of follow up, right?

Well, let’s look at study referenced by the American Society for Training and Development in Training Magazine. It isolated these three core activities in training – preparation, the even itself and follow up – and then asked people how much time they allocated to each activity. And here is what they came up with. Ten percent goes to planning. Eighty-five percent goes to the training event itself and just 5% to follow up.

If what Ebbinghaus discovered about lack of follow up is true – and I assure you it is – companies are wasting staggering amounts of money on training that just doesn’t stick. It also means that managers who are responsible for training are doing a poor job developing their people. And it must be their fault because they’re accountable for training, right? Well, hold on. That’s not totally fair.

Many managers have been set up to fail. Now, let me explain why. Why do most people get promoted? Because they’re seasoned leaders? No. Because they’re polished trainers? No. They were promoted because they excelled at a technical skill. They were great salespeople, accountants, engineers, marketers or whatever.

Their companies told them, “Hey, you’re great. Now go get results through other people.” And the manager said, “Great. Send me into the game.” But they quickly realize they didn’t know how to do it and that follow up stuff just takes too much time.

So what most managers do to feel good about themselves as trainers is bring in an instructor to teach their people or they send their team to a conference in Vegas. And they get a short term fix of good feelings about, “Hey, I’m doing something about training.” But there’s a huge problem with that, isn’t there? Very little of what these people learned will actually get applied to the job because they’ll forget most of it in just a few weeks.

The road to recovery starts with this insight: training is a process – not an event. And the process is all about follow up; what we at the RLI call “interval reinforcement”. Here is what a successful training process looks like. You conduct the training event and the skill level improves. If you do nothing, the skill level falls off sharply in a matter of days or weeks, just as Ebbinghaus says. You’re better off than before but barely. So you revisit the training and the skill improves even more.

You back off and it goes down but less. Then you revisit the concept again and skill shoots up higher still. Do this roughly five times and you achieve permanent mastery of skills.

This is what’s usually not happening in organizations. Why? Because the manager is the only person who can do it.

If you have in-house trainers, they’re going to do their training event and move on. If you bring in an outside trainer, she’s going to get paid her fee and then disappear. Follow up has to be done by managers but they’re failing. Let’s examine why.

It’s primary because they view training through a wide lens. “I’m a sales manager so I have to train my people to sell.” Or, “I’m a general manager or a VP so I have to teach my managers to manage.” When the task is viewed through a wide lens, managers freeze up. They think this task is too big. “I have no idea how to do it.”

Let’s switch gears and imagine viewing training through a narrow lens. “I’m a sales manager and I’m going to teach my people how to nail the first 20 seconds of a cold call.” Or, “I’m a general manager and I’m going to teach my managers how to have one specific type of difficult conversation dealing with employees who have bad attitude.” You completely reframe the training task when you chunk learning. That is, you break them to small manageable bits.

There’s a ton of research on adult learning. Adults learn very differently from children for lots of reasons. But the one thing the research is unanimous about is that adults quickly succumb to cognitive overload in any learning situation. They don’t easily absorb a lot of information in one sitting. And the best thing we can do to get them to engage in training and retain learning is to chunk the training and deliver it in bite size pieces.

Chunking has a huge benefit for learners. The research is clear that it reduces cognitive overload and increases retention. But I’m just as interested in the benefits for managers. Think about it. As I discussed earlier, most managers view talent development through a wide lens and find the task so overwhelming they can’t even get started. Chunking is a game changer. It allows managers to reframe their talent development role.

A sales manager can teach his or her people how to master the discovery manager. A general manager can teach his or her managers a concept for dealing with bad attitudes. Neither of these tasks seems overwhelming so they get done. By training people in chunks or narrowly defined concepts, managers start accumulating small victories. Slowly but surely, they start feeling a sense of success in their talent development role.

Now, let’s look back to our discussion about how to make training stick. We said earlier that the key is follow up. We’ve already established that you’re wasting your time and money if you don’t do it so you need a follow up model. Here’s one. Here’s one that we’ve established at the Rapid Learning Institute using a few web-based tools. We observed how most of our active customers were using our platform and this is what they all seem to be doing with small variations.

They intended to work in two to four-week cycles. In a typical case, on Day 1, they’d watch a learning module with their team, similar to the one we just watched. Then they’d hold a 30-minute group discussion and ask everyone to draft a personal action plan stating how they each intended to implement the concept they just learned.

A week later, the managers sends an email through our platform that’s functionally built in and asked the team members to watch the module again and take a quiz which the managers can see the results of the quiz and track everyone’s activity.

Then a week or so later, the team would meet again; watch the module again and discuss everyone’s implementation logs – that is an account of what happened when they tried to use the concept in real life. They repeat the last cycle one, two or maybe three times until everyone have mastered the concept. That’s an example of interval reinforcement – the kind of discipline follow up that makes training stick.

Let me show the power of this new paradigm. Remember the pie chart we saw earlier, the one that shows people spend 85% of their time on a learning event and just 5% on follow up?

Applying that model, imagine you bring in a trainer for 16 hours of instructor-led training for your team. Here’s a graphical representation showing the amount of time that would likely be spent on each of the three activities: 16 hours for the event, two hours for planning and about an hour for follow up – 19 hours all total.

I attended a similar even just last month. The trainer was dynamite. I call him “killer sales trainer”. I was sitting in the back of the room, next to the sale manager who hired the trainer. He spent much of his time looking at his iPhone, responding to email and reading an online newspaper. After the event, I said to him, “Hey, that was amazing. But how are you going to make it stick?”

He assured me that he was going to follow up. But I could tell from his body language that my question made him uncomfortable because he didn’t really believe he was going to follow up.

I called killer sales trainer the following week and asked him, “Hey, what’s going to happen a month from now?” He said, “They are going to forget most of what I taught them.” I said, “What? Are you okay with that?” He replied, “No, of course not. I told the manager what I just told you. I tell everybody that they need to bring me back for follow up or else do it themselves but it rarely happens.”

What he is saying of course is that most – everyone sees training as an event, not a process. So this graphic shows what failure looks like. Killer sales trainer, by the way, was paid $25,000.

Now, let me show you another approach that gets a wildly different result. Let’s look at a chunk learning experience similar to the one we just reviewed.

Total time allocation is three hours. Planning is 10% of that time or 18 minutes. The training event in this scenario is 5% of the total training time or nine minutes. The rest of the 180 minutes, about two and a half hours, is follow up. We turned the model completely on its head. The training event went from 85% to 5% and follow up went from 5% to 85%.

Now, what’s going on during this follow up phase? Pretty much what I showed you in the interval reinforcement plan. It’s all the peripheral activity around the module – discussions, quizzes, personal action plans, watching the module again which is follow up by the way; some manager coaching and perhaps some peer coaching.

Let me tell you the most important difference between this model and the traditional one. Contrast of manager’s role in the chunked learning model versus the traditional one: in the traditional model, a manager was in the back of the room tapping away on his iPhone. He was passive. He was disengaged. He wasn’t learning anything about how to train people.

In the chunked learning model, a manager is totally engaged. She is driving the training process. She is running the discussions. She’s tracking the quizzes. She’s conducting one-on-ones with her team to make sure the concept is sticking. She is developing her own training skills and she is experiencing a small victory, a success that will encourage her to find the time to begin another chunked learning exercise and then another and then another.

One other thing, you’ll notice that the chunked learning exercise took three hours versus 19 for traditional instructor-led training, which means that in the same time period, you could teach people six competencies that they deploy on the job that they’d remember and it would impact the results at your company.

Back to the story about killer sales trainer, I’m a strong believer in instructor-led training or ILT. I’ve actually made a pretty nice career out of it. I don’t believe that self-directed e-learning is the answer for most companies, especially when it comes to skill development.

The holy grail is what’s called “blended learning” where a trainer could be an outside consultant, an in-house trainer or preferably a manager combines instructor-led training with web-based chunked learning tools. The trainer delivers the concept, not unlike the way we did today. And the module is there for interval reinforcement.

In fact, I just got back from Connecticut where we did just such a workshop for one of our clients. When chunked learning modules are web-based, accessible 24/7, it’s very easy for learners to revisit the material. The combination of instructor-led training and web-based tools is powerful. And the key to it is that regardless of who delivers the training, the manager must drive the process and ensure that the training sticks.

I tried to give you a sense today of what chunked learning can do for managers and their people. It’s a total game changer that can turn average managers into great ones who have not just technical competency but that rare ability to get results through other people.

Chunking allows managers to reframe their talent development role. When managers tackle very narrow concepts, training seems doable. They no longer delegate the training role to outsiders who create events. Instead, they see training as a process that they themselves drive. Follow up gets done and training sticks.

Managers accumulate small victories and sharpen their own skills as trainers. They start feeling successful in their talent development role and they reap the rewards. Make no mistake. Managers who have technical skill and the ability to train and develop a high performance team are extraordinarily valuable to their companies.

So here’s our offer for today. When you signed up for today’s webinar, you were automatically entered into our system and given a free trial for the Selling Essentials of Rapid Learning Center. For the next 30 days, you’ll have full access to the discovery program we watched today plus dozens of other sales training programs on the site.

Now, let me walk you through how to get access. First, during this program, we emailed you a Web address, your username and the password. If you didn’t get this mail, please give us a call and we’ll get you started. If you already have access to the site, use the log-in credentials you already have. If you have any trouble logging in, again give us a call and we’ll help you out.

Now, to get to the five whys quick take we watched today, click on the Discovery: The Five Whys Technique link in the right column of the page. Also, we encourage you to add other users at your company. Just click on the Add Users link at the top of the navigation bar. Those you add can also test drive the site for 30 days.

Finally, we’re happy to give you a free tour of the Rapid Learning Center to show you how it can help you make sales training stick.

That’s all for now. Thanks for joining us today and I hope you enjoy your trial to the Rapid Learning Center. Have a great afternoon.

Operator: Thank you for attending today’s conference.

Business 21 Publishing, the Rapid Learning Institute and Steve Von Hoene are committed to delivering the most valuable, information-rich programs that you would feel confident recommending to your colleagues.

We value your feedback and comments. Please complete the online survey which will appear on your screen at the end of this call and already be waiting for you in your email inbox. Thank you all very much.

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