Congrats — you’ve defined your ICP, conducted outreach, and landed your first meeting! Now that you have prospective customers interested in your solution, it’s important to have a strong Qualification and Discovery process to qualify and ultimately close deals. Discovery is not only a typical gap in a Founder’s sales efforts, but it is usually where most get stuck when a Board Member or VP of Sales candidates ask:
“Why do companies buy from you?”
“Why do they feel the urgency to buy your solution now?”
“Who signs the contract?”
“Why are you willing to bet on that person?”
This section will outline the discovery process we suggest from working alongside our founders to close their first few customers at Unusual through our GAP engagement. A quick note that we intentionally forego covering topics including Decision Process, Buying Process, Finding a Champion, etc. that other more formal sales guides might include. We’ll touch more on these processes in future posts.
Before we dive into how to run an effective discovery meeting, it’s important to highlight where most founders go wrong when they start the discovery process. Many founders consider Discovery, Validation, and Qualification synonymous, but they are three distinct processes. Each plays a role in driving a deal forward or indicating there is no deal at all.
Validation- Getting feedback from potential customers on your startup idea and/or business model (i.e. is there a market for solving this problem?)
Qualification - Determining if a lead has the potential to become a customer (i.e. do they fit your ICP?)
Discovery - Uncovering critical information about the prospect that allows you to create a compelling value proposition and drive the sale
Qualification Before Discovery
VP Sales Questions: “Why is this company a good fit for us?”
Most first-time founders or salespeople will mistake discovery with qualification. Qualification is a separate process of screening or “qualifying” prospects to ensure they are a good fit for your solution (an ICP). In other words, one uses the discovery process to uncover critical information and then qualifies the opportunity to make sure they would be a good fit for the solution and a good use of the team’s limited time/resources.
With the amount of publicly available information out there on prospects and their companies, you should be able to qualify most critical topics before you ever get on the phone/Zoom. You can then use the conversation to answer any remaining open questions. Qualifying upfront helps prevent costly situations where your team wastes long cycles on potential deals, only to later realize that the prospect never had the appropriate technology stack to implement your solution. Find ways to mitigate these problems early and often by being as disciplined as possible about your qualification process.
Some examples of qualification criteria (before the call) below:
Summary of Qualification Tools (to use before the call)
LinkedIn - This is the most frequently recommended source for learning more about prospects, but many founders overlook ways to make use of this before or even during calls:
Descriptions and interests of Individuals
This is especially useful when your ideal customer requires certain technographics (certain tools, languages, or infrastructure your solution requires). If you need someone who predominantly writes in Python, but their profile is loaded with information about Scala, this could be an indicator that they are less of a fit.
Can you backchannel with people you are connected with prior to the call to build a stronger sense of familiarity? You can also use this as a topic of conversation to open the call.
Job Listings at their company
Most of the time, a job posting will reveal much more than just their hiring needs. This includes:
The company’s tech stack (Look for the skills they require candidates to be proficient in)
What roles/responsibilities the company considers high priority. (If high priority items map to your solution, this is a strong leading indicator you can use to drive your conversation)
Note: You can also use the same research above to find net-new prospects to schedule meetings with (a post on this coming soon!)
GitHub - Startups (especially at the Seed Stage) are typically looking for early adopters. What projects, commits, and details has the person you’re speaking with worked on that are relevant to your product? Can you use a common thread to drive your conversation?
Company Website - Another likely obvious source, but use the site to review the following:
Job Listings (in case you don’t find them on LinkedIn)
Recent blogs and case studies
What do they write about? What seems top of mind to their business? Does your solution map to their initiatives?
Who are their customers? What do they value?
Some companies even have technical blogs - review those too to see if you can find patterns.
Market Data / Intel
Other information that you’ve learned about their company that may also help drive the conversation.
Many people see this as a VC/funding database only, but it’s a great way to find signals of companies that may fit within your ICP. Organizations with fresh funding, or of a certain org-size with the funding they have may be a good signal/qualifier.
Datafox / HG Data / Builtwith
With tools like Datafox, HG Data, or BuiltWith you can review technographics of a company. For example, if you need prospects who use specific products, both tools will show you a portion of their tech stack. You can use this as a datapoint to confirm with your prospect once you get on the phone.
You can use the information you gather through qualification to “score” the opportunity:
Scoring opportunities by using a rubric like the one above can help you better prioritize your team’s time and resources to only pursue prospects that are most likely to become paying customers.