One of the fundamental skills of a great energy consultant is the ability to listen. The first step to effectively laying the groundwork for superior consulting services begins by learning who your customer is and understanding what they need. Without this knowledge, you are left guessing what your customer wants, assuming you know their needs and must throw everything but the kitchen sink at them in order to ensure you cover their interests. This approach is product-centric and shows your customer – whether accurately or not – that they are not your focus. Instead, a customer-centric approach that starts with you asking questions, establishes trust and allows you to gain knowledge of the customer’s situation, so you can display your expertise.

Read our post titled Value-Added Selling: How To Transform Your Sales Process To Achieve Greater Success to learn how your approach can become customer-centric.

Listening doesn’t mean simply asking a question, getting a response and moving on in the conversation, however. Listening is active. Listening is discovering.

So, how do you use customer discovery to add value to the sales process and win over your customers? Follow the 5 steps below.

Step 1: Don’t Make These Mistakes

Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s cover some insights about ineffective listening:

  • Don’t make the mistake of rapidly reading through your list of prepared questions. The discovery process is not an interview. A prospect will respond poorly to this method and may become uncooperative.
  • Avoid responding to a prospect’s answers with mindless positivity. Examples of this would be: “Great!”, “Awesome!”, etc. These responses feel insincere and display (whether accurately or not) that you aren’t truly listening to what is being said.
  • Being either overly aggressive or submissive when asking your questions. Don’t try and control the conversation with intimidation and conversely, don’t feel you need to walk on eggshells either. 

So how do you ask discovery questions?

Laura Humphreys from Liber8 Your Business recommends a 4-step method composed of 10 total questions that you can use in your discovery process. We recommend that you refer to this method as your overall guide for how to approach the discovery phase; although 10 questions might not be enough. The questions that you prepare using this method should only be your initial questions. Be ready to follow up on these questions with additional digging. We have taken excerpts from Humphreys’ list and built on them further in order to mold this strategy appropriately for the energy industry.

Step 2: Uncover needs – Six or more questions

Ask open-ended questions (note: open-ended questions typically begin with the letter ‘w’ – what, who, when, why?) to discover how your prospect feels about their current situation and what plans are in place for the future.  Find out who your competition is and what they are doing correctly (or incorrectly).  Find out the frustrations your prospect has.

Write down six or more ‘needs-based’ questions relevant to your product or service.  Here are some samples:

  • Would you mind telling me a little bit about your current energy situation?
  • Who do you currently use for energy? If currently with a third-party supplier, follow up with: How did you choose (said supplier)?
  • What’s working for you?
  • What’s not working?
  • What are your main frustrations?
  • What would you like to change about things?
  • What are your short-term goals?
  • What are your long-term goals?
  • Will you be adding locations or expanding your current location(s) within the next year?
  • Where do you put the emphasis regarding price, quality, and service?
  • What is your timeline for completing this project?
  • Will your focus be on your paid rate, the amount of energy you consume, or both?

Step 3: Ask an invitation question – one question

This is where you ask your prospect if they’d like to know more about how you could meet their needs.

Here’s an example of an invitation question:

“From what you’ve told me, it sounds like” (insert your offer here: example – energy brokerage and energy efficiency consulting) “could really make a positive impact for you.  Would you like me to give you a brief description of how it works?”

Have your description ‘sales pitch’ ready.  As soon as you get the go-ahead, give a brief, concise and enthusiastic description of your product/service (trying to apply this description towards the needs you have just uncovered).

Step 4: Ask a leading question – one question

Here you are leading your prospect to an affirmative response to your final offer.  It goes like this:

“Does this sound like something that can solve your problems / make you feel better / address your issues?”

Step 5: Ask to get an action – two questions

Start with a positive clarification statement. Next, ask a question implying some sort of action by the prospect and then follow up with a second question where your prospect has options and can pick the action to take.

“I feel really good about this, I know this is going to work well for us. The next step is gathering recent copies of your utility bills so that we can analyze your historical usage and submit your account to third party suppliers for bids. What’s the best way to source these documents? Shall we retrieve them now? If that’s challenging, I am more than happy to come back in a day or two after you’ve had time to collect them and pick them up. What works best for you?”

As Laura points out with this strategy, our first question implies that the prospect is going to take action now, while the second question gives them a choice as to the action they will take.

With your discovery strategy taking shape, always remember that your goal is to dig, dig and dig a little more. Don’t base your understanding on assumptions. Rather, try your best to get your prospect to respond with enough detail that even a fifth grader would understand. Here is an example to add color to this:

Prospect: “I’d like to spend less money on my energy.”

Ineffective consultant: (assuming that the prospect simply wants a reduced rate on their energy) “Great! We can find you a lower rate on your energy.”

Effective consultant: “Ok. How exactly would you like to accomplish this? What level of involvement do you want to have in your energy cost reduction? Are you looking to merely lower the cost by securing a contract at a lower rate or would you like to tackle this issue with a more comprehensive solution where you reduce the amount of energy you use as well as secure the lowest rate available? This will help me understand exactly what you’re looking for as I begin to source solutions to your energy needs.”

The point here is that you should ask follow up questions and dig deeper. Sometimes it takes asking a question like “Why?” multiple times before you get to the root of the problem or have a clear understanding of what the prospect really wants.

Some examples may be:

  • “What exactly do you mean by that?”
  • “Can you give me an example?”
  • “Do you mind elaborating on that point?”

By doing this, you will immediately stand out and set yourself apart from the vast majority of energy consultants. You will demonstrate that you genuinely care, reassure the prospect that you understand them, and ultimately, gain their trust.

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