Bad customer discovery can lead to a false positive in B2B sales

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According to Clayton Christensen, a professor at Harvard Business School, 95% of new products fail to meet revenue goals because companies misread market needs. This sobering insight captures a common blindspot for sales teams – relying on bad customer discovery that points to false positives. Without rigorous, unbiased customer insight, B2B companies often waste critical resources pursuing and onboarding mismatched clients. In this article, we’ll illuminate the pitfalls of poor customer discovery and provide best practices for sales teams to avoid costly false positives. Gaining an accurate pulse on market fit is imperative in today’s competitive landscape. By sharpening their customer validation capabilities, sales teams can ensure they target only well-fitted, high-potential opportunities.

Importance of Customer Discovery in B2B Sales

One lesson has become abundantly clear to me: high-quality customer discovery is invaluable for B2B sales success. But what exactly is customer discovery and why is it so critical?

At its core, customer discovery involves interviewing and researching potential target customers to truly understand their pain points, needs, and motivations. The goal is to determine if your product or solution is a strong fit for a particular customer segment before investing heavily in sales and marketing efforts.

I’ve learned just how costly it can be to skip thoughtful customer discovery. Early in my career, I worked with a sales team selling a SaaS platform to media agencies. We assumed the media agencies would value our media plan tracking features. So we built demos and collateral touting these capabilities. But surprisingly, we faced endless demos with lukewarm interest.

It turned out media plan tracking wasn’t a burning need agencies had. The pain point we missed was cumbersome media planning workflows, which our platform could have solved. But we uncovered this pain point way later through customer discovery. We learned this lesson the hard way – by wasting months pitching the wrong solution.

Ever since, I’ve vowed never to shortcut the customer discovery phase. The insights it surfaces are invaluable in guiding sales strategy and avoiding wasted effort. Here are a few reasons it’s indispensably important for B2B sales:

  • Validates product-market fit and areas for improvement before you go to market. This focuses sales and marketing resources only on well-matched opportunities.
  • Uncovers the precise pain points and needs driving customers’ buying decisions. This enables crafting highly relevant, tailored messaging.
  • Gives a competitive advantage by immersing your sales team directly in the customer and market landscape.
  • Builds relationships with potential customers and gets buy-in even before formal sales discussions.

The best sales teams know great customer discovery is a non-negotiable. But it must be done with rigor and depth to yield real insights, which we’ll explore more throughout this guide. Suffice to say, the upfront time investment is well worth avoiding months of wasted efforts down the line.

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How Bad Customer Discovery Practices Arise

In my experience, poor customer discovery usually stems from sales teams failing to dedicate enough time and rigor to the process. The desire for quick results or confirmation of assumptions leads sales teams to take shortcuts.

At my company, we once thought a condensed, informal discovery process was sufficient before launching a new enterprise analytics module.

We fell into several traps that led us astray:

  • Only interviewing a handful of customers from our networks. This gave a very limited perspective that didn’t reveal segmentation differences.
  • Asking biased, leading questions like “Wouldn’t this dashboard help your teams collaborate?” instead of open-ended probes. This primed customers to validate our assumptions.
  • Simply asking if customers wanted certain features instead of digging into workflows, pain points, and motivations. The surface-level feedback misled us.
  • Failing to map what we learned to our product’s actual capabilities. We didn’t discern which insights were most relevant.

As you can imagine, this flawed approach to discovery set us up for months of misguided marketing and sales efforts. We pitched customers on capabilities they didn’t actually need or value. It was a costly mistake, but also a teaching moment on why discovery rigor is crucial.

Here are some of the most common pitfalls I see sales teams fall victim to:

  • Interviewing too few customers to get a representative sample. Narrow perspectives skew findings.
  • Only talking to customers they have easy access to. This introduces bias rather than diving into new segments.
  • Asking shallow or leading questions that seem to validate assumptions. This prevents uncovering real needs.
  • Focusing discovery on capabilities they want to pitch instead of open-ended workflows. This masks pain points.
  • Failing to probe deeply into motivations and problems. Surface-level feedback is misleading.
  • Not rigorously mapping insights to product fit. Key signals get lost in undifferentiated data.

The best way to avoid these traps is dedicating enough time for discovery with an open, unbiased approach. Resist the urge to shortcut – the insights unlocked will prove invaluable.

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Risks and Consequences of Bad Discovery Calls

When I reflect on the biggest sales mistakes I’ve made in my career, the majority stem from putting customers through poor discovery processes. The risks of getting it wrong are immense, resulting in wasted resources and strained relationships.

At my previous company, we completely misread interest from retail chains because of biased discovery questions. We took their polite feedback as strong buying signals and deployed extensive sales efforts. But after months of stagnant deals, we realized our solution didn’t actually solve their needs.

This false positive was extremely costly for us. We had already expanded our sales team and allocated significant marketing budget toward retail. We found ourselves firefighting to pivot our approach while reconciling sunk costs.

Beyond wasted spend, weak discovery also causes missed opportunities to improve product-market fit. When you only have surface-level conversations, you don’t unearth chances to refine positioning or enhance your offering. We could have tailored our platform to retail needs if we had asked the right questions early on.

Lastly, pushy sales efforts based on poor discovery can also damage your brand and customer relationships. One retail buyer told me he felt misled and was reluctant to trust our sales team again. It took effort to rebuild that bridge.

In summary, here are some of the biggest risks sales teams open themselves up to with insufficient discovery:

  • Wasted budget, time, and resources pursuing false positive opportunities that fail to convert.
  • Stalled sales cycles and revenue goals due to misaligned targeting and messaging.
  • Turning off prospective customers by pushing solutions that don’t fit their needs.
  • Losing credibility and trust in the market through misleading or overly-pushy outreach.
  • Missed potential to refine and enhance your offering based on true customer insights.
  • Getting discovery right is challenging but pays dividends many times over. Take the time upfront to avoid painful risks down the line.
Custom branding
Showcase your brand.
Video narrations
Easily video-narrate sales presentations or proposals when needed (otherwise video is optional). Redo slide if you made a mistake. Use built-in teleprompter to record longer videos.

Data rooms
Attach any supporting files and links. Make it easy for your prospects and clients to find the right information quickly.

Company profiles
Create company profiles with custom banners and info-packages tailored to different industries.
Contact details
Show your contact info easily accessible by your prospects and clients.
Custom CTAs
Add custom CTAs to drive prospects or clients to your calendar, sign up form, etc.
Engagement analytics
See how prospects and clients interact with your PDFs.

Feedback and Reactions
Collect feedback from prospects and clients. Feedback and reactions are not publicly visible.
Share PDFs
Share any existing PDF presentations and documents.
Live links
Share with a single link. Update files even after sharing your link. Get notified when your PDF is viewed. Turn off access anytime.

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Best Practices to Avoid False Positives on Discovery Calls

After seeing the detrimental impacts poor discovery has on sales efforts, I became passionate about establishing rigorous customer interview practices. At DeckLinks, our sales team now follows several guidelines that have proven effective for avoiding false positives:

First, we cast a very wide net, striving for at least 20-30 discovery conversations per segment. This ensures we gather perspectives across roles, use cases, company sizes, and verticals. Small sample sizes open the door to misinterpretation.

During interviews, we’re very mindful to avoid any leading or biased questions which could prime customers. Instead of asking if a certain feature is useful, we’ll say “Walk me through how your team currently handles X workflow.” Open-ended questions reveal true pain points.

We also make it a priority to probe deeply into customer motivations, problems, and needs. It’s easy to stay surface-level, but pushing on key questions uncovers crucial insights. After discussing workflows, we’ll ask follow-ups like “What are the biggest frustrations your team has with this process?” to reveal pain points they may not volunteer initially.

An area I see sales teams frequently lack rigor is in connecting insights to their actual product capabilities. After discovery, my sales team spends significant time mapping what we learned to how our platform does or doesn’t address needs mentioned. This prevents assumptions from filling gaps.

We also validate key takeaways through follow-up conversations with a subset of interviewees. This helps us discern patterns versus outliers in the feedback.

Finally, we love having colleagues outside the core sales team review findings. Their unbiased perspective identifies any blindspots we have in interpreting the data.

With a methodical discovery approach focused on depth and validity, we gain incredible customer clarity before proceeding with sales and marketing. I highly recommend any sales team aim for this level of diligent rigor – it’s a small investment that pays off exponentially by avoiding wasted efforts.

Conclusion

After reflecting on the pitfalls of poor discovery and the practices needed to avoid them, the key takeaway is clear – customer insight rigor is imperative for sales success.

Without dedication to unbiased, in-depth discovery, sales teams risk wasting months of efforts and burning bridges due to false positives. I’ve learned firsthand how a discovery mistake can derail revenue goals and damage hard-won relationships.

The good news is that with the right approach, customer interviews provide invaluable clarity that the best sales organizations rely on. But achieving these insights requires discipline – casting a wide net for perspectives, asking thoughtful questions, digging into motivations, and rigorously mapping to capabilities.

While it’s tempting to rush or shortcut discovery, resist that urge at all costs. The upfront time investment is negligible compared to the extensive costs of misaligned targeting and messaging. And the relationships strengthened through respectful discovery practices will repay sales teams for years to come.

I encourage any sales team assessing an opportunity to dedicate real care to customer insights. Let what you learn guide how you proceed, rather than assumptions. With a rigorous discovery foundation unlocking true needs, you’ll be equipped to confidently pursue only real product-market fits. The results will speak for themselves.

FAQs

What are some common pitfalls that lead to poor customer discovery outcomes?

The most common pitfalls include failing to interview enough customers, asking biased or leading questions, lack of probing on pain points, and not rigorously mapping insights to product capabilities. This results in limited perspectives and superficial feedback.

Ideally customer discovery should occur before formal sales initiatives launch, while value prop and messaging are being crafted. It’s critical to validate product-market fit before dedicating sales resources.

To gain robust perspective, best practice is 20-30 discovery interviews per target segment. Small sample sizes often skew findings and introduce false positives.

Great discovery candidates come from existing customer referrals, peer connections, trade event leads, LinkedIn outreach, and purchaed lists filtered for target segment criteria.

Ask open-ended questions about workflows and pain points rather than leading questions about potential features. Let customers guide the conversation organically.

Go beyond surface needs to understand customer motivations, problems they want to solve, frustrations with current approaches, decision-making processes, and barriers to change.

Take detailed notes during each interview, then compile insights into a centralized, searchable repository, tagged by criteria like role, use case, industry, etc.

Carefully assess where product capabilities directly address stated needs and pain points, as well as areas of misalignment that require product changes.

Schedule follow-up conversations with a sample of interviewees to test hypotheses and prioritize needs. Also have unbiased colleagues review findings.

Set expectations upfront this is exploratory, don’t pitch, listen more than sell, and only proceed with customers that are a fit. Follow up with appreciation.

About the Author

Our content team of sales, lead generation, and marketing experts provides industry-leading thought leadership on B2B sales and marketing, lead nurturing, and sales enablement strategies. With decades of combined C-suite and VP-level experience, we deliver actionable B2B sales and marketing content that gives B2B companies a competitive advantage. Our proven insights on lead management, conversion rate and sales optimization, sales productivity, and tech stack empower companies to increase revenue growth and ROI.

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