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Diagnosing Discovery Call Failures

December 9, 2020

Diagnosing Discovery Call Failures with Oren Klaff, Corey Frank, and Chris Beale

In this episode of Market Dominance Guys, we’ll dissect that sales process called the “discovery call” and diagnose the problem that is keeping sales reps from making a successful one. Chris, Corey, and Oren Klaff, managing director of Intersection Capital, share their opinions on the subject, and lament the unfortunate fact that most sales reps have no set method for conducting a discovery call that includes true discovery.

As Oren describes it, “Selling is a bit icky, and [salespeople] want to retreat quickly back to the relative calm of their normal lives. Once a salesperson hears one thing [from the prospect] that’s an indicator of interest, they want to hit the buzzer” and immediately jump to the sales pitch so they can end their own discomfort. As Oren sees it, this cut-to-the-chase method is the primary reason many discovery calls fail. Instead of truly finding out what problems the prospect or his company might have, which the product being offered might solve, reps skip right over the creation of a relationship that might help them eventually make that sale. Chris is convinced that salespeople can actually be coached on where they went wrong during a discovery call and how to do it in a way that works. In this podcast, you can listen to the two questions that Chris begins his own discovery calls with — and then find out what the heck “the dog, the meat, and the chain-link fence” have to do with this subject. Who knew that a discussion about discovery calls could be so insightful and entertaining?

About Our Guest
Oren Klaff is managing director of Intersection Capital, which provides training, management, and advisory services in the areas of technology banking, healthcare investment banking, and asset-backed securities. Oren is also the author of Pitch Anything and Flip the Script.


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The complete transcript of this episode is below:

In this episode of Market Dominance Guys, we'll dissect that sales process called the discovery call and diagnose the problem that is keeping sales reps from making a successful one. Chris, Corey and Oren Klaff, managing director of Intersection Capital, shared their opinions on the subject and lament the unfortunate fact that most sales reps have no set method for conducting a discovery call that includes true discovery. As Oren describes it, selling is a bit icky and salespeople want to retreat quickly back to the relative calm of their normal lives. Once a sales person hears one thing that's an indicator of interest, they want to hit the buzzer and immediately jump to the sales pitch, so they can end their own discomfort. As Oren sees it, this cut-to-the-chase method is the primary reason many discovery calls fail.

Instead of truly finding out what problems the prospect or his company might have, which the product being offered might solve, reps skip right over the creation of a relationship that might help them eventually make that sale. Chris is convinced that salespeople can actually be coached on where they went wrong during a discovery call and how to do it in a way that works. In this episode, you can listen to the two questions that Chris begins his own discovery calls with. Join us for this episode of Market Dominance Guys: Why Cutting to the Chase and Discovery Calls Fails.

Chris Beall (02:17):

Which by the way, is not we've got the inside track on watching this, right? We do more of it than everybody else in the world put together. We don't create meetings. We just help other people do them. Corey's team is one of the sets of other people. We just help them get first conversations and follow-up conversations and if you're doing right, you can take the market in terms of meetings and meetings are good leading indicators of the potential of the business, as long as the message happens to correspond to the value in some way.

Chris Beall (02:43):

What we're doing is we're pushing the bottleneck down to discovery, and what we're finding is nobody can do discovery. So I'm fascinated with what you're doing because I've been looking for a long time for some blockbuster, some stick of dynamite I can stick into the discovery process that regular people can learn, like your North Dakotans, right? They can actually learn to do it and where you can analyze where they're going bad, where it's coachable, because that's the other thing we're not seeing is... We're not seeing methods that are specific enough that you can say, "Right there, you slipped into the sorcerer. Dude you were dead at that point."

Oren Klaff (03:23):

Yeah, so I think in discovery, what happens is people don't like being in discovery and then with discovery tends to rhetorical questions. Chris, would you like to make a million dollars by just going to the mailbox and collecting the mail and cash and checks?

You just rolled your eyes.

Chris Beall (03:23):

Two million. Two million.

Oren Klaff (03:44):

You just rolled your eyes. You literally just rolled your eyes. Unconscious subcommunication. You rolled your eyes. And so that's what discovery is. It is just one big rhetorical question, because you basically know the answers to the questions largely in discovery. Discovery tends not to be a real process.

Chris Beall (04:08):

Yep. I agree.

Oren Klaff (04:08):

Right? And so one idea to riff off of, and I know what we do is we give a sense that we've solved this problem a thousand times. This is boring. Instead of telling people, "We're good at it. We're the number one company. Microsoft uses us. We have 500 people. We've got the best customer service. Our CEO is friends with Elon Musk."

Instead of telling people, we find a way to show them that we solve this problem, this area all the time. We fall asleep while doing it. And then when we say, "Tell me what's going on with you," and then prompt that with sort of three, five, seven questions that cover the territory. Right? So circle the territory, then they'll fill in discovery. So we're talking about abstractly, let's just talk about copiers, right? People don't even sell copiers anymore do they, Corey? Is that a thing?

Chris Beall (05:06):

I've got one of the biggest copier sale companies in the world.

Oren Klaff (05:09):

Okay, great. I don't know anything about copier sales, but we'll abstract on it. So the new copier's cinema file, they automatically in cross correlation, send it out, fax, email, send, produce, bind, put it on your desk, FedEx and anticipate exactly. Try to giving you an example. Microsoft had a file that had to go out for a company that they were doing something with. We sent over the file and started getting emails. Before anything else had happened, they had already been at the CEO, CFO and delivered. And everyone's saying, "Thanks," before they even knew the file had been sent. Today, that's not even a thing. Anyway, some technical description of a master solution that that company would be dreaming of. Right? Somebody wants something copied, right? They wink at it. It goes to copier. The copier bills the right accounts out. It gets to the desk. It's in FedEx and the account assigned and it's in DocuSign and back on the desk.

Right? And then the question, the discovery is, so what are you guys looking for? Right? What's going to make a difference over there? Cost reduction, rapid correlation, distribution, getting the DocuSign or placing copies of facility. What's going on there with you guys? What hurts? What doesn't? Where are you? So the open-ended question is what hurts? What doesn't? Where are you? You can't just ask that without circling the territory. Right? So the territory is cost reduction. This is what I'm guessing for copiers, cost reduction, maintenance, uptime, volume, ease of use, right? So you circle that territory and you go, "What's going on with you? Where are you guys? What do you want to make happen?" And then, because you've given them context and you've given them a channel to go down, the discovery will unfold. As opposed to you asking, "Are you looking for cost reduction?" It's the same process. But when you ask that, they're very resistant in discovery to give you the real information or to give you information at all.

Chris Beall (07:06):

I think it's the biggest issue in discovery and it's huge enough, we can figure out how to teach it to folks so they can do the whole thing and resist the horrible things that they do in discovery, which this whole rhetorical question thing is the worst.

Oren Klaff (07:22):


Chris Beall (07:22):

There's no doubt about it, right? You're taking away autonomy. You're saying, "I'm going to put you in a corner of my choosing, and then I'm going to wear you down until you finally decide that you're going to say yes to my next step." That's what people [crosstalk 00:07:35]

Oren Klaff (07:36):

I think it's giving the example of the best possible of all, or utopia and making utopia feel like a day-to-day thing that we just do here all the time.

Chris Beall (07:47):

Yeah. So there's a question I ask in discovery. So I do about three discovery calls a day in ConnectAndSell because I think CEOs in themselves...

Oren Klaff (07:54):

Oh. Wow.

Chris Beall (07:55):

...have no idea what they're doing, right? And I sell a little bit. I sell about 6 million a year. I'll probably do a little better at this year. It's kind of a spare time gig, but it's one of those things that I figure if I'm not out there, what do I know? And I ask two questions and they're kind of weird questions. I want to get your take on them. But they're strange. The first question is a very simple question. It's a little bit of a kind of a status tip up, but it's a little bit... It's subtle. I just ask "So where are you on the surface of our blue whirling planet today?" And I ask it exactly like that. And I get the most amazing responses. But all I'm really trying to do is two things, get the person to see that we're together and get them to speak with pride.

Because when people speak with pride, they start to open up and everybody's proud of where they live. So it's really simple, but it's amazing what happens. And then when they get done with that, I say, "So... And I went out to your website... I try to understand..." I always try to understand businesses. I think I'm pretty good at that actually. I'm one of that guy who reads the... I read the K-1s and all that kind of stuff. I didn't read that junk but I'm always wrong. A hundred percent of the time when I really learned about the business, I'm wrong. So tell me about this. When everything goes great in your world and your business, when it's the perfect customer, it's perfect situation, their budget's in place, their need exactly matches your product, your customer's success, people don't mess it up, engineering doesn't do any bad about it, the whole thing works perfectly, how does your product change that person's life? And they will hold forth and they will hold forth sometimes for 15 minutes.

Oren Klaff (09:34):


Chris Beall (09:35):

At which point, a lot of discoveries happen and I haven't had to ask any rhetorical questions because frankly, I don't know the answer to either one of those questions. And frankly, I don't kind of care about the answer, but I do care about the psychological process, which is speaking with pride as an equal and then speaking with pride about their mission without using the stupid word mission and getting into mission statements with our company says things like, "Why are you doing this? Why are you taking the precious moments of your life and spending them doing what you're doing?" Because you must believe it's good for somebody.

Oren Klaff (10:10):

Yeah. So I give you my take on it. I was called in to a pretty high volume motorcycle parts, sort of a BikeBandit, RevZilla kind of company. And so the thing about motorcycle parts that's so challenging is they're low volume, relatively compared to cars, relatively low volume, but there's so much variation in parts. So even a correct part number can be a half year so you can... BikeBandit can send out what they believe is the correct part based on the numbers and the catalog number, which is very complicated. The user gets it, goes to put it on his bike and it doesn't fit. It can be on the guy doesn't know what bike he has. Right? He believes he has a 2004 Kawasaki KR1000 and it's a 2004 Kawasaki K1000R. I don't know how the motorcycle industry works, but they make minor model derivations in the same year.

So they have three of the same model. It's just motorcycles are very intelligent specifics. Anyway, the part comes, it doesn't fit and BikeBandit hasn't been a malicious or malevolent and they don't want... But the guys call and their bike is down, right? And people are very passion [inaudible 00:11:35] and they're screaming and yelling and frustrated and threatening and all kinds of stuff is going on. And so I came in there. I'm going to say I was doing sales stuff, but on the other end, I saw this going on and I go, "Just ask the guy what kind of bike he has." Right? Just tell him, "Hey, can you tell me about your bike? It looks GSX-R600. How do you have it set up? Tell me about the bike."

Well, the problem became the other way where the guy would just exactly like you're saying, he'd want to talk about his bike for 45 minutes. And I thought about this just the other day because behind me, I have all my bikes and I was talking to a guy who was selling me, trying to get me on his membership program. And we were doing a video call and I walked by. He's like, "Oh, hey, are those your motorcycles?" Right? And I go, "Yeah. Yeah." He goes, "Tell me about them. I'm really into that." Right? And then I went on for 40 minutes, right? And then I realized... And I know the guy, he doesn't care. He doesn't care at all. But he used this and I am familiar with it. So I'm a million percent in agreement, if you can get someone to talk about their motorcycle, they're completely off of the pain they're feeling as they're describing the thing that they love. So when you could get somebody describing the thing that they love, it's for discovery or any other sales or customer service process, it just creates magic.

Corey Frank (13:01):

But that process alone, Chris, that you're using, I think, or maybe an echo that there is novelty in that process because it precisely is antithetical to how most big, dumb farm animals like me would conduct a discovery call prototypically based off of my feel, felt, found solution selling type of script. And you certainly have status as a CEO to go in, but that pattern interrupt about that novelty approach, I think, is what works with that because you're authentic, I think, in your tonality and in your pacing and your empathy that you're emoting, I think, that gets people to open up and I think the question, right? Certainly, or is can you... To Chris's earlier point, can you teach that at scale? We have this kind of top layer, which is stopping on beer cans, which is creating appointments. And then if the next bottleneck is in the discovery and you have a hundred people doing biz dev and SDR, and you got 10 people doing sales, is that also an acquired gift or traits and can that be screen played out?

Oren Klaff (15:03):

For me, the screen playing it, and to be fair, we work at a pretty high level, right? Is to just square away the seven variables. So he's buying a house, right? And you're doing discovery on what their needs are. You can paint in the variables, right? Square-foot, build quality, schools, road noise, price range, parking.

Corey Frank (15:29):

Sexual [crosstalk 00:15:30] neighborhood.

Oren Klaff (15:30):

Amenities. And now I'm starting to run out of stuff, right? So maybe a couple of other things. And so then say within that, and these are variables. We do this all the time. Put a hundred people in a house of 3,000 to 5,000 square feet, amenities, pool, no pool, perfect for the school. What are you trying to make happen? And now you've laid out the variables. And in my experience, they'll self-discover if you give them the variables. And I think that is pretty scalable because you're creating a sandbox. And now if they're outside of the sandbox, you can push them back in. Right? And I think it's the same as Chris's question, which is in your best day, dream of dreams, best outcomes, what needs to happen here? What are you trying to make happen?

Chris Beall (16:29):

[crosstalk 00:16:29].

Oren Klaff (16:28):

Zig Ziglar, if you could wave a magic wand today and say, "Oren, go make this happen," what is it we should do?

Chris Beall (16:39):

I think I used to actually bring a magic wand by the way that I made into our big customer meetings, where we bring all the customers together and then have the elite group advise us. I would make a magic wand each year out of three plants in my yard and tie it together with the right color thread and hand it around. So you've got the magic wand. You could [crosstalk 00:17:00]

Oren Klaff (17:00):

You have it in your [crosstalk 00:17:01] as well to go with it?

Chris Beall (17:02):

I did not. That would have been special. Something that I found pretty consistently in discovery that's I think a big challenge that I see with our reps having is instead of wanting to find out, they want to get the other person to do what they want them to do. And it's a challenge. There's an implicit assumption, which is, "I want you to buy my stuff, whether you're right to buy it or not, whether it makes sense for you to buy it or not.

Right? I just went through this with one of my reps the other day. He said, "So I'm trying to apply your techniques for selling and it's working really well, but it's really, really hard because I find myself over and over wanting to jump ahead an extra step, because your process requires patience." And in my process, I operationalized the relationship at the end of discovery and stop selling entirely. It's like if you want to learn more, we do an intensive test drive. It's free. It takes you some time and a day of your people doing it. You'll either produce results or not. Sometimes people get amazing results. Usually, they just have a bunch of conversations and find out they suck, but even that can be worthwhile and it's a learning experience and I highly recommend you do it. And if you want to do it, I'll introduce you to my VP of customer success and boom, I'm gone.

I'm gone. There's no selling that's going to happen from then on ever until the very end where they've had all the experience and then the question is, "So now that you've got the experience, do you see anything here that's worth doing?" I see one thing, which is I think your people aren't very good. And I think maybe doing some small sort of engagement to get them better might be a worthwhile activity. What do you say? Give them a little... That's my one variable, right? Because that's always the variable that people always suck. Everybody sucks. So I got an easiest... It's like all the houses we're going to sell have the same problem. They all face north and everybody wants a west facing exposure. Unfortunately in this neighborhood, all the houses face north so you're not going to be able to watch the sunset. Sorry.

Oren Klaff (19:19):

Well, I think... And as we're around the corner, I have to watch the clock here, Chris and Corey. I have a seven year old's birthday party here in eight minutes that I also have to get to. So I think a thing you said triggered interest in me, which is salespeople don't naturally want to invest in that discovery period. And once they hear one thing that sounds good, that's a leading, an indicator of interest, then they want to hit the buzzer like in American Idol or one of those things. Right? And then end the song early and go, "I love her. Send her through. I don't have to hear the rest of this. That was amazing." Right? You're juggling nine balls and everything. They're like, "Send him through. My vote is yes." Right? Or this is the worst thing ever so they want to hit that button early.

And so one thing we try and do is give a sense both to the buyer or the prospect and ourselves is, "Hey, listen. I'm excited. We don't really need a... right? But I'm excited with working with you. Everything looks... This is the kind of company that we work with. We've done this exact same thing 15 times in the last year, but at the same time, there's some things here that make me nervous or that are confusing. Got to sort all that out in my head. Look, I'm going to invest some time with you. Bend over backwards. On one hand, we're busy. Don't care what happens, right? If it works out, it works out. If it doesn't, we're named in Rolodex, we'll meet another day. But for the meantime, I'd love to be involved with this project, if everything makes sense and there's some things to clarify, I'm going to invest some time here to figure this out."

And so if it's contextualized and it is an investment in time, then that's a different process for I'm waiting until I hear an indication of interest to bounce out to the next, right? So let's invest some time together and figure these questions out. Right? And that is more process-driven than I'm waiting to hear a hot button that I can pounce on.

Chris Beall (21:48):

Yeah. I call it the dog, the meat and the chain link fence problem. As soon as the dog smells the meat, it tries to go through the fence and it becomes unaware that the gate is 10 feet to the right and salespeople are dogs, to go back to our animals. [inaudible 00:22:06] I got to get through there.

Oren Klaff (22:08):


Chris Beall (22:08):

Through the damn fence, and you're going to hurt your nose. And you're not going to get the meat most of the time. But every once in a while, they get a taste and they go, "That'll work." And that reinforcement, I think, is pretty damaging. We tried to engineer a sales process at ConnectAndSell where the next step is an investment on our part and it's a serious investment. It's an investment that we actually go into business with them for a full day of production and real things happen.

Real things like Tony Safoian and over it, SADA, Google Cloud's number one reseller. He laughed on his podcast. When I was a guest, I asked him, "Didn't you make like a million dollars on our test drive?" And his VP, Billy Franz laughed and go, "We made tens of millions that day, Chris." Tens of millions. Well, it might happen. It might not. But we did put in that investment. I got on a plane. I actually took my fiance. We all went down to Austin and we did the thing and it takes seven, eight hours plus back then flying. I'm not flying anymore. Right? COVID times. But I deeply believe the next thing that makes sense and I hate calling it the next step because that's salesy talk about the next step is something I gained control over you with, bothers me a lot. But here's an investment we can make. You bring the people. You bring the lists. We'll work on a little message together or not, depending on if it makes sense.

Usually, I say no, and here's why, but sometimes that can work out. Sometimes we do it. Spooks the reps and they confuse the message that they don't know how to deliver with the product and then they say the product sucks because they suck. Now that could go wrong. So we probably won't do that, but we'll see what happens. A lot of things are likely to go wrong. People would be afraid. Some of them might go home sick. We've had a guy have what looked like a seizure once, throwing up in the garbage can, had a panic attack. I had to call an ambulance. It was all right. Medical help was available, but usually everybody survives and we learned something together.

Oren Klaff (24:06):

[crosstalk 00:24:06]

Chris Beall (24:06):

So we're willing to make that investment if you are.

Corey Frank (24:09):

A podcast that you're on with Tony and that test drive, millions of dollars. That is nothing on the podcast here that we just put in the can over the last hour. So we're going to let Oren get to Asher's birthday party here. I'll tell you what. This is like... I remember watching the Black Belt Theater as a little kid here. We got the Northern Shaolin Temple against the Southern Shaolin Temple. Right? And we're going to kind of explore this maybe in the next episode where we talk about discovery and tone and how to do that properly again a little bit more in detail.

Oren Klaff (24:43):

Hey Corey, how am I supposed to do that? How am I supposed to do that?

Corey Frank (24:47):

What would you like me to do next?

Oren Klaff (24:49):


Corey Frank (24:51):

What do you want me to do?

Oren Klaff (24:51):

Right. Well...

Corey Frank (24:55):

It's on your third book that's coming out. Right? [crosstalk 00:24:57]

Oren Klaff (24:58):

Right. Okay. Well...

Chris Beall (25:00):

Your book is awesome. I heard a testimonial for it today from Jared Robyn who's got this thing called the... They're doing an outbound club thing where they're doing e-sports as cold calling or cold calling as e-sports. He said, "I read Flip The Script, then I read Never Split The Difference. Then I went back and read, Flip The Script again." And he says, "Now I feel like I know something." So you're inspiring folks out there. And I think actually making a difference when the hardest thing in the world, which is to get people to sell in a way that makes sense for human beings and can be done for all products. So I think it's just simply awesome.

Oren Klaff (25:36):

Well, I think the last point... My goal is that people should not feel like selling is a thing that they have to do, but it is a bit icky and they want to retreat back to their normal life. And then they have to go all those chores or... but having to clean it, take dishes, to then wash the dishes, or it's this thing that yes, you have to do it. You've signed up for it, but you have to get out of yourself and go do it and then come back to yourself when you're done. And that is one thing I was hated feeling about selling and so it should be so integrated with who you are really, your values, what you believe, what you would do in the normal world, what makes you feel good and so that's what I want to give people is a sense like I'm working in a space that I'm myself. I'm not trying to be someone else or do things that other people do. I'm just myself and I'm doing things that make sense for me and I'm selling and that is magic.

Chris Beall (26:47):

It truly is magic. Well, I'm on your team now. So let's say if you can use me for something.

Oren Klaff (26:53):

Thank you, Chris. Thank you, Corey.

Corey Frank (26:55):

Thanks. Take care. I appreciate it. [crosstalk 00:26:57] Market Dominance Guys.

Oren Klaff (26:57):

Have a great weekend guys.

Corey Frank (27:00):

Right. Happy birthday, Asher.

Oren Klaff (27:01):

Oh, thank you. Thank you.