How to Ask Life & Death Questions...and Sales

Posted by Jack Derby, Head Coach on Wed, Sep 09, 2015

Earlier this year, I underwent open heart surgery.  What did I know beforehand?  Not much, I found out

  • Healthy, non-smoker, adult male, no major diseases that I knew about
  • Exercises five days a week-treadmill and weights
  • Snowboards or surfs most weekends
  • Road bikes those other weekends
  • Eats carefully, loves wine 
  • No symptoms, other than that self-diagnosed asthma/pollen/dust/buy-more-inhalers "thing", which, in reality, if I had known more, was my heart shutting down.

Sales productivity, big impact on salesAnd then, BANG, there's the stress test waveforms, and then the follow-on angiogram results staring me in the face: 100% blocked Left Anterior Descending, and 60% blocked Right.  In the dark humor of the cardiology offices, this particular symptom is known as "The Widowmaker".

How could this happen?  What could I have done better or more or less of?  

And the answer, if I had known more, if i had thought one minute about heart disease, if I had questioned my PCP more, was that I probably could have done a lot more in the way of discovery about taking cholesterol-inhibiting statins, which I knew of, but never really paid attention to.

So, what did I learn through all of this, if I had known more, or if I had asked better questions or pressed for more answers? 

  • Item #1 in terms of the cause is genetics; nothing I could have done about that
  • Item #2 is food, and, I too often said, "I never met a french fry I didn't like"
  • Item #3 is cholesterol, and 10 years ago, I decided not to opt for lipitor
  • Since I had no symptoms, no chest pain, I couldn't have heart disease, right?
  • The occasional shortness of breath had to be asthma, or  pollen, correct?

Even though I knew that heart disease is the #1 killer, all along this discovery process, I later found out that I was just not asking the right questions.

Once the diagnosis was made, and the only option was a bypass, I still did not explore the unknown by pushing my docs and my numerous friends who have undergone bypasses.  If I had done better discovery, I would have found out that...

  • 35% of all bypass patients, including me, have an emergency return within 5 days
  • The pain thing is over-hyped.  I had zero pain. Never took drugs.  
  • There's typically a post-op 30-60 day period of "high-anxiety" (polite for depresssion) 
  • The probability of another bypass within 10 years is "high"

What I also discovered is that there's really nothing substantive to read about the specifics of all of this, so asking the right questions is critical, and building a team of knowledgeable clinicians and friends (thank you ver much, Phyllis and Paige !) who have been prior patients is equally critical for guidance & hints. I would finally recommend that asking detailed questions from two or three other docs is not only smart, It may be the difference between life and death.  Remember, they don't call it "medical practice" for nothing, 

Come to find out, all of the above bullets are very standard with heart disease and resulting bypass operations, if I had asked, and if I had known more.  What makes this even more ironic...or that I should have been one of the more knowledgeable patients since at one time in my career, I ran a large cardiology equipment company.  

So, what's the point, and how, on this beautiful Wednesday, right at the beginning of the most important selling period in the year, does this translate to selling stuff.  Very simple:  Ask More Questions!

My friend, Wendy...

Back in the day, a very good friend of mine, Wendy, had become the head of Purchasing at Digital Equipment. At one point, I asked her if she would come to the MIT Enterprise Forum of Cambridge, where I was Chairman, and talk to the audience about how Digital made purchasing decisions, what was involved and describe new technologies that they were interested in.  A person in the audience asked her what she thought about salespeople calling her for meetings, and her response was sharp, simple and to the point... 

"I'm in the business of spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year, and, in most cases, I'll tell you anything that you need to know in order to meet what I and my buyers need...BUT I'll answer the questions only once.  Don't waste my time by not asking all of the questions that you need to know the first time...and, by the way, I want to see you writing down the answers"

So, here we are posed at the most important part of the selling year-four critical months to the end of December, and plenty of time left to ask the life and death questions of our prospects. 

How to Make a Great Sales Discovery Call...asking all the right questions


Sales Discovery Best PracticesClick the graphic to the left for Discovery Call Best Practices

10 Discovery Call Tactics:

1. Executing detailed Discovery calls is critical to the velocity of the sales cycle and the success of you closing the deal as forecasted.  It is the #1 determinant of sales success in complex B2B wins.

2. When Lost Orders are autopsied, 65% are due to not doing detailed Discovery early in the process..

3. Take the time to write out all your Discovery questions in advance 

4. Always send an agenda for every Discovery meeting in advance.

5. Provide a framework for the questions you will be asking, but don't give the questions in advance

6. Write down all of the answers and ask questions if you don't understand.

7. Follow with a "Validation Letter" (email, PPT, video) confirming "this is what I heard", and "here are my next steps".;

8. Use that email to bullet out your next steps.  Ask "Is that okay?", or ""Does that make sense?".  

9. Ask for confirmation.  "Could you send me a quick response to let me know?"

10. Confirm the same thing with others on the buying team

You now have, get moving quickly!

Ok, so maybe trying to link asking questions about life-threatening issues like heart disease to winning sales deals may be a bit of a stretch, but I don't think by much.  Both are extraordinarily complex, both are critical to your mental and physical health, and both define who you are and what you will do.  I also remember too well losing deals or having them delayed simply because I rushed Discovery trying to sell much too quickly in the process, and, as a result, having Happy Ears and not asking (or wanting to ask) all of the necessary questions.

Two thoughts for this upcoming week:

heart_disease-11.  First, check your health, because there's nothing else that really matters.

No matter what age you're at, ask all of the necessary questions, and press for answers about your health from a variety of sources:  PCPs, other docs and trusted advisors who are very experienced in healthcare solutions.  Just like you would use Linked In for backgrounds on your prospects, check our your docs, their ratings and the ratings of their hospitals relative to your specific situation.  Nothing could be better than MGH in Boston, correct? And, yes, they received an A++ rating from me, but interestingly, they're not the most highly rated hospital in Massachusetts for heart surgery. 

2.  Second, check the health of the Discovery Calls in your Pipeline 

No matter how experienced you think you might be as a salesperson, the world of the buying side of the table today is vastly more complex, more knowledgeable and more busy than ever before. We know that 50% to 70% of the B2B complex-sale buying process is typically done before we show up looking for our chance to meet.  As a result, the Discovery Step, very early in the sales process funnel is absolutely critical to our success especially now in the most critical...and busiest time of the year.

Good Selling!

Change is good, but remarkable change is better.  

Have specific sales questions that you want to bounce off me or other Derby Coaches, just email me, and we'll set a time to talk. 

  Jack Derby 

Head Coach  

Derby Management...for 25 years
-Sales & Marketing Productivity Experts
-Business & Strategy Planning Specialists
-Senior Management Coaching for CEOs & VPs

Box 171322, Boston, MA 02117
Jack's Cell: 617-504-4222 

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Tags: sales