Is It Better To Discover or Provoke?

Robert-photo-w-icon-150-4-7-10-FINAL4-150x150Customers are busy. There are many times when a customer may not be certain about what they want to achieve. They may have a sense of their goals and why they are important, but often, they have not yet validated their thinking, quantified their targets or determined how they will evaluate alternatives.

What kinds of questions are most effective in compelling customers to focus on these issues and crystallize their thoughts? Which questions can transform a sales call? Is it more productive to discover or provoke?

It is possible to be so focused on discovering the information you seek that you miss an opportunity to help the customer learn. Asking probing questions in the right order helps the customer define and prioritize what is most important and what should be achieved. They guide the customer to align divergent interests, clarify goals, understand their own biases, and identify mistaken perceptions. They encourage the customer to see things differently, to consider alternatives, and by doing so, assist the customer in determining how to make a decision.

“Discovery” questions are utilized to identify existing needs, problems, goals, constraints and customer pain points. They seek to discover what the customer knows about his or her current situation. Discovery questions target the known. “What’s your most significant challenge? What are you trying to accomplish? What happens when you miss your target? How will you be measuring success? What have been the results to date?”

Providing the context necessary to begin formulating a solution is what discovery questions do best, but they don’t go far enough. They don’t challenge the customer to think in new ways, and so proposed solutions may solve a problem, but may not produce sustainable value for the customer.  Helping the customer resolve an issue that increases productivity or accelerates growth makes you a reliable partner in their pursuit of success.

Value generating solutions typically result when customers are challenged to assess their thinking processes and the logic behind their choices. This is the function best served by “provoking” questions. They provide insight into what the customer or prospect knows, plus what they don’t know and what priorities influenced their prior decisions. They help you guide your customer in evaluating what they are currently doing and why. Provoking questions are designed to challenge the customer to think in ways they hadn’t previously considered. “Have you considered . . . ? Can I ask why you . . . ? Where you aware that . . . ? Have you seen . . . ? What was the motive behind . . . ?”

Ask discovery questions AND provoking questions. Seek to learn what and why. Challenge your customers to think about their choices and why they decided to choose one way vs. another.

A sales call is transformed when a customer says, “I’ve never considered that before,” or “I didn’t know that was possible,” or “No one has ever asked me that before.”

How can you integrate provoking questions into your discovery process?

How does knowing “why” a goal is important influence your ability to evaluate customer value?

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