The Purpose of DISCOVER Questions
The Purpose of DISCOVER Questions
In this episode of Negotiations Ninja, we chat with Deb Calvert about the power of DISCOVER questions. We walk through questions related to data, issues, solutions, consequences, outcomes, value, examples, and rationale. If you want to structure your questions properly, Deb is the person to listen to. She shares some valuable insights for negotiators and sales professionals in this episode. Don’t miss it!
Mark: Welcome to The Negotiations Ninja Podcast, where we develop and deliver the most engaging negotiation content and training in the world. We host negotiation experts, business people, and entrepreneurs, and discuss what works, what doesn't work, and how we can improve our negotiation skills. Hey, Negotiations Ninja listeners. You've got Mark here from The Negotiations Ninja Podcast. Welcome to this incredible edition of the show where we talk to the amazing Deb Calvert, specifically on the amazing stuff that she's developed around discovery questions, or as she likes to call it, DISCOVER questions, to get you connected. We go through the questions related to data, issues, solutions, consequences, outcomes, value, examples, and rationale. And I got to tell you, if you're going to go and figure out a way to structure your questions properly, especially within the sales process, Deb is the person that you need to speak to. Highly recommend that you follow her stuff online, she's amazing and incredible. Enjoy this great interview with Deb Calvert. Deb, we made it. How are you?
Deb Calvert: I'm good. I'm really happy to be here with you.
Mark: I'm excited for you to be here too. We are going to be talking all about the thing that I think you're probably most well- known for, which is making sure that you have the right questions when you get into sales and negotiation, and all that kind of stuff. But before we get too deep into the conversation, I would love it if you could introduce yourself to the listeners, tell them who you are, and what you do.
Deb Calvert: Okay. So Deb Calvert, my company, 15 years strong, is People First Productivity Solutions. We work in the space of sales productivity, leadership development, and team effectiveness. I've written a few books, I founded something called The Sales Experts Channel, and I'm a buyer- side researcher.
Mark: Amazing, and a little bit humble in that introduction, I think, because you're quite well- known within the sales space. And for the listeners, just so that you know, if you haven't followed Deb on social, specifically LinkedIn and her Sales Experts Channel, I highly recommend that you go and do that right now. Very, very informative stuff. Deb, let's dive into the conversation. I want to really talk about your DISCOVER framework, which I think is fantastic. We're going to first start talking about sort of how it came to be and what it is, and then I want to get into some nitty- gritty questions around how we can use it for negotiation. So for those people that don't know about it, what is the DISCOVER questions framework?
Deb Calvert: Okay, well, I'm going to start out by saying this, just so people tune in the right way. People hear about questions, and they hear something called DISCOVER questions, especially, and they think this is all about just the discovery phase of the sales process. So kudos to you, and I want audience members to know that for negotiating in many other places, this is absolutely relevant. So this framework, it really started when I was quite new in selling, I went looking for any resource I could find to help me get a good start, and the library that I went to had very few books about selling, but the one I got was SPIN selling. Loved it, fantastic, really helped me, but pretty soon, I started recognizing that there were some actually really good questions I was asking, but they didn't fit. They weren't S, P, I, or N kinds of questions, and it just started what's now been a three decade question of," Okay, well, what are other questions types that would be useful in selling?" I began researching that through the Sales Force Advisory Board at Northwestern at first, and I was at a corporate role at a Fortune 500, so I had a lot of trainers and coaches who were reporting up through me. And so, I had a great deal of opportunity for field research, and instead of there being four question types, which I really later came to identify as the purpose, why is it that you ask a question? I finally landed on the fact that there are eight. I held out for a while. I thought," No, that can't be everything, maybe there's nine," and I thought," Well, I'll have discovery as the word." But I never found a ninth, and so that's how the framework came to be that's now a little over 12 years that it first came to be in that format, and we have been researching, and bucketing, and coaching, and field interviewing buyers about these eight purposes for asking questions ever since.
Mark: I want to run through just the acronym to begin with, so that people get an understanding of what it all includes. So could you break down the acronym of DISCOVER and what that really includes? We don't want to get too deep into the weeds, but maybe just tell the listeners what it includes?
Deb Calvert: I'll give the short version for all eight. Some are going to be super familiar, like D for data, data questions. The purpose is, I want some facts. I for issue, what's the issue? What is between us that is prohibiting us from moving forward? Or proactively, what can I be doing to make sure that I'm in good standing? S, one that people don't often hear, that stands for solution. It's about planting seeds, and getting people to think outside of what they might already be thinking about. The next two, just like data, these are familiar and very often used in selling. In the DISCOVER model, C is for consequence, O is for outcome. So these are pain point and goal- oriented questions. And then the last three are the V for value, E for example, let me get you thinking and really processing what is that contrast between current state and future state, for example? And last but not least the R is for rationale. These are questions that have a purpose of understanding the decision- making process for the buyer.
Mark: Fantastic. Now, the thing that I love about this framework is that it's so pliable, and you can use it in so many different scenarios. Specifically when it comes to negotiation, what do you consider to be the most valuable portions of this framework?
Deb Calvert: Let me say that the S and the E, we won't talk about those, they're just valuable everywhere with everything you do in life, and they're great questions for making people really start to think and to dive deep. We'll save those for another time. But negotiating, two that I want to extract from the model and make sure that people have a better understanding about, both are not used often enough, sometimes they're not used well enough to make for a strong negotiating platform, but the first one is V, the value question. The purpose of this question is, I want to know what's important to you. I want to know why it's important to you. I want to know out of all the things that are important to you, which ones are the most important? When I have that information, even before a negotiation, if we've been getting acquainted, when I have that information, I've done some pre- selling, you're already somewhat committed, because that value has been surfaced into your mind and you're already thinking about it. But then for example, when it comes to something like price, and you're pressing me on price, I can come back to it and say," Hey, Mark, you told me that the most important thing is, and now I hear you saying this about price. Let me just reconcile these two. What's the interplay here? Which one actually is the most important?" And you're almost always going to be reminded that what you value, what you truly value, especially if I know why, and that's already on the table, you're going to come back to that. So I strongly recommend in any negotiation that sellers be well- versed in using strong value questions.
Mark: Love it.
Deb Calvert: Yeah.
Mark: Love it. Keep going. You're doing great.
Deb Calvert: The other one that for negotiating, I think is super important, is the R. That's for rationale, and this is the question purpose of understanding a decision that you've made, what got you to this point where you are right now, but also what is it that is going to be the criteria for the decision that you'll ultimately make? And here, again, just like value questions, if I can have some of this information and these insights beforehand, that's fine, that's helpful. If I am in the midst of the negotiation, these are still great questions. It's things like," What will be your criteria? Who's involved?" Yes, the budget question belongs in this bucket too. And what you're doing when you ask rationale questions, of course you're gathering information, but not just to qualify, you're asking these questions in a way that can cause your buyer to reflect and to think about for themselves, to be reminded of some of those key criteria, and to put the two together, the value and the rationale, it goes something like this:" Hey Mark, help me understand. When it comes time to make your final decision on the vendor that you'll select, what will the top criteria be?" That's the rationale. And then," Help me understand that. I'd be really interested to know why those in particular are important to you." And so, you start to get into value and understand a bit of the why. And this even works when you're having your first exchanges with someone who's not the decision maker, the gatekeeper, the person bringing you into the organization, whomever it might be, getting them to think, or even getting them to a place where they can't answer the question, and they know it's an important one, just fundamentally that everybody knows that's important, sometimes it can be a door opener, it can get you into, and more often with the decision maker.
Mark: Hey listeners, I want to tell you about another company that I run called Content Callout. It is a thought leadership brand marketing company. Now, what does that mean? It means that we take you as an executive or entrepreneur, a leader of a small or medium- sized business, and we turn you into a thought leader online. We take your personal brand and we amp it up to 11, so that you can lead with confidence, knowing that people will recognize you, and recognize your brand, and recognize your business because of the thought leadership approach that you've taken on social media, through content creation and content distribution, as well as engaging with all of your following on line. How do you get involved in this? Easy, easy, easy. Just go to contentcallout. com/ getstarted, and you will see there three different options that will allow you to take your thought leadership brand for yourself and for your business to the next level. We are super excited to talk to you about this. We've seen some massive growth with the businesses that we've been working with. Very, very exciting time for us. Look at that, we appreciate it. Now back to your show. What I would love to do next is let's think about the value questions in the context of the enterprise sales and the enterprise procurement people that are listening, and I want to dwell on procurement people for a second, because I really think that when they get some of these questions, they feel like they may be under fire, right? They're like," Oh, they're trying to extract information out of me. I got to hold onto this information." What would you say to those procurement people when these questions sort of come about, and why is it important that procurement people especially listen to these questions and think about how it might be valuable for the organization, if they released some of this information?
Deb Calvert: Yeah, this is a really good timely question, because I've been listening to Chorus recordings from a renewals team where they're almost exclusively working with procurement folks. And so, we've been doing some analysis here, so this is very fresh in my mind. The most important thing I think that I can say here is before you start asking questions, it's always best to state your intent. So with a procurement person, it goes something like this," Hey, I know as the person who's in charge of procurement, that one of the things that you're tasked with is making sure that you are always getting the best deal possible for the organization, and just wanted you to let you know that I understand that, and I need to ask you some questions, because we can partner up here to make sure that that's what happens, and there's additional information that we want to put in context there so that we have the big picture." So you just say something that dignifies their role, shows that you're empathizing with them, and gives you a bit of an opening to ask certain types of questions. So that's now out there, and then you come in with something behind that like," What are people telling you about the criteria? Certainly, they rely on you for getting that best deal, but what are the other criteria that are really factoring into the decision, and how are you, who are you hearing those from, and how are you hearing them expressed?" The phrasing that I just gave you there is sort of putting it off on other people, but also holding some accountability there for the procurement folks, because they do get a lot of pressure, sometimes competing pressures from people inside the organization, and you want to keep as much as possible the," We're in this together" sort of a framework, as opposed to," We're on opposite sides here."
Mark: I like that approach because I think a lot of the time, the relationship can be quite combative, especially at the beginning when you're starting off these types of relationships, and it almost seems like an us versus them scenario. But in my mind, the way that I think about this is, I mean, we're essentially trying to achieve the same thing, right? Procurement people are trying to get the best product for the best deal possible for the organization that they work for, or the best service, right? Whatever it is that they're buying. Salespeople are actually trying to do the same thing. They're also trying to make sure that there's best fit, best product, best service, and now it just comes down to a discussion about terms, price, delivery, legal matters, all the things that are required to make the deal work together. And so, I think that you sort of old school methodology of that combative, upfront, bumping heads is really doing a lot of people a disservice, because what they really should be thinking about is," How do we facilitate the success collectively, both procurement and sales? How do we facilitate the success of the organization that we're working with?" And one thing that I love about what you talk about is you approach this, and sales in general, with a very solutions/ caring mindset, right? Where people are coming in and saying," The only reason I'm here, is because I actually want to see you succeed. If I didn't care about you, I wouldn't be here." Right? And so, that whole mindset, I think is a really interesting way to think about it, and I think your value questions tie into that. For the procurement people that are listening right now, oftentimes I feel like we play our cards pretty close to our chest. I'm a procurement person by trade, that's been my career my entire life, basically. We play our cards really close to our chest. There's obviously reason that we do that, and that's very important in a lot of different cases, and it's also important to make sure that you listen to what the salesperson is saying, because how can they provide a solution if they don't know what we're actually looking for? So in order for them to provide a solution that makes sense for the organization, we have to very clearly think about what do we need, what do we want? And then tell them exactly what we need and what we want, so that they can provide the solution that we need and we want. How does that resonate with you, Deb?
Deb Calvert: Oh, so well, and I'm thinking about the ways that people often enter that relationship. I have worked with procurement folks through research, and most of them are very open to some of that dialogue with the seller. They don't get the relationship that they hope for as often. It's only been two, three times, a few times where I've ever run into a procurement person who said something like, or felt something like, one who said," I eat salesmen for lunch," right? So that's not typically how a procurement person is.
Mark: I've been guilty of that, I must say. I've been guilty of that in the past.
Deb Calvert: But sellers, right? Sellers think that that's how they all look at the world, and so they put on their battle armor when they're going to go have that conversation, and they overdo it because they become defensive and they might have lined up," Well, so- and- so said," and" Such and such is," and they were just ready to be in defensive mode, as opposed to partnership mode.
Mark: Yeah. I totally agree with you. I want to dive into rationale questions a little bit, and sort of the, not necessarily the purpose, but maybe a few examples, because we understand the purpose now. But what are a few examples, maybe three examples that you think are the best rationale- based questions in the negotiation process, so that as a seller, I get more information that's going to help me move the deal forward?
Deb Calvert: So these are all open- ended or command statements, let me just say that as you're listening for the phrasing. Rationale questions typically should not be closed- ended. Closed- ended is when you want to check a point or you want to confirm something, but if you ask them closed- ended, you're going to be making some assumptions that can be dangerous, and you're going to inhibit the amount of information you get back. So you really want to be in info gathering mode here, keep them open- ended or as a command statement, I'll give examples. As we're phrasing, the other thing I'm going to say is notice that I do not use the word" why." That's very deliberate. In all the other purposes questions, the word" why" is fine, but when you are in the space of rationale, talking about someone's decision, the word" why" is a little dangerous. It can cause people to feel defensive as if you are questioning-
Mark: Sounds accusatory, doesn't it?
Deb Calvert: Yes, yes, like I'm questioning you, instead of I'm questioning the process. So just avoid it, there are easy ways around it. Okay. So those are in the background, those simple thoughts about how you craft your questions. Here's one example of a rationale question, getting out of the use of the word" why." I might say something like," Hey Mark, help me understand the process that got you to this point, now that you are down to final decision with a couple of vendors vying for the business. How'd you get where you are right now?" Not" Why did you pick me and them to be your final choices?" but" Help me understand. How did you get here?" That's insightful, because it reminds them of why they like you, and they'll tell you, you know what it is, that you have your advantage, and it will bring you alongside them mentally in lockstep with the decision, you'll begin to get some insights into what matters to them, and to where they are in their process, as you ask a question like that. How many examples did you want? I can't remember if you said an example or more.
Deb Calvert: Three. All right.
Mark: If you can rattle them off, that would be awesome.
Deb Calvert: Oh, absolutely. So let's talk about budget, because budget's a rationale question. It's got to be sequenced at the right time, and if it's a negotiation, probably there, but when they start bringing up price or budget, or" You're too high," to be able to ask eloquently and comfortably what the actual budget is, you can come at that a few different ways, depending on what you sell, and you'll fill this in a minute, but better than saying," Well, what is your budget?" Because you and I both know, nobody's going to tell you the number.
Mark: No one's going to answer that question.
Deb Calvert: Right, they're not going to tell you the right thing, they're going to give you a range that's too big, or they're going to give you something low wall to make you react to it, because they're anchoring at that point. So instead of that, you ask it a little bit differently. You say something like," Well, exactly how far apart are we?" or" What would it take to actually get this done right now?" And you are then asking something that's contextual, instead of giving them all of the power of being able to make something out of thin air. So tether it to something else before you ask a question like that, when it comes to budget or price. And then let's talk about who's involved, because that's another really important aspect of the decision, and it also is a rationale question, but you never want to offend anybody. So whether it's the procurement person or someone else, if you're asking," Who else is involved in the decision?", you want to be careful not to suggest that they don't have that autonomy to make it on their own. So wording for a question like that might be," In addition to you, who else is going to participate and influence the decision?" So you sort of soften the words," participate and influence," you dignify the person," in addition to you," not" instead of," or" Who's really got the power here?" You're not asking it in that way at all.
Mark: One of the things that I find really interesting about the budget question is sometimes the answer for a budget and how much the thing actually costs are so far apart, that the salesperson is almost caught off guard. They're like," Guys, we can't even have a discussion about this now, because your budget is completely out of whack with what the market is pricing this at, let alone what we're pricing it at." When you get into that kind of a situation as a salesperson, what's the next best approach? What do you do next?
Deb Calvert: Yeah. I think you show your surprise, first of all," Hang on," and I'm not talking about acting. Let your natural reaction come through in a way that's not defensive." Okay, hang on. I think I might be misunderstanding something. What we're pricing is this, and this, and this, and this, and what your-"
Mark: Mm-hmm(affirmative). So you're clarifying.
Deb Calvert: Absolutely."What your budget is, if you look out in the marketplace, is more like for this and this. Am I misunderstanding what you're looking for here?" And I give them a chance to recant at that point, or to do the catch- up that they need to do to, to get that reality check.
Mark: One of the things that I love to do in this kind of a situation is just be super blunt with them and be like," Guys, you're not going to get what you want." Right?" You're asking for all of this stuff, and you think you're going to pay this amount of money, and someone might beat me in an RFP situation where we're competing, and win this business. But I promise you that three months in, you're going to get a price change, or you're going to get some sort of scope change, or something like that for them to claw their money back, or you're going to get the D team or something. So before you make a decision on this, please go back and reevaluate where you need to be. This is actually where you need to be in this kind of a situation. I'm very happy to help you with that, but you're not going to get what you're looking for out of this."
Deb Calvert: Yeah. Underscore something I know a lot of your guests have said, you've said Mark, which is when they ask for you to make a price concession, the question that you ask is," To trim the price by X, what would you want me to take out of the deal I've offered you?"
Mark: Right. Something's got to come out for me to drop my price.
Deb Calvert: Mm- hmm( affirmative). And that too is a value question, because you're making them prioritize what they do and don't really want.
Mark: Yeah. I love that approach. Deb, we've been through basically the wringer, hammering through these things very quickly, but if people want to find out more about DISCOVER questions, where to maybe buy a course or anything like that, how did they do that?
Deb Calvert: Well, the book is on Amazon, DISCOVER Questions Get You Connected, named by HubSpot as one of the top 20 most highly rated sales books of all time, I'll put the plug in. And if you would like to get the e- learning course, that's available on the website. If you'd like to have a workshop for your team, hit me up, send me an email, get connected with me on LinkedIn, and let's talk about it. We are able to customize, we have trainers who come from a wide variety of industries, and so we'll fix you up in whichever direction you want to take it.
Mark: Fantastic. And for the listeners, just so that you know, I'll link out to all these resources in the show notes. Deb Calvert, thank you for doing what you do. Thank you for talking with me today, and thank you for sharing your wisdom.
Deb Calvert: Thank you, Mark.
Mark: Hey friends, thanks so much for listening to this episode. If you enjoyed it, please share it with friends and colleagues so that they can benefit from it as well. If you find Negotiations Ninja Podcast worthy, please go on to iTunes and give us a cool rating with a nice review. We certainly appreciate every single one that we get, because it helps us to understand who is listening, how they're listening, and what it is they like. If there's something that you would like me to discuss around negotiation influence or persuasion, give me a shout. You know how to reach me on social media, or you can get me on my website, which is www. negotiations. ninja.