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Discovery Agreements that WOW!

By Susan Hall

Discovery Agreements that WOW!

Do you want to gain practical strategies on how to use Discovery Agreements as an invaluable tool to build stronger relationships, bring more value and close more business? In this podcast, Susan and Tim discuss how Discovery Agreements are an effective tool to differentiate and elevate you as a trusted advisor in the sales process.

At Strategic Enhancement Group we are always looking for new ways to share our experience. We are a group of professionals who are passionate about our work: helping our clients to enhance what they already do well to attain greater results. Let us know what you think!

Susan Hall: 00:01  Well hello everyone and welcome to the latest episode of Strategic Insights brought to you by Strategic Enhancement Group. I am Susan Hall, Vice President of Business Development and Performance Improvement. I'm joined by my colleague Tim Deuitch who is a Senior Performance Consultant, and I'm really excited to have Tim here today, because of his extensive experience as a facilitator and Counselor coach. So welcome Tim.

Tim Deuitch: 00:29  Delighted to be here Susan, thanks.

Susan Hall: 00:36  Great. Tim, we've been a bit more general in our previous podcast about bringing insights around effective selling and leadership. Today I thought we'd get pretty practical and tactical and talk about a tool, that in my experience, is probably one of the number one differentiators for our clients, and specifically our Counselor clients and that's discovery agreements. I think that we call this podcast "Discovery Agreements that Wow!" because I'm sure you've had this experience when you've done a discovery agreement if your client has never seen one before or he or she has never seen one done well, literally the reaction is "Wow!" Have you had that experience?

Tim Deuitch: 01:21  Absolutely. A well-crafted discovery agreement is, what's the opposite of a well-crafted discovery agreement? It's really just a list of next steps and that's what most people are used to. I know we're going to get into the context, and the why of the discovery agreement, and the form of the discovery agreement. But for sure, that "Wow" comes from a client or a prospect who realizes that they've been heard, and that's what the discovery agreement does.

Susan Hall: 02:07  Heard and understood I think exactly, thanks, Tim. The purpose of today is to discuss discovery agreements as an effective tool that I think really elevates you as the proverbial trusted adviser but elevates you as a resource that brings real value, and how I'd like to proceed is just briefly discuss what exactly is a discovery agreement and why should we use one?

To your point, the forms and creative ways we can use discovery agreements. What gets in the way, then finally end with some very practical tips for using and coaching them for effectiveness, so that as an outcome of today's podcast, we hope you'll get some very practical ideas for an invaluable tool that helps you bring more value, close more business, and certainly build strong relationships with your clients. Is that on track Tim, anything else you might add to that?

Tim Deuitch: 03:00  It sounds fantastic.

Susan Hall: 03:03  So let's dive into, what is a discovery agreement and why you should use one. At it's basic level, a discovery agreement is a summary of your understanding of the customer situation, their current situation, and their desired situation – where they want to go, what their priorities are, what the impact of that is, so that you can define the gap in between the two, before you advocate or recommend a solution. So what would you add to that Tim, in terms of the definition?

Tim Deuitch: 03:39  The only thing I would add to it, in terms of the essence of a discovery agreement, is that it's a commitment to review the content of the conversation you had with someone in the context of documenting and being sure you have an understanding of exactly what the prospect or customer needs. I would just add to the definition, I'd simply add the words, an intentional effort to document and communicate the customer's needs as expressed by them, before any type of proposal or ask is made.

Susan Hall: 04:26  I think that's a critical point and I've seen salespeople miss that. It's so important to remember that this is an agreement. There's a reason we call it an agreement and that means that you need to check with your customer to make sure, "Is this correct, what have I missed?" Make sure that you have a conversation with them before advocating so that you're not just throwing it out there and hoping that it's correct.

Tim Deuitch: 05:00  What I've seen in salespeople is that there is a tendency in this dialogue of discovery and exchange that's happening. If they feel like they have a solution, they tend to jump right to it and simply say, "Oh we can help you with that." Some of them feel like, "Well, I'm just moving this along. It's more efficient. If I can just jump right to our solution, why wouldn't I do that." I think we want to answer that question. "Why can't I just be expedient and how is it better that I take the time to stay curious in the conversation and make sure I have the full understanding before I advocate it?"

Susan Hall: 05:54  Let's unpack that a little bit more and discuss how Discovery agreements, how we've seen them used, how we have used them ourselves over the years. The most basic as we've already discussed, and I don't want to say basic, because I think it's really powerful, but to make sure that your understanding is aligned with your customers understanding. I was in a meeting not too long ago, where one of the sales reps said, "You know, one of the values that I see from discovery agreements is it helps me remember the conversation, so I can go back, and very quickly have a clear understanding of what that customer's gaps were." What are some of the other ways that you've seen discovery agreements used?

Tim Deuitch: 06:46  I think what one of the greatest values of it and it's a term I'll use, is that they keep you honest, and I'm not suggesting that the opposite is that you're a dishonest salesperson. It has more to do with they're keeping you honest in terms of keeping the client prospect needs first. When you say in advance, when you're in a dialogue and you say, "I'm going to make notes and I'm going to send you a summary of our conversation," you're entering into a contract with the other party to capture what matters to them, and then when they show that you did, your building a most basic level of trust, and there's no question it has these other values. It's a great reminder because we all know it could take weeks before a decision is made on a commitment or in a sale.

A well-crafted document allows both parties to be able to go back and remind themselves as to what was happening. That's my first value point, it keeps you honest. It keeps their needs first and it shows them that you want to know what matters most, and you take the time to write it down and confirm it. That is trust building at a very high level.

Susan Hall: 08:05  I think there's another value too and that's from a coaching standpoint, not only a manager coaching the rep who writes the discovery. I remember when I first started doing discovery agreements, and I'd meet with my client and have this great meeting, come back to my office and open up my notebook, and start writing my discovery agreement. All of a sudden, I'd realized, "Wow, I am missing some serious pieces of information." It's a great way to realize the gaps in your knowledge so that you can ask those questions or make sure that you remember to ask them the next time.

Tim Deuitch: 08:51  When I send that discovery agreement off, let me just pick up right where you just left off. When I write discovery agreements and if I feel like there's a gap, I'll send the discovery agreement to them and then actually just say that out loud, "I may be missing a couple of things, do you think these things..." I may list them, things like, maybe I didn't understand yet, the actual process through which they'll make the decision, maybe I just didn't ask that. Or, who else is in on the decision of a sale, maybe I didn't ask that. I'll actually say that out loud in the discovery agreement or excuse me, in the communication of it to say, "I think I might be missing these, are these important? Can we can we go ahead and strengthen this?"

Susan Hall: 09:39  That's great. That also prevents you having to go back and forth to the customer, you want to respect their time as well. I also think that there is huge value in terms of internal communication. Most of our clients have complex sales. They have their business development people that work with project managers. They work with implementor's, could be engineers, scientists. It's really critical that they share important client intelligence. To have a good, well-written discovery agreement, even download that into your CRM so that everyone has access it, which helps you appear that much more credible in front of your customer. I was actually with a customer a couple of weeks ago and they said, "You know what, we sent our project managers into a client without having our discovery information and we don't want to appear dumb, we want to appear smart." I think that's what discovery agreements can help you do as well.

Tim Deuitch: 10:48  Yes they really can, and as a further to the internal, the value of sharing it internally. When I coach my clients we discuss it in the context of holding ourselves accountable to the progression through a pipeline. In other words, the discovery agreement, if used as a fundamental tool is proof that you're moving through the pipeline. You're holding yourselves accountable by documenting the dialogue, proving that it's moving forward, and sharing that with others internally. It's a sales manager's big lament when a salesperson, when they ask, "Hey, how's it going with that prospect or with that opportunity?" And the person simply says, "Oh, it's going great, we're getting to know each other and some things will take time, but it's going great." The discovery agreement requires you to document what you mean by great, what are you learning, what is telling you that this conversation is actually going to progress towards a sales opportunity?

Susan Hall: 12:04  Right. It's really one of those great leading indicators for where we are in the pipeline. It's measurable, observable, metric if you will if you've got a good discovery agreement that, "Here's where we are in the process." I work with organizations where they don't allow additional resources until their salespeople deliver a well thought out discovery agreement. Think about it, I mean how many times as a sales leader yourself, have you had sales people come and say, "Well, we need to send a subject matter expert into this." Well, how do we know we need to do that? Before we take two days of somebody's time, buy them a plane ticket, send them across the country. Why are we doing that? Show me? Discovery agreements help with that as well.

Tim Deuitch: 13:07  Yes. I have several clients who are in the comprehensive solution business. They're not just in a single point of solution. They want to over time, with this customer, be able to provide a multiplicity of solutions that create a larger value. The discovery agreement helps you illuminate the possibilities for providing solutions on multiple level or as I say it's more of a comprehensive and the discovery agreement will show you the degree to which the discovery is surfacing that level of possibility, as opposed to simply saying, "Yes, we talked, they could use this widget or this single solution." Sales managers in a comprehensive solution environment can look at the discovery agreement and realize, "Oh they're not going deep enough at all, they're not asking about...great that you got a little sale, but I see that you're not asking about this, that, or the other thing that can lead to a much bigger partnership."

Susan Hall: 14:25  Absolutely and more value to the customers. Absolutely. Another practical way of using this or another value, we've talked a little bit about discovery agreements and how you can use them, but how many times have you, and this is to our listeners, walked into a presentation and perhaps you're advocating. You're getting ready to advocate now and you've had an opportunity to do discovery with two, or three, or four people, whoever that might be. You walk into a meeting and oops, there's a surprise, three other people that show up in that meeting that you have not had the opportunity to do discovery with, and by the way, you're there to advocate. You don't know anything other than their name and their title. Now hopefully you've done some homework, so you've asked who is going to be in the meeting, so you're not so surprised, but inevitably, that's going to happen at some point in your sales career.

By putting up the discovery agreement and your presentation and before advocating, starting with what you know, "Here's our understanding of where your organization is now, where you'd like to be," that's a great way to check in with everybody. For the people that we haven't yet had the opportunity to speak with, "What do you think about that, what's the impact of this on your part of the organization, what are your concerns?" So you can actually do on the fly editing of your discovery agreement and understanding, and use that as kind of a foundation so that when you do advocate, you're touching those points as well.

Tim Deuitch: 16:07  Right and what's the key interpersonal element in that example? It's that the discovery agreement mirrors their words back to them. It's not as though your coming with a proposal that is all about you or your assessments. What you're simply doing is holding up what you've learned together, so far, about the situation. That's where like in the example you provided, now there's suddenly three new-comers in a room that has swelled from potentially two or three to now, six or five. You are beginning with their words, not your words, you don't have to start all the way over, now that new players are in the room, and this document gives you the chance to proceed from strength.

Susan Hall: 16:58  Absolutely, and don't you find that starting with that as well, just your credibility goes way up in the organization because it really is about a conversation, it's always about a conversation, a dialogue with the customer. Not telling, telling, telling, but discussing and understanding before recommending.

Tim Deuitch: 16:58  Absolutely.

Susan Hall: 17:21  We've talked about a number of the values of discovery agreements and why you would want to use them. Let's talk just briefly about the forms and creative ways to use them. Just as a reminder, the pieces or the structure of a discovery agreement really include four different components. One is background, just an understanding of their background and usually in background I include, what are their strategic objectives, what are their goals, what are they trying to accomplish, what are the business issues and priorities? That's the background information. Then an understanding of their current situation. Third, their desired situation and fourth is next steps. We talk in Counselors Sales that discovery agreements can be either verbal or written. At its most basic, a verbal discovery agreement is really a summary of your understanding and it's a good way to begin every conversation. Let's focus our conversation here today on documented. Tim, how have you seen discovery agreement's, what form have you seen them take in your coaching and any thoughts, ideas, tips that you might share with our listeners today around that?

Tim Deuitch: 18:49  Well, I want to make clear from the outset of those elements that you describe, background, their current situation, their desired situation, and then next steps. You notice, there is at no point in there, a solution being positioned, and I want to be clear on that. This document is not a proposal document, it is that summary, I want to make very clear on that. In terms of the form itself and the coaching that I've done with my clients who are really committed to it.

They imagine in the beginning that this thing must be three, four pages long, especially if I've had rich dialogue and we've just gone back and forth and learned a lot of things. Well, the reality is it doesn't need to be, at all. I think documenting the bullets are key, those bullets clearly are what you believe to be the top three priorities of all the conversation, the top three priorities for their current situation, the top three intentions about their desired situations, the key next steps, not just a set of tasks, but the essential next steps. So what happens is, when my clients make the quote, "mistake of writing three pages", they look at it and realize this is crazy. "I don't even need to do all of this. My customer or prospect doesn't want to read three pages. They want me to put this in a succinct way." What that actually ends up doing is, it's helping the salesperson stay in discovery to confirm what the client believes are the top priorities. So you can imagine a question where they say, "Well, we've covered a lot of ground. I've made a lot of notes. So of your current situation, tell me the top three things that are most pivotal for you in your environment? Tell me what's most important and that's what I'm going to capture for the longevity of what we're talking about of this opportunity."

Susan Hall: 21:02  I think that's one of the values that we bring, is to take all of that information and synthesize it in a way that's meaningful and brings value, so we're not just regurgitating that information. It's the old Churchill quote, "If you want me to speak for 30 minutes it'll take me a week to prepare, but if you want me to speak for three minutes I'm going to need a month." So taking all of that information and not just consolidating it, but looking for patterns and threads, and putting that together for the customer in a way that makes sense, it's succinct, it's meaningful, it brings value. In fact, Tim you were dead on, I don't think anybody wants to read a four-page document, nobody else time to do that. In fact, I've found that even having a PowerPoint slide or two with a graphic depiction of a discovery agreement can be very effective. So if you picture a PowerPoint slide with two columns, one column being the current situation and those bullet points, the other column being the desired situation and those bullet points, and maybe with some arrows representing the gap in between. That can be a great discussion document for your client that can be very effective in presentations. I also can't tell you how many times I've seen those discovery agreements show up in customer's internal presentations to their internal customers as well. We're actually going to include a link to that graphic that we'll tell you about at the end here, and how to access that. If our listeners want to look at a template like that, you can certainly do that.

So verbal, documented, again, we don't have to make this complicated. Let's briefly talk Tim about what gets in the way and then move on to some very practical tips. What do you think gets in the way of people writing discovery agreements? We've talked about all of these values, our customers see the value. So why don't they get written?

Tim Deuitch: 23:21  Well clearly what my clients tell me is, it's time. I'm not going to call it a lame excuse, it's legitimate, but it always comes down to, how do we use our time? If we're a good salesperson, we've always been in the habit of communicating at least next steps, and appreciation for time spent with us.

All we're saying here is let's get good at a format that allows you to document, as we've described in the definition, that allows you to document a summary of the conversation. Let's move away from simply indicating next steps and sort of high-level platitudes let's say, "Hey, thanks for the time," to simply say, "This is the essence of what you told me of our conversation. This is the basis for which I'll be thinking about you going forward." So yes, the first thing I say is, what gets in the way, "I don't have time to do something that comprehensive." My answer to them quite frankly is, "Well, I guess you don't want the best possible experience and possible sales experience, or sales outcome, do you?" I get it, I get it, it's a challenge on that. What's your experience?

Susan Hall: 24:47  You know what, I completely agree. I think that's the answer we hear most often, but here's the real answer. Poor discovery starts with poor questioning. Poor discovery starts with poor questioning. That is back to, you open up your notebook and you just don't have the material there to work with. We're presuming here that you're asking good questions and by good questions, it's those open-ended questions, those feeling finding, opinion finding, impact questions. "What is your current flow rate, what would you like it to be, what would the impact of that be on the business, on you?" Those impact, those consequences questions. The more you ask those questions, the better and more meaningful your discovery will be.

Tim Deuitch: 25:45  I'll go a step further. I recommend that they structure the discovery in the same structure as the discovery agreement. You actually can say up front in this meeting, "So here's what we're going to cover. I want to get a really end up understanding of how you got to this moment, that's current, and a clear understanding of what your most desired outcome would be. That if I was helping you to the greatest extent possible, what would be solved?" When you set up the meeting in that fashion you're basically populating a discovery agreement as a result.

Susan Hall: 26:35  I like that. So set it up right in your purpose, process, payoff in the beginning of your conversation. So let's dive since we're there, let's dive right into tips. On that note, I know one of the things that I found useful is not only to your point, setting up the conversation that way, but when you take notes, literally draw a vertical line down the middle of your paper with one side being current , one side being desired, and then just little notes to yourself.

I still do this to this day, after a couple of decades of writing discovery agreements, but those reminders to ask those so what questions, those impact consequences questions. And then, next steps, never leave that conversation without next steps. Not what you think the next steps are, but certainly you'll have some ideas that you'll share with the customer, but what would they like to see as the next steps? What's their timing? So that again is all about focusing on them.

Tim Deuitch: 27:34  And you know what that does, when you have a next steps space in your notes, what that does is it allows you to ask that golden question in this moment that basically says, "So, if we're to move forward, what would be the best way to move forward?" That's a discovery question, but you're also moving the sail forward.

Susan Hall: 27:34  From the customer's point of view.

Tim Deuitch: 28:03  Yes, it's a permission question. They're giving you permission to think, now we're going to take this base of knowledge that we've just dialog on, and we're going to move forward now, and you'll guide me. From your perspective what would those next steps be? Can we go ahead and write those down.

Susan Hall: 28:26  Another tip is, don't procrastinate. I'm guilty of this because, to do well-written discovery agreements, they take a little bit of work. Again, because I don't want to just spit out everything I've heard. I want to be able to bring value and share insight, that takes some thought to do. But my experience has been that if I wait, other things will come up, other e-mails will come up, and my brain just forgets a lot of that nuanced information that I didn't happen to take notes on. So, as quickly as you can get back and draft your discovery agreement, I think they tend to be more effective that way.

Tim Deuitch: 28:26  No question, no question.

Susan Hall: 29:14  Another tip I think is for coaches, and that's to ask your team to see their discovery agreements before accessing resources, we've already talked a bit about this. But, when you do write your discovery agreement to look for gaps in your own knowledge and information, and to your point Tim, to be able to send that along with the discovery agreement in your communication that, "Hey, I think I've missed a couple of things here, can you please fill this in?" Or even leave a question mark in your discovery agreement, schedule a time to talk with the customer to make sure that you are in fact aligned and you're filling in those missing gaps. What else, any other tips from your perspective Tim?

Tim Deuitch: 30:07  Yes. This is sort of a fundamental in terms of a tip and that is, just do it, and make it a challenge to make it as succinct as possible. I used the example before of salespeople I've known who wrote it in three pages and then they soon realized the fallacy of doing that and then they moved to one. So I look at a tip as, make this a challenge, take an hour of dialogue with the prospect or 20 minutes, it doesn't matter, and put it all on one page, make it fit. What that does, it actually does illuminate that gap, as you're saying, look for gaps in your discovery. Well, when I've got to fit it on one page with three top priorities I learned from the prospect, it makes it even clearer, an element that might be missing. So, that's my tip, consider it a challenge to fit it all on one page in a readable font and sort of embrace that challenge to say, "I can cut to the chase here."

Susan Hall: 31:20  Great. Well, Tim thank you so much. I wanted to just quickly summarize here, we've covered a lot here and our listeners know that Tim and I love having discussions about this, we love learning how you are using discovery agreements, what you've found works, or what challenges you've had. We've talked and shared some practical tips, also some ideas for how you can use them to coach, drop them into your system to see where you are in your sales process funnel, but there's a lot of different ways to use them, so we certainly welcome your input. We'd also like you to check out the link in the podcast description for a free PowerPoint template download of the discovery agreement format that we discussed today, the one-pager that we think you might find useful.

Tim, thanks again for joining us today and for our listeners, if you have any further questions or would like to discuss, please feel free to reach out to us at

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Published: August 26, 2017

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Susan Hall

Vice President - Business Development & Performance Improvement

Susan brings over 20 years of experience working with global markets and organizations, helping them navigate through tough economic challenges while maintaining their margins. Since joining SEG in 1995, she has had the privilege of working with organizations that truly value the development of their employees and recognize the impact their people have on their bottom line results. Susan graduated from Pennsylvania State University with a double major in business management and speech communication. She has also completed course work toward her master's degree at Johns Hopkins University.

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