I confess: I haven’t always done discovery before a sales presentation. Even when I was working at The National Enquirer years ago where their tag line was “Enquiring minds want to know!” Like many salespeople, I was often running fast trying to make quota. And on those occasions where a prospect seemed like a natural fit, or the situation was similar to something I’d encountered previously, I would take some shortcuts (read: make assumptions).

Jell-O changed all of that.

I was selling advertising for The National Enquirer and although it had one of the largest print audiences in the country at that time, people – especially advertisers — had very strong opinions about the publication. But love it or hate it, we had a core group of advertisers who used us as a primary vehicle for efficiently reaching a very specific audience: mothers with average or below household incomes.

The last time I failed to do discovery…

During one of my busier periods, I got wind that the folks at Kraft were planning on launching a big campaign for Jell-O. Jell-O? What could be a better fit for Jell-O than the Enquirer’s then 4 million plus moms?! I quickly sent a few emails to the brand team and got a meeting set up. After putting together some recommendations, I grabbed my standard presentation and jumped on a train from New York to White Plains to meet with the Jell-O team.

A few slides in I revealed my strongest selling point: We could be an instrumental tool in driving Jell-O sales by reaching more women in the “mom” demographic than our closest competitor. This point landed with an awkward thud. Noticing the lack of enthusiasm in the room, I stopped and asked if this was what they had in mind. One brand manager finally spoke up. “No,” she said, before explaining that they weren’t targeting mothers at all. In fact, this campaign was focusing on Jell-O parfaits (for the uninitiated, a “fancy” combination of Jell-O layered with Cool Whip and fruit.) Unlike plain-old Jell-O, they felt the market for their Jell-O parfaits was a younger, single, jell-omore educated female. In other words:

Jell-O was “too upscale” for The Enquirer.

Though I was tempted to argue with the premise that a sixty-nine cent box of powdered desert and a container of dairy topping could possibly be considered upscale, I knew who was really at fault: me. I’d made an assumption that resulted in a waste of my time and theirs. I quickly – and painfully — learned that discovery is not a “nice to do” but a “must do” for every presentation. Things that seem like a perfect fit, rarely are. Every situation is unique and investing a few minutes with a prospect prior to a presentation or demo can keep me from focusing on the wrong issue, highlighting the wrong value proposition, or simply wasting my time on a deal I have no chance of winning.

Don’t be caught with Jell-O on your face.

Take the time to do discovery. Even if it’s on-the-spot before you start your presentation. There’s much more to discovery than simply finding out information to help you target your message. Read here to find out the five things you must do in your discovery to have your best chance for success in your presentation.presentation.

Photo by: torbakhopper / CC BY