Customers are bound to bring up issues that sit outside of your area of expertise but that your offerings may be able to address. Here’s an exercise to help you to become more comfortable guiding conversations on issues that are outside of your area of expertise.

If you’re a subject matter expert, you may inadvertently nudge your sales conversations back to topics near your area of expertise. A prospect might mention a handful of issues they’re facing, but you end up spending most of the conversation exploring the issues with which you're most familiar.

In order to become more comfortable digging into customer problems with which you might be less familiar, practice asking discovery questions with people who have a problem entirely unrelated to your offerings and area of expertise. (Here’s a list of discovery questions if you’d like some examples.)

The Exercise

Find a colleague, friend, or family member and ask them to identify a problem they’re currently facing. The problem can be of any size or subject; they just need to be willing to have a casual conversation about it.

Then, use your list of discovery questions and walk through the problem with them. Make sure to suspend disbelief during the exercise—assume that your company has a magic wand that can solve any problem. As during any discovery process, avoid the urge to offer advice. Instead, just listen, empathize when appropriate, and ask clarifying questions.

At the end of the discovery questions, ask your partner how the questioning impacted them. Was the questioning uncomfortable at any point? Did their perception of the problem change? How are they feeling about the problem now?

Finally, complete a self-reflection. When were you uncomfortable during the exercise? When were you comfortable? Were you able to gather information that increased your understanding of the problem? How did your partner seem at the beginning of the questioning as compared to the end of the questioning?

This exercise will help you to recognize your ability to gather information in areas that are not your area of expertise. You may also see that guiding your partner through the discovery process is inherently beneficial to them. Even though you didn’t offer any advice, your partner will have a clearer understanding of their own problems and may even feel some relief.

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