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Discovery process – key to winning the sale in professional services

Businesses which consistently win in professional services and consultancy, are those which have mastered the art of creating an exact fit between the specifics of the clients needs and their proposals.

If  you are effective in establishing value in the eyes of your prospective client, you need not worry about the competition, as you will be the obvious choice. This is easier said than done. It requires patience, and a commitment to what can be an extended ‘discovery’ process to unearth the prospects needs and then, but only then, develop a proposal which addresses these needs.

However, you are unlikely to get the opportunity to land a discovery opportunity with a new prospect unless you are clear as to your target market and have invested in building visibility in the market. In other words your brand must be known where you wish to play.

Remember also that prospects want specialists not generalists. They need to see you as an expert in specific areas (and you need a short memorable strap line which captures this succinctly). You may have to invest in up skilling if opportunities are arising outside your immediate comfort zone. If you try to be all things to all men you are unlikely to be successful.

A point of difference between traditional ‘product’ sales and professional services is to understand that the prospect won’t choose you if he doesn’t like you, trust you and feel that he can work with you. Building the relationship can take time, but is necessary before attempting to sell.

As you will see a well structured discovery process, which effectively identifies the client’s ‘real’ needs, helps in building the trust needed to position you to deliver a winning proposal. So what does an excellent discovery process look like :

Step 1 – It is NOT about you. Get your mindset right from the beginning.

It is so easy to fall into the trap of selling what you do. Instead focus almost exclusively on the prospect during the discovery phase. Attempting a sale before you have built trust or demonstrated that you understand the clients needs will not sound convincing. Even if successful it would probably lead to trouble down the line as mismatches between the clients needs and your offering emerge.

Step 2 – Fully understand the Context.

During discovery the focus should be on deepening your understanding of the prospects situation, the context in which he operates. Thoughtful inquiries, clarifying questions, summarising and reframing will show that you have listened and taken the trouble to understand the prospects world before proposing solutions.

Step 3 – Create a sense of Urgency

What needs to change and why is it important that action is taken now?  If you do not do this you may get buy in to your proposal, but no commitment to act now. Possible lines of inquiry –  speed of change in market place, cost of mistakes, competitor positioning, risks of doing nothing, technology advances etc. What is the one compelling reason why the ‘do nothing’ option is unsustainable?

Step 3 – Define desired Outcomes

It is desirable outcomes and a picture of what success looks like that will excite the prospect not your deliverables. Tease out the value to the prospect of a successful outcome, both in hard financial terms and softer intangibles.

Step 4 – Flush out Concerns

Don’t shy away from asking, what you may feel are awkward questions, about what might go wrong. What are the prospects views of where the risks lie and consequences of failure. If you know the prospects worries about the proposed initiative you can deal with these concerns upfront in your proposal, and offer solutions which address these concerns. You need to appreciate that concerns are potential ‘objections’ and reasons not to proceed.

Step 5 – Understand and respect Constraints

Discover budgetary and organisational constraints, and the decision making process – is there someone else you need to bring on side ? Your proposal should be pitched within these parameters.

At the end of the discovery process you need to have identified the right solution to the right problem, and built trust that you can deliver. You are now in a position to write your proposal document. Proposals  should be as creative as needs be to solve the problem but no more than that – prospects will be scared off by overly complex solutions.



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