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  • Jim Mcwhirter

3 tips to keep from pitching recklessly during virtual discovery meetings



If you are struggling with having your initial client meeting default into a solution pitch, you are not alone. Effective discovery techniques that help prospects understand and solve problems using insights and/or provocative questions are very hard to master.


It is very common for the following sequence of events to play out in our heads during an initial discovery attempt:

  • “Oh-oh, I am losing them.”

  • “This doesn’t feel good.”

  • Better call an audible and start talking about the product because I can explain our solution really well.”

  • “Ahh, that’s much better … listen to me go now.”

And you know how the rest of the call goes…

  • So, what do you think???”

Client: “Sounds interesting. Let me think about it.”


You may not want to accept it yet, but you are already floating half-dead in the water.


The truth is, we all will find ourselves recklessly solution pitching at one time or another. Sometimes you just don’t have a choice and unwittingly start firing away at the target not yet defined. Given increased virtual selling requirements, even the most seasoned of consultative sales professionals can find themselves providing a solution for the problem before the customer believes there is a problem that needs fixing. When this happens, it becomes very difficult to create demand and build authentic next steps within the sales cycle.



While you could sometimes get away with jumping to your solution too quickly in the past, that is not the case today. Many changes to the buyer/seller interaction (including an increase in virtual sales meetings) have necessitated a greater urgency to adopt collaborative/value driven meetings that focus on teaching the buyer instead of pitching them. Regardless of whether or not you are earlier in the sales cycle (discovery) or even later in the sales cycle (solution), priority number one of a sales professional is to create value for your client through a collaborative interaction and not generically speak about what you do, hoping for a fit.


In some ways, teaching has replaced pitching as the new sales success imperative. The ability to help buyers solve problems and see future opportunities prior to the pitching of your solutions, is foundational to advancing sales and increasing win ratios.


Below are three very effective best practices we recommend, especially during virtual discovery meetings, to stay focused on helping customers better understand their issues and opportunities prior to hearing a product spiel.


1. Prepare a Solid Plan of What you Want to Talk About:


If you have gotten out of the habit of doing this (or never started), you may want to reestablish this time-tested best practice as part of your initial client meeting process. I know this point may seem unimaginative to some readers; however, the current realty is that without the organic communication of the in-person experience to drive connection and engagement between the buyer/seller, it becomes very easy to quickly fall into a one-way generic spiel.


Here is the main reason why:


If you don’t have a thought-out plan – you are winging it. And if you are, there is a much higher probability that the communication will get choppy as you struggle to make your points. And as we detect the growing frustration or disengagement by the buyer, our misguided subconscious mind says to us (repeat from above):

  • “Oh-oh, I am losing them.”

  • “This doesn’t feel good.”

  • “Better call an audible and start talking about the product because I can explain our solution really well.”

  • “Ahh, that’s much better … listen to me go now.”

If demand for change is never clearly established, it may negatively impact your success.


By structuring your meeting around a clearly thought-out plan, your content message is much more likely to resonate and drive the collaboration required for actionable and authentic next steps. Centering your plan with an insight or several provocative questions on a specific issue is a great way of getting the customer to engage. This can allow you to have great conversations about a customer or prospects business without ever talking about your company or your solution.


A preplan doesn’t guarantee that you won’t find yourself pitching a solution, but it will definitely aid in keeping you on the right track.


2. Go Deeper, not Wider


Sometimes it is better to focus on solving one problem thoroughly than bouncing around to what would appear like a laundry list of possible issues that could be solved by your company’s offerings. Add to your discovery a mix of generic questions about budget and the incumbent’s contract, and before you know it, you have one checked out buyer and a sales call with no apparent value or purpose other than the inevitable punch line of “I want to sell you something”. Often at this point, the buyer, a good sport who sees no other escape route, may actually ask you for your solution hoping to get the punchline over with so they can say, “let me think about it” and get on with their day.


It is important to compensate for the inherent reduction in attention span that results from lack of physical connection. One way to do this is being more deliberate and focused during your discovery. Going deeper, not wider, on a single topic should lead to a more engaged communication flow and collaborative interaction. “Let us work together to explore a solution to this one problem for you” is a very different conversation than, “let’s find a bunch of problems that I have a solution for.”


This is science. The human brain has physiologically evolved to generate powerful focus by filtering out ambient information as a way to understand and act upon a single pattern. Think of the effort it sometimes takes to listen to a conversation in a very busy restaurant. The brain tries to filter out the ambient noise in order to generate attention on the intended conversation. The clearer the voice pattern becomes the more engaged the brain will be in the conversation. Inconsistent or generic discovery chalked full of questions perceived as “no value to me” can be analogous to the ambient noise in the restaurant. With limited physical connection more cognitive energy needs to be spent filtering through competing and perceived non-relevant questions (information), resulting in lower buyer engagement level.


Establish a disciplined approach to turn up the volume on a single problem, and not jump from topic to topic. As previously mentioned, one way to do this is by having a call plan (please see best practice #1 above). What you may believe to be early discovery questions around the buyer’s incumbent and budget could easily be interpreted as ambient noise made up of generic self-serving questions – without context or structure towards any relevant and compelling outcome for the buyer. Unless you get lucky, the buyer will fail to engage enough to ever make a change or purchase.


3. Establish Collaboration Early


Collaboration is defined as the action of working with a person or group to produce or create something. Making a conscious effort to generate collaboration during sales meetings will, by its nature, help keep us from falling into a one-sided monologue or pitch.


During an in-person meeting, buyers have a higher propensity for interaction in the conversation. This customer interaction in the conversation creates a more organically engaging conversation, making it far less likely for us to fall back into a one-sided capability monologue or product pitch. It should be noted that the customer’s participation is critical to giving you vital feedback and inputs on their “current state perspective”. This drives further collaboration as it allows you to customize your message and drill down questions in real time.


However, with the customer participation factor muted during virtual calls, having the customer actively participate in defining the “we need to fix this moment” can be far more challenging to achieve without a conscious approach to get them engaged in a collaborative conversation.


There are a number of early tactical steps in a meeting that you can use to increase and establish customer involvement. In our recent whitepaper on Opening a Virtual Sales Meeting, we outlined a number of tips that will help establish a collaborative meeting tone. We encourage readers to quickly download and read. Here is quick summary of a few of them:

  • Use funnel questions during initial small talk (primer)

  • Provide direction using meeting purpose and outcome statement

  • Ask for buyer(s) participation prior to beginning your discovery (don’t just hope for it)

  • Use our “3-step down” insight approach and make sure to get feedback at each step before giving the answer (pitch)

In selling, like in many things, collaboration is the powerful glue that creates joint accountability for driving initiatives forward. Specifically, during a sales meeting, the earlier you establish collaboration within your discussions, the more impactful/motivating your messaging will be, ultimately resulting in a desired actionable commitment and outcomes from prospects and clients.


To summarize, establishing a focused plan that executes on early and deliberate collaboration with customers and prospects will make it far less likely that you will fall into a pitch.


Keep the Momentum!


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