The Dos and Don’ts of an MSP Sales Discovery Call

Let’s face it, no one likes to cold call anymore. It’s a lost art. In 2016 with Web, social, and inbound marketing, we like when our leads and prospects come to us. But how do we engage with these contacts once we have them? What's that next step? 

Welcome back to our MSP Sales Success blog series, a collection of posts that dive deep into the sales journey and answer what you've been asking for some time: "How do I sell managed services?"! In this next post, we review the anatomy of a sales discovery call.

Before we begin, let's recap everything we've learned thus far. As you read in What Is the Sales Process for an MSP?, sales begin (and continue) with marketing and lead generation. As part of your ongoing marketing efforts, you need to revisit and reinforce your unique selling proposition, often referred to as your value proposition, and keep tabs on the local managed IT services competition. As leads come in, you can't leave them sitting there, but you also can't try to convert every form submission into a client. Do your due diligence, and research these companies to determine prospect viability.

Once you've judged which prospects are sales-ready and you've built profiles for each detailing items like number of sites, number of users, key decision makers, relationship-building commonalities and regulation requirements (if applicable), it's time to schedule a sales call. We call this touch point the "discovery" call or meeting and true to its name, it occurs during the discovery phase of the sales journey. 

I want to be clear - a discovery call does not have to be the initial contact. A presales team or even your own marketing channels may have “qualified” this company or contact prior. That contact may also have come to you directly to set up an introduction.

What the Discovery Call is...

The discovery call or meeting is your chance to judge compatibility with a prospective client, to dig deep and determine whether your IT solution is a good fit for their business and vice versa.
...and What It is NOT

The discovery call or meeting is NOT meant for you to pitch your managed IT services and make a proposal. That would be like doctors writing prescriptions without ever having stuck thermometers down their patients' throats or asking them about their symptoms. When coaching your MSP sales representatives, stress that they do not approach these calls with the intent to sell. As much as the sales person (or the person with specific revenue goals) in you may want to cut to the chase and tell prospects why your IT solution is the right choice, that comes later. 

What Discoveries Can You Make?

To prepare for this exchange, take all of the research you've compiled on the company, and use it to guide the conversation. Uncover and listen for key terms, issues and challenges that prospects may have faced or are facing with their current IT solution or provider. Maybe their business is expanding, but their MSP isn’t keeping up and they're receiving inadequate technical support. Maybe their current provider doesn't provide backup and disaster recovery services, and they're looking to fill that void. Here are a few discovery questions to get the wheels turning:

  • How would it impact you if you came into work tomorrow and were unable to access all of your files because they were
  • What are you doing to maintain compliance with HIPAA requirements?
  • Do any of your employees bring personal devices to work?

Let's take this last item, for instance. If you were to hit a prospective client with an offer for your mobile device management (MDM) solution without establishing a need for this service first, it is unlikely your proposal would make any lasting impact. Clients are bad at self-diagnosing. That's why they call on you. In this example, potential MDM clients may not recognize the security risk of the bring your own device (BYOD) trend in the modern workplace. Asking a qualifying question like this also helps you determine how to optimize your sales efforts. Maybe that prospect doesn't need your MDM solution and you wasted a good twenty minutes reviewing its benefits when you could have spent that time asking about their current backup strategy (or lack there of).

It’s better to use the discovery call as a time to listen and find out why exactly prospects have chosen to talk to you in the first place. And equally as important as is the information they feed you are those details that they leave out. Sometimes key decision makers are only aware of what is in front of them. They don't know which answers they can unlock because they haven't asked or been asked the right questions. Just as a doctor is the authority on all things medical, you are the IT expert charged with providing clients the best possible treatment for their business pain points. Be the CIO or CTO they need to maintain business efficiency and profitability.

What Do Your Prospects Get out of It?

If you spend this time listening and asking thoughtful, personalized questions, it can go a long way in building trust and long-term relationships. This customer-centric sales strategy helps prospective clients feel more in control of their buying decisions. As I stated earlier, at this point in the MSP sales process, it is not the time to show up and throw out all your products and solutions, waiting for your contacts to bite. Ask probing questions about the state of their business, the growth, technology that they use, etc. They'll appreciate you for being so thorough and in demonstrating your full understanding of their IT problems, will be more likely to see your solution as THE solution. And this isn't a trick or a cheap ploy to appear genuine either! In what scenario is seeking to deepen your understanding of a potential client and their IT environment a bad thing?

How Can You Get the Most out of a Discovery Call?

In arranging the call or meeting, first make sure to consider the prospect's time and scheduling preferences. A good discovery call takes time, so you don’t want them to feel rushed into providing incomplete answers. If you try to call the contact and they say they're busy, ask for 30 seconds or less to explain why you are calling and request a better time to reach them in the future. It’s best to get the follow-up on the calendar while they are speaking with you. Send them an invite if possible, so they have it blocked off and won't forget about you.

When conducting a sales discovery call, put the solutions and technology into terms and lingo your potential clients can understand. Do not walk in there throwing out acronyms or IT jargon that might confuse, delay, or even kill the sale because prospects failed to understand you and the value of your offering.

Leverage sales collateral and make sure you have materials on-hand that you can use to support your discussion. Sales scripts and conversation starters always provide a useful roadmap for representatives unsure of how to navigate these calls. Are you bypassing the call and opting instead for a discovery meeting? Visual diagrams and easy-to-read matrices are good to leave behind and can also be used on calls as reference.

What Next? What Do You Do with All of This Information?

Once you have had a chance to hear potential clients out, find out what their buying powers, intentions and possibly even budgets are. You can now tailor your approach and strategically sell the solutions they may know they need, and the ones you feel they might. Don’t worry, there is always time for cross-selling, but you have to find that key point, that motivation or catalyst that will tip them to another call.

This brings me to the next step, the real sales meeting and setting up the proposal. This won't be done during the discovery phase usually, so work with prospects, thank them for their valuable time and set the expectation that you will come back with a proposal based on the answers and feedback they shared. Ask about their ideal timeline. When would they like the technology, project or services to start? Asking this will help you and your team assess what needs to be done and give you some time to prepare any proposals, service level agreements (SLAs) and contracts they’ll most likely want to review.

Ray Vrabel is Continuum's senior director of strategic partners. Read more Continuum blogs here.