EPISODE 523: Best Questions for Disruptive Sales Discovery with Geoff Snavely

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the Sales Game Changers virtual learning session sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales on May 27, 2022, featuring Geoff Snavely. He’s the author of Disruptive Discovery.

Find Geoff on LinkedIn.

GEOFF’S TIP: “Ask better questions to help you understand things better. Here’s a paradox. If you want to take your sales career to the next level, stop selling. What I mean by that is you can actually sell more by not trying to sell something. Instead, view your role as helping people, helping customers understand their unique needs. Stop trying to sell and help people understand what it is they need to get them to a better place.”


Fred Diamond: Geoff, the book is called Disruptive Discovery. I read it. You and I obviously have similar demographic history, I guess, because I got almost all of your references. I was a big Billy Joel fan in high school and my high school quote wasn’t Summer, Highland Falls. It was from Say Goodbye to Hollywood. I forget the quote, anyway, I’ll put it in the show notes. It’s good to see you. You wrote this book, and you cleaned floors for a living?

Geoff Snavely: I did. I proudly cleaned floors for a living.

Fred Diamond: I tell you man, there’s nothing worse than going into a restaurant or an office with dirty floors. My floor upstairs in the office, it frustrates me to no end. You wrote a book called Disruptive Discovery. It’s a fascinating book. First of all, you really open up, you’re very vulnerable in the book about yourself and your relationships to your family and your career journey. What I found really interesting was how you flipped the discovery process. We talk about that a lot. It’s great to see you here. Once you get us started here? Talk about why you wrote the book. What prompted you at this stage of your life? Then let’s get deep into what you discovered about discovery that you think people were doing wrong.

Geoff Snavely: Great. Well, first of all, thank you, this is great. You and I got connected a couple of months ago, and I’ve been looking forward to this conversation ever since. Thank you for having me, and happy Cinco de Mayo. I’m already on my fourth Margarita. How about you?

Fred Diamond: I abstain from drinking when I do the shows [laughs] but I’m glad that you’ve been drinking and we will ask questions accordingly.

Geoff Snavely: Why did I write the book question? That is the most popular question. Here’s what I’ll say, I wrote this book Disruptive Discovery as a way to bring my why to life. You go, “What does that mean?” The book, Start With Why, Simon Sinek, I recommend it for anyone who hasn’t read it, or if nothing else, just watch his TED talk on YouTube.

He talks about the golden circle. Ultimately, that means everyone, every company, every individual should have a personal why statement. My why statement is to make a positive difference in the lives of people so that they feel motivated to become the best possible version of themselves. Writing this book was a way that I am bringing that to life, of trying to make that meaningful impact in people’s lives. I wrote it for business leaders, sales professionals, coaches, consultants. Anyone who advises others about work or life.

Sales professionals wear some of those hats, multiple hats, if not all those hats. I do think it is a great tool for sales professionals looking to help their customers solve problems, or if you’re a sales manager, to be able to help people on your team to improve in a development area. I could go on and on about what really brought me to actually take all this stuff in my head and writing a manuscript and publishing it. That’s the essence of why I did it. 

Fred Diamond:  We’ve spoken about Simon Sinek many times on the over 500 episodes that we’ve done. As you know, I also published a book on Lyme disease and we had some people who have found their life’s mission after overcoming Lyme disease. We talk about Simon Sinek a lot. The first question, I mentioned that you cleaned floors for a living.

The book is really deep, you really go deep into talking about meaning and difference-making, etc. It was a great book. How does that come up when you’re selling floor cleaning services? Talk a little bit about that. What kind of questions can you be asking people with the mission being to get them to buy your service of cleaning their floors?

Geoff Snavely: Asking questions, and that is the heart of Disruptive Discovery, or rather what I say is the soul of disruptive discovery is asking the questions that matter. The heart of it is really around trust. Building trust, establishing trust, rebuilding trust. Disruptive discovery is a facilitation model. It’s a process. It starts with establishing the right mindset, then trust, as we just talked about.

Understanding what is your purpose in that interaction with your customer, what’s their opening? That’s the difference between where they are and where they want to be. Talk about, what is surface discovery, and then taking that deeper dive into disruptive discovery. For me, before you jump into asking questions, there are steps prior to that, that are really essential to having a real healthy interaction and collaboration when asking those questions.

It does start with mindset. If you said to me, “What’s one word that you would use to describe mindset?”  My word would be everything. Mindset is everything in the sales process, in the relationship building process. The mindset you carry into those interactions will have a fundamental impact on those conversations, they just will. What it is that you’re bringing to the table. What’s going on in your mind when you start those discussions?

It is everything and in two parts. In the first part, I’ll relate this specifically to sales. What if I told you that a sales professional leading a customer through the sales process was the wrong thing to do? That wasn’t the right approach. Would you agree with that, or disagree with that?

Fred Diamond:  We agree. Obviously, the sales process has dramatically changed over the last five to 10, maybe even 15 years. The customer has more information at their disposal, the customer may not necessarily need to see a sales professional, based on how they might have 20, 25 years ago. They really needed the sales professional to give them information that they didn’t have access to. Now they have access to the information. I want to go back again to floors, if you don’t mind. I want to get some practical applications here. As you’re out there selling floor cleaning services. Give us some insights, Geoff, how do you put some of this into practice? Which obviously led towards your saying, “One day, I’m going to write a book.” Specifically, around cleaning floors. What questions do you ask? What are you hoping to get the customer to think about?

I’m curious. We talk to a lot of people who sell what might look like a commodity service, and maybe cleaning floors isn’t. I want you to give us some insights into how you develop this process based on what you’ve been selling for the last decade or so of your career.

Geoff Snavely:  I can do that. I will go back to the mindset piece of it, because I think it’s so important. When I said it’s not really a sales process, I mean that. What I take my customers through, what I try to coach my sales team on is that this is a buying process. To your point, we are helping customers buy our services, we’re not selling our services to them. You can say, “Well, that’s just semantics. That’s a play on words. You’re trying to trick me,” I’m not. Having this right mindset I call it a mutual concern mindset. There’s different mindsets you can bring. You can come to the table in a sales situation with an internal mindset, which it’s all about me, I’m here to win. I’m here to sell you something. That’s an internal mindset. You can come with an external mindset, which is it’s all about you. I’m here to give you whatever you want. In an internal mindset, that’s a win lose. External is a lose win.

Both of those scenarios have lose in them. Any scenario that has the word lose in it is not sustainable. It’s just not. Mutual concern is the proverbial win win. What’s good for you is good for me. What’s fascinating about that is none of us are predisposed to that kind of mindset. We are all born with this disposition around either it’s all about me, all about you. It’s a muscle, it’s something you have to develop over time. First, when I’m meeting with a client to talk about floor care services, I get my mindset right. Mutual concern that we have to find things that are good for both of us.

Then the second part of this is establishing trust, because I can ask all the questions in the world, which is ultimately where we’re going with disruptive discovery. It’s all about asking those questions that matter, but if someone doesn’t trust me, then those questions are going to be marginally effective at best. Trust is so misunderstood. Trust is not an emotion. There are emotions involved in trust, but it is not an emotion, it is a decision we make situation to situation. That customer is looking at me. The decision they’re making about me is based on three requisites, capability, reliability, and sincerity. What that means in practical terms, they’re looking at me going, whatever I’m saying, “Can you do it? Will you do it? Why are you doing it?”

Once I’ve got the right mindset, once trust has been established, then I start a very general questioning process. I call it surface discovery, where I’m really trying to get a snapshot of where somebody is in their current situation, and where they want to be, which would be their aspirational state. The difference between those two is what I call an opening.

Let’s take this now to floor care services. If I walk into a building, and I’m talking to a client, who let’s say they’ve got dirty carpet. I start asking them, “Hey, what are you doing today? How’s it going?” What I’m trying to do is figure out their current state. Then you get some questions around, how could things be better? What are your expectations? You’re trying to figure out, where are they likely to be? Their aspirational state. As sales professionals, you want the biggest difference between current and aspirational as you could possibly have. That’s either through helping a customer realize that things are actually not as good as they think they are, or that things could be a lot better than they think they can be. Once you establish that opening, you get trust established, that is when you can start to break through the surface and really dive into this disruptive discovery process. That’s where these 10 questions that matter come into to play.

 In the book, there’s a chapter for each question. It talks about what is the question? Why do you ask it? When do you ask it? How do you ask it? Then example. I’m going to stop talking and turn it back over to you. Sorry for hijacking.

Fred Diamond: Why don’t you give us an example? The 10 questions that matter. You have 10 chapters in the book, why don’t we take two or three of them and give us an understanding of why these specific questions make a difference?

Geoff Snavely:  I always keep a list of the 10 questions right here. Question that matters number one is a what if question. What if can be asked simply by a question structured in a way that says, “What if?” Fill in the blank. Or it could be if-then question. If this happens, then what? A what if question is really meant to help people envision the future by predicting how potential outcomes could play out. You’re asking that question to a customer and letting them realize some of this on their own. You’re guiding them through that buying process.

There’s range finding questions, that really helps you understand based on people’s experiences, what their expectations are in extreme terms. Tell me about the best scenario that you’ve experienced with, fill in the blank, or the worst experience that you’ve had with, fill in the blank. Whether it be around a product or service with your current vendor, or something else that you might be discussing with them. There’s risk-reward questions which helps people rationally think about situations that takes the emotion out of it. It helps them with their decision making.

Thinking about things in terms of, “I can benefit in this way, but is it worth me taking on this risk to do so?” It’s really an understanding of which type of question would you use in a given situation. Then what is the best way to ask those questions? Then there’s listening skills that are obviously very important that once you ask a question, what are you going to do with the information that comes back to you? We talk about attentive and interactive listening skills and that type of thing.

Fred Diamond: Do you recommend that people take notes when they ask the questions?

Geoff Snavely: Yes, I know I do. That depends on the individual. I do, because I want to make sure that I’m really focused on the interaction itself, and that I am fully engaged, and that I’m listening. If I’m trying to remember things, or if I have information coming back to me and I go, “I want to remember that,” that’s going to be a distraction to me. Once I have something written, and I do it electronically. If I’ve got a laptop with me, or phones these days, great way to take notes. I do a lot of that. If I need to ask someone if they’re okay with that, then I’ll do so or take pictures. I just feel so much better once I have something committed to writing or typing. That way I can move on and stay present. How about you? Do you take notes? Or do you recommend people taking notes?

Fred Diamond: Absolutely. I take notes, pen and paper. If I’m just meeting somebody for lunch, then it’s more of a partner type of thing, not a customer call. I may bring my phone, and I may take notes on my phone. If I’m going to meet with a prospect or a customer, I always bring a notepad. It could be anything, similar to this old school, feels like 50 cents at Staples. The other thing too is your brain works differently when you write things down. I was a marketing manager for various tech companies. I called a sales rep who was my sales rep 30 years prior. I said to him, “How was I different? How did you know to serve me? Because you’re a great sales rep.” He said I kept all my notes, I took notes, and I remember you said in one of our meetings something and I was able to go back.  

Geoff Snavely: One last thing on taking notes. Believe it or not, taking notes is a listening skill. It is a form of nonverbal communication, and that is part of listening and even empathizing, when somebody sees that you’re interested, not just interested, but to the point that you are trying to capture something they’ve said or something you’ve discovered together, that shows you care, it shows empathy. It encourages people to talk even more. It’s another way leaning into a conversation to let people know that, “Hey, man, tell me more. This is good.” Taking notes can have that kind of effect as well. Sorry about that.

Fred Diamond: No, that’s fine. I definitely agree with that. How do you differentiate yourself? We’re talking about disruptive discovery. One of the big things, Geoff Snavely, we talk about a lot on The Sales Game Changers podcast, is the need to differentiate yourself.

As a matter of fact, The Institute for Excellence in Sales, we give an award every year to the IES sales speaker of the year, typically it’s an author. This year, the award went to Lee Salz who wrote a book called Sales Differentiation. He also wrote a book called Sell Different. His whole premise was, your customer is meeting with so many people that look like you, the technology may be very, very slim different. The service may be slim different. You have to differentiate yourselves. Is it the questions that differentiate you or is there something else that goes into it that will differentiate? Is cleaning floor, do you have like a thousand competitors or is there two?  I’m curious on how you differentiate yourself.

Geoff Snavely: In the world of commercial floor and textile care, what you compete against is a mindset. We are a specialist company. A lot of what we do is handled by, whether it be janitorial companies or other companies that do a whole portfolio of services, and it’s like, “Oh, and we can take care of your floors and furniture.” But that’s what we do. That is our specialty. We have full-time guys that that’s their career. That in and of itself is a differentiator. Now, for me, personally, I do get a lot of people that when I ask a question, they just laugh, “Oh, here we go.” I’m known as the question asking guy.

What I would tell people, “Yes, I love asking questions.” To me, asking questions is a means to an end. I love understanding stuff. To me, discovery means uncovering something new. I love it. I’m passionate about it, to use a cliché, but I am passionate about learning new things, uncovering new things. I have just found the best way to do that, once you have trust established and the right mindset, is by asking questions. You do have to ask the right questions and at the right time in the right way. I wish one of my customers, or one of my coworkers or someone I network with was sitting here could answer that question. I would hope that what makes me different is this energy and enthusiasm around understanding stuff. If that means I annoy people with the questions a little bit, then, guilty as charged.

Fred Diamond: Geoff, we have a lot of people who listen to The Sales Game Changers podcasts around the globe who sell things like technology and IT related services, software. That’s really where most of the listeners and most of the members of the Institute for Excellence in Sales, companies like Red Hat and Salesforce and Amazon, they’re in the tech space. Talking about asking the right questions, what can you tell them that would surprise them about selling the type of service that you sell?

Geoff Snavely: My answer might be boring, but I don’t think there’s any difference. We clean floors, it’s not sexy. People don’t necessarily jump up and down and get excited about cleaning floors. If you say, “I’m going to come talk to you about cleaning your carpet.” Versus, ” Hey, I want to come talk to you about the newest, greatest software.” They might even find it easier to get appointments because of that, but what I can tell you from a buying process standpoint, it’s the same thing. It’s all about understanding people’s unique needs.

That is synonymous. Understanding needs is synonymous with uncovering the stuff that really matters. Whether it’s software, whether you’re selling coffee services, window washing, or if you’re selling widgets. It is all about understanding the needs of that customer, and then connecting the dots between their unique needs and the value proposition of whatever it is that you’re selling. I can’t speak intelligently to what type of questions are most applicable in the world of software and IT. I would imagine some work in most situations better than others. I don’t know that. To me, from an overall big picture process standpoint, facilitation process, I wouldn’t coach, train any salesperson differently depending on their industry. From a big picture standpoint.

Fred Diamond: You talk about the 10 questions that matter. What is your go-to question? What is the Geoff Snavely trademarked question that when you bring a couple of your sales reps with you on a call, that they’re waiting for that question to come up? I have mine, but you go with yours first.

Geoff Snavely: Mine is, why? Not to be a nuisance about it. I really do think that asking why gives you an opportunity to explore a deeper level of understanding around core purpose or reason, but you got to do it in the right way. That is the question that I probably ask the most. My favorite question is probably, so what? So what really cuts to the chase, and it challenges relevance, substance, potential. And you don’t just blurt out, “So what?” There are ways to ask that, that helps people challenge whatever paradigm that they might be stuck on or whatever thinking they’re just in it, and they can’t get out of it. By asking them, “So what?” in the right way, it forces them to rethink their stuckness.

Fred Diamond: Two quick comments. One is, we’ve had a guest on, his name is Rob Jolles. He said his favorite question was, “And?” Basically, and? Then the customer is like, “Oh, and…” My favorite question is, “Where do you want to be in a year or maybe in two years?” Five years, it’s far away. Where do you want to be in a year? What’s your main goal to get there? I’m curious as we come down towards the end. What if the customer can’t answer his or her why? I’m curious if you asked that question and you’re out there with a customer. It’s a good lead for you to sell the unique floor cleaning services you offer and anything else. If I’m selling medical devices, I’m selling to someone in the hospital world. They probably know what their why is. They’ve probably gone that route.

Maybe there was a parent that was sick or something and they wanted to cure cancer or whatever it might be. A lot of times when you talk to someone in IT, they’re like, “That’s my job.” Or, in government, “That’s my job.” Then when you really get deep, you can get to the why. What if the customer struggles? What if you ask them the why questions and they just, “Because I need the floors cleaned.” Or, ” I’ve been told I need to get the floors cleaned.” Or, “Someone slipped last week, and our attorney said that it was because there was a rag on the floor.” Or something like that. What if the customer struggles? What do you do?

Geoff Snavely: I’ll answer the why question by asking why. What I want to know in that situation is why can’t they answer it? Is it a trust situation? Is it that they are capable of answering it, but they aren’t going to because the trust isn’t there? That just means that they weren’t ready for that. That’s why these questions that matter are disruptive in their own way, because you are trying to go deeper. If someone pushes back, that means they weren’t ready to answer it. If you get that sense, that why, whatever it is that you’re challenging them on is a trust issue, you got to backup and address the trust component.

If it’s that they just don’t know how to articulate the answer, help them. Maybe you go back and ask the question in a different way. Maybe you’re more specific. Or maybe you use one of the other questions to help to uncover that core purpose, cause or reason in a different way. I have found though, usually, you can’t just ask, why? It’s too big, it’s too open. It’s got to be why, fill in the blank. The more specific you can be with that particular type of question, the better answer you’re going to get.

Fred Diamond: I have one last question here before I ask you for your final action step up. I don’t really know the floor cleaning space, but let’s say the customer just asked for price. I don’t know if your priced per hour or by square foot or whatever it is. Let’s say you get a lead for a hospital, or whatever it might be. The customer calls and says, “I need pricing right away on three floors.” Whatever it might be, however you price your thing. We talk about this a lot. We always say if a customer calls just asking for price, you’ve pretty much lost the deal, or you’ve never really been considered and they’re looking to compare you to somebody else.

In your industry, let’s say that somebody reaches out and says, “What’s the price to clean three floors every other week?” or whatever it might be. They don’t want to tell you their why. They don’t want to hear the other 10 questions, they just want to know, “I need a price by today at close of business.” Most of the people listening to the show are in tech, they’re in services, professional services, software, etc. How do you handle that question?

Geoff Snavely: That is setting up for a transactional relationship. We could probably spend hours talking about this. To me, in short, this is all about helping people with their specific needs. What I would try to understand as quickly as I can is, is price the only way that I can help you with your situation? Is giving you a better price than what you have today the only way I can help you? If so, all right, I could throw a price at it. Then it’s like, “How much time am I going to have to invest it?” But what I really want to understand is, are there other ways I can help you? Do you have other needs? Your current situation, is your current and aspirational, is it very close together, that opening? Or is it actually further? If I can find other ways to help you, then we can have a relationship based on something other than just price.

Fred Diamond: Once again, we talk today with Geoff Snavely, congratulations on the book.

We have the great Tom Snyder in common, Tom has been a nominee for the finalist two years in a row for the IES Sales Speaker of the Year. He has graced our live stage, he has been a keynote speaker at our award event. He’s also been on this virtual show many, many times. We’re very grateful for Tom and especially grateful for introducing us to you. I want to acknowledge you for writing a really good book. As I mentioned in the beginning, I read everything that people send to me, some of it’s crap, some of it’s not really particularly pertinent. This was an interesting book. You’re obviously a creative guy, your writing style was different. I’m sure your daughters and your wife, hopefully, are proud of you.

Geoff Snavely: Thank you very much Fred, I’m honored that you read it and gave me that feedback. Tom Snyder actually gave an endorsement that’s in the book. Big Tom fan and a shout out to him.

Fred Diamond:  He actually wrote the foreword to my book, Insights for Sales Game Changers. Give us a final action step. You’ve given us a lot of interesting and great ideas on the questions to ask in mindset and things like that. Give us a specific action step that people listening to today’s podcast should take to implement right now to take their sales career to the next level.

Geoff Snavely: Here’s a paradox. If you want to take your sales career to the next level, stop selling. What I mean by that is you can actually sell more by not trying to sell something. Instead, view your role as helping people, helping customers understand their unique needs. Stop trying to sell and help people understand what it is they need to get them to a better place.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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