How Pipeline and Prospect Discovery Questions Are Different

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Sales discovery questions are drastically different from pipeline discovery questions. In fact, you should never use pipeline questions with a prospect. 

Why? Because prospects are somewhere between cold and lukewarm. They’re not eager to be there and they’ve made no commitments about their time nor attention. Therefore prospect questions are being asked on tight timelines and to someone resistant to being sold. It’s like throwing balls at someone with their eyes closed and getting them to catch one in under thirty seconds (be clear, they don’t want to play).

Pipeline discovery is with someone who has already agreed to a meeting and shown some level of willingness to learn more. We’re talking lukewarm to hot. OK, now we have a shot of really playing some catch! We’ve booked 30-60 minutes and they’ve agreed to play ball! 

So how should we change our discovery questions accordingly? Let’s stay in our game. If you have a minute to win it by getting a “catch” with an unwilling participant, lob easy balls that aren’t too painful when they hit – like ping pong balls. Fast, light, not too painful. 

A willing catch partner will tolerate something weightier like a baseball, basketball, or even a bowling ball! They’re ready to catch and they may even be impressed with the ball you throw. 

Wait. What? A bowling ball question? Yeah, you know, the big ones. “What’s it costing you to leave this unsolved?” or “What’s the worst-case scenario if this goes wrong?” The heavy stuff.

Prospect ping pong questions are light, easy, and non-threatening. Some are probably your sales qualification questions. Their short answer, rote answer, and easy answer. “How many reps do you have?” “What are you using now?” “What do you like about it?” “I can handle these no problem!”

Ever seen the guys in airports trying to sell travel credit cards from a kiosk? Most of them are yelling benefits like “10,000 free miles!” or “Free travel!” It’s not unlike most sellers. They’re billboarding instead of engaging. They could (and maybe should) literally be replaced by a sign. A sign may actually do better because we’re not afraid of being pitched by a sign.

Wouldn’t they do better if they asked engaging questions and got us into a conversation instead? Ping pong questions like, “Fun trip or work trip today?” “Headed to the beach?” “Is today the Hawaii trip!?” 

These are non-threatening, right? Maybe they’re obvious (is she wearing vacation clothes?) or even funny (is he wearing a suit?). Point is, they get me to answer, maybe even smile. I’d lower my defenses and engage. Now you follow up with a better question like, “Where do you WISH you were going?” or “So, what’s next on the bucket list?” and now I’m in a conversation about desired travel. Soon we’ll be swapping stories and practically smelling the coconut oil…

Now if they threw bowling balls they wouldn’t get too far. Questions like, “What’s the APR on your current card!?” “How many free trips did you earn last year?” “Would you like to earn free miles on every flight?” OK, maybe these aren’t as heavy as bowling, but each requires some thought on my part, right? Each screams sales pitch coming!?

Ping pongs are non-threatening, non-sales questions. Perfect for prospecting.

Bowling balls are obvious sales questions and/or cost me more effort to answer. Yuck.

So stop leading with the bowling balls friends! If you’re a student of Factor 8’s SWIIFT℠ Intro, you’ll remember that the secret sauce is the SWIIFT℠ Questions at the end. These closed questions get prospects talking before they realize it and now you’re on first base with a conversation. NOW you graduate up to baseballs for second base and round home with the bowling balls. Admittedly my metaphors need work. 

So reframe how you approach prospecting discovery. Prospecting questions have 3 very clear goals:

  1. Get me talking
  2. Make a connection and build some rapport 
  3. Find a teeny tiny edge (P.A.I.N – problems, avoidance, improvements, and newness) 

Pipeline questions have very clear goals as well:

  1. Find a need, challenge, or opportunity to improve
  2. Uncover what the customer’s values are
  3. Prove I can be a match better than others

Pipeline questions will dig deeply into priorities, challenges, preferences, competition, and experiences. These are not going to help someone with their eyes closed decide to play ball with you. Unless they’re actively looking for your solution right now, your superbly crafted pipeline questions will simply guarantee I keep my head down and rush for my flight. So keep it light and save pipeline questions for pipeline prospects.

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