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Discovery is the process of listening to users talk about what their needs are, how they are currently meeting those needs, and what they would love to have in order to meet their needs better, faster, or in a more cost effective way. In sales, it’s through the process of discovery that you can begin to understand and then quantify a prospect’s pain which you, no doubt, have a solution for. 

If you are a first time founder and new to the discovery game, Rob Fitzpatrick’s The Mom Test is a must read. It’s a brief and powerful “how to” for the entire discovery process.

In The Mom Test, Rob Fitzpatrick boils discovery down into three key components:

  1. Talk about their life instead of your idea
  2. Ask about specifics from the past instead of generics or opinions about the future
  3. Talk less and listen more

The more you learn through discovery before you begin building your solution, the better your chance of producing a tool that people really want to use. Once you’re ready to take your product to market, the more you learn through discovery calls with prospects, the better your chances of closing a deal. Importantly, asking the right questions early in a sales call will help prevent you from wasting your time and theirs, as they may not have a need for your solution. So they said “no.” That’s one more no towards a yes, and the sooner you hear “no” the sooner you can move on to your next conversation.

If you are a card carrying introvert and the thought of calling strangers and asking them questions makes your skin crawl, I understand completely. I too am a recovering introvert. On the plus side, being an introvert makes you a natural listener, just make sure you are actually listening and not thinking about what you are cooking for dinner. On the minus side, you are going to have to reach out and interact with other human beings, that comes with being a founder. (If you are interested in this particular rabbit hole, here’s a piece on why introverts make great founders.)

I have two recommendations for founders new to sales who happen to be introverts. The first is to start with your friends and family. If you can’t listen and talk to them about their lives and your software, you may need to reconsider building a startup. The second is to internalize the fact that you are truly here to help. Your phone calls and emails and conversations at conferences are a means for helping other people improve their lives and you can’t help those people unless you reach out to them, listen to them, and show them the way to a better life. Understood this way, you are pretty much a saint.

You should have a list of discovery questions at your fingertips on all of your calls until you internalize them. Fitzgerald offers a dozen or so quality questions throughout his text, and here’s a comprehensive and free list that you should personalize and make your own. Importantly, asking good questions is only part of the process. You also need to have good conversations, and Fitzgerald offers several tips on those as well, including some examples of good and bad conversations. Two key takeaways for me include a warning about being “too formal” and an admonition to keep initial meetings short. You should book an initial sales discovery meeting for 15 minutes. If the person you are talking to clearly articulates an itch that you directly scratch, they are either going to happily continue talking past 15 minutes or set up another call to learn more. Either of those are victories. 

I appreciate Fitzgerald ending his book with “cheat sheets” that align with every segment of the text. He also includes recommendations for symbols to use for shorthand while taking notes during conversations. Rather than taking notes, I suggest that you get permission to record all of your calls. There’s no better way to improve your sales calls than recording and reviewing them. It’s painful for most people, but if you want to discover that you say “like” every 25 seconds and sound like a teenager, recording is a great way to do so.

While discovery should have taken place before you began developing your solution, every sales, service, and support call you make should adhere to Fitzpatrick’s 3 simple rules. It’s through discovery, both early in a product’s development and then throughout its lifecycle, that you can create and iterate on your value proposition, a topic I will return to at another time. 

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