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    Discovery resistance in complex B2B sales

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    At the peak of my Solution Selling business, in the mid-90s, I was speaking to one of our clients. He was the VP of Sales of an enterprise B2B salesforce of 200 reps, and he was frustrated. He was selling highly complex software as a service application to chemical, drug, and oil companies.

    Engineers sold it to engineers. The engineer sellers understood the technical benefits of using their software and could explain the use of the software to their engineer buyers.

    Where they struggled was having intelligent conversations with the CFO member of their buying committees. That's why he decided to implement Solution Selling – to help his engineer sellers have intelligent conversations with CFOs.

    We composed lists of CFO-level discovery questions and trained his engineer sellers on how to use them. After six months of implementing efforts, he said to me, Mike, my top 20% LOVE Solution Selling, but my bottom 80% stop using it two weeks after the workshop! I was not able to help him with that problem because, at the time, I did not yet know how to solve his problem.

    Solution Selling Review

    I am the author of the "Solution Selling" sales methodology. My primary objective in creating Solution Selling was to help the enterprise B2B sales world improve on the "80/20 Rule" of enterprise sales – 80% of the revenue generated by 20% of the people with sales quotas.

    In the complex enterprise B2B sales world, one of the biggest challenges my customers have faced over the years is 'time to solution expertise.' The time it takes newly hired sellers (despite their previous experience in many cases) to know their new product offering so well that they can easily recognize buyer problems and desires that can be satisfied with their product offering. The typical time to solution expertise range I witnessed was from 12 to 24 months, depending on complexity.

    Two critical components of the Solution Selling "Solution" were artificial intelligence and artificial patience. Lists of discovery questions for precisely targeted buyer personas written by the most situationally competent people in their company were the artificial intelligence. These artificial intelligence questions prompted sellers to ask specific diagnostic questions to specific buyer personas. By asking their buyers intelligent questions they were capable of answering, the buyers would grow to trust the seller's character and competence.

    My model for this was doctors. When we go to a doctor for the first time, most of us learn to trust this new doctor by the questions they ask us. After a few good diagnostic questions, most of us start to trust our new doctor acquaintance. I wanted B2B sellers to be able to build their trust and competence in the eyes of their buyers the same way – asking competent diagnostic questions written to favor the company's product offerings – just like a doctor diagnosing an ailment. Once a problem is well defined, we are halfway to a solution!

    The artificial patience idea originated for me in my early sales training. I learned a 'map' of basic questioning etiquette – one 'open' question followed by multiple 'control' questions, followed by one 'confirm' question.

    We trained enterprise B2B sales forces to follow this defined discovery process. Why did the top 20% LOVE Solution Selling?

    Most top 20% sellers have an intuitive ability the bottom 80% lack – the ability to emotionally connect and build trust with strangers in a very short amount of time. Top 20% sellers have the intuitive ability NOT to bring out their list of discovery questions (no matter how good they are) UNTIL the buyer demonstrates that his/her discovery resistance has diminished. Thus, once they feel buyer trust, they can now use discovery questions written by people with situational expertise about specific problems and potential solutions. The top 20% soared!

    Missed Sales Goals due to Discovery Resistance

    Lately, I have been encountering elite B2B sales forces that seem to have everything going for them – highly competent, high character sellers, and years of sales experience. Yet, in 2021, 80% of their sellers struggle to meet their sales goals and expectations.

    Top sellers have an intuitive ability to emotionally connect and build trust with strangers quickly.

    The REASON for the missed sales 2021 goals is the same as it was in 1995 – DISCOVERY RESISTANCE by their potential buyers.

    When calling on targeted buyers, buyers who should be interested in what they have to offer, these buyers are resisting their efforts to get them to open up and discuss the difficulties of their current situations.

    How do we know? Another Mike Bosworth' fundamental principle' has always been, no pain, no change. When I was an enterprise B2B sales manager, and when I was an independent sales trainer, I told my sellers that a 'suspect' becomes a 'prospect' when a targeted buyer trusts you enough to share their pain with you. With our Story Seekers customers, when a buyer admits pain to their seller, that 'Public Display of Trust' tells us that our prospect is now over his/her Discovery Resistance! Our smart CRM system converts the opportunity from an (S) suspect to a (P) prospect.

    Discovery Resistance – Two Types

    Discovery resistance is resistance to being questioned – pushback – verbalized or not, from a person you would like to get to know.

    Two professions experience Discovery Resistance regularly – salespeople and couples therapists.

    My wife, Jennifer Lehr, is a couples therapist. Most couples who seek her services are female led with reluctant male partners. For most of these men, the typical source of their discovery resistance is shame. Shame about his unhappy relationship, shame about his contribution to the deterioration of his marriage. Shame about the negative impact on his kids. Shame if any of his friends find out he is going to therapy.

    The source of Discovery Resistance when it comes to salespeople is very different. Discovery Resistance with salespeople comes from the 99% of all of us who have come away from previous encounters with 'salespeople' feeling coerced, pressured, manipulated, or PUSHED into doing something that we did not want to do. Sometimes that regret almost happened in real-time!

    Salespeople come with the 'original sin' of being a salesperson. When meeting potential buyers for the first time, you are in danger of becoming the emotional victim of all the bad experiences your buyer has had, life-to-date, with other salespeople.

    Once burned, twice shy!

    Think about the discovery resistance you experience when you are in a retail store and a seller approaches you with the 'can I help you' question, and you give the 'I'm just looking' answer.

    Why did the bottom 80% stop using Solution Selling?

    The primary REASON for the missed sales goals in 1995 is the same in 2021. In the application software world, I learned that you could not prescribe an intelligent solution until you have made a thorough diagnosis of the buyer's problem. In 1995, we trained sellers to ask questions authored by situational experts in their organization. The bottom 80% of my 1995 VP Sales' sellers did not have the intuitive ability to connect and build trust with new suspects quickly.

    Their discomfort caused them to take out their list of intelligent discovery questions too soon – BEFORE their buyer had demonstrated elimination of their discovery resistance by admitting a problem to the seller. The premature use of discovery questions brought out the (usually via body language) response of "I don't trust you enough yet to answer those questions."

    The Cure for Discovery Resistance

    Discovery resistance by a buyer is the demonstration that he/she does not trust the seller well enough to answer discovery questions – no matter how well written they are! But there is a cure – the power of story.

    Today we are training sellers to use the power of story to eliminate the discovery resistance BEFORE they get out their list of discovery questions. Human creatures have been using the power of story for the past 200,000+ years. Long before written language, stories have been used to pass on tribal knowledge and used by leaders to motivate people to do difficult things that need to be done. Today, smart parents get their very young children hooked on anticipating and enjoying stories. Parents use story anticipation to motivate kids to get ready for and get into bed! Once in bed, most stories begin with "Once upon a time." Adults anticipate and enjoy stories too. They have watched the brains of adults in MRI machines when they anticipate a story. The critical left brain deactivates, and the right brain (channel to our five senses and our feelings) opens up.

    When adults anticipate a story, they experience a paradox of feelings. On the one hand, they can say to themselves, "Oh, a story! I don't have to DO anything; I can relax and enjoy." On the other hand of the paradox, the adult unconscious brain tells them, "This might be important information you might have to remember, so you had better pay attention." What a wonderful state of mind for sellers to leverage!

    Peer Curiosity

    Professional peer curiosity is a powerful feeling in most professional adults. If I meet you at a trade show and your badge tells me you are a CISO (Chief Information Security Officer). I say to you, "Oh, you are a CISO! Can I share a quick story with you about a CISO I have been working with for the past 18 months?" the odds are about 99% that you will say "yes!" In ten seconds, I get you (a stranger) to grant me 60 seconds of storytime. You are now anticipating a story about one of your peers.

    What if I could tell you that story conversationally in 60 seconds?

    What if that story had a 'setting' where I introduce your peer character to you? – Background, resume details, type of organization, and a funny detail about her?

    What if that story had the professional struggle of your peer? Struggle with C-level execs displeased with her (for reasons that your product directly addresses)? – Negative business impact of the problem, security risks, and pressures she faces every day?

    What if that story had a scenario where your peer (my customer hero) discovered 18 months ago that your organization could give her the capabilities she needed to fix her problems? That she decided to give your organization a shot at helping her become a hero?

    What if that story had current business metrics around her successful use of your technology? And some emotional benefit too? – more time with family, potential promotion, etc.

    Peer Curiosity to Peer Envy

    At the end of your 60-second peer story, you then transition the conversation to him/her with something like, "Enough about me/us; what's going on with you?"

    Your well-constructed peer story led this stranger to some powerful emotional conclusions! Emotional conclusions like "This person understands how hard my job is; this person has already helped one of my peers solve a problem I have not yet solved. He seems genuine and has not yet once reminded me of other sleazy salespeople?"

    How will you know? Because if the story is good, (s)he will respond by talking openly and freely. (S)he might even tell you (s)he has been struggling with the same problem. Openly sharing with you demonstrates that this buyer's discovery resistance is gone!

    You will still have to use your expert discovery questions. Once your buyer demonstrates his/her trust in you by admitting his/her pain to you, you still will have the regular activities you need to manage/accomplish to close this business. You will get to play 'doctor' by building a "Buying Vision" in the mind of your prospect where he/she can 'see' their future ability to respond to their problem is a better way by using your offering.

    Admitting pain to a seller is a HUGE 'public display of trust' by a potential buyer. In my world, that moment is when my stranger of a few minutes converts right before my very eyes from a 'suspect' to a 'prospect' – a BIG event in most CRM systems too.

    Peer Envy

    Let me conclude with an opinion (mine) that peer envy is a compelling emotional buying reason in the B2B enterprise sales world. People make emotional decisions for logical reasons. Yes, your buyer will still need proof you can deliver on their buying vision. Yes, your buyer will still need to volunteer to give you access to the rest of the silo heads on the buying committee. Yes, you will still have to negotiate and control the proposal process. etc., etc.

    Peer envy is the emotional fuel buyers need to slog through long, complex, enterprise B2B buying cycles. Using carefully crafted and practiced 'customer hero' stories will enable you to convert peer curiosity to peer envy.

    Good selling!

    Article originally published on Feb 6, 2022 on The STORY Seekers Blog
    Mike Bosworth
    Published April 10, 2022
    By Mike Bosworth

    I am an author of three books on selling, a keynote speaker on sales, marketing, and leadership, and in my later years, enjoy being known as a ‘sales philosopher.’

    My passion is helping people land the job of their dreams and assisting salespeople in exceeding their goals and supporting their families. I enjoy leading experiential workshops on sales and leadership.

    I began my career in the information technology industry in 1972 on the Help Desk for Xerox Computer Services. I was their top new business salesperson in 1975, managed the “Branch of the Year” in 1979, and was promoted to Manager of Field Sales in 1980. I founded my Solution Selling business in 1983.

    I currently live on Orcas Island, Washington. I enjoy ‘awe walks’ in nature every day and you can email me directly at I have a B.S. in Business Management and Marketing from California State Polytechnic University.

    Find out more about Mike Bosworth on LinkedIn