Closing calls are sexy. It's the glamorous part of the sales process where a deal gets moved across the line, contracts get signed, and commission checks go right into your pocket. However, you can't get there without first doing a discovery call.
Discovery calls are important because they increase the chances of a closed deal later down the line. Depending on who you sell to and what you sell, you could spend 10 to 20 hours with your prospect. You should have a good idea of whether the deal will close and for how much.
Luckily, you can find out right from the start. In this post, you’ll learn what a discovery call is and the best questions you could ask to uncover whether your prospect is a good fit. Let’s get started.
What is a discovery call?
A discovery call is the first conversation with a prospect after showing interest in your product or service. This call will uncover the prospect’s pain points, and goals, and help build rapport. Ultimately, the questions asked during a discovery call determine if the prospect is a fit and whether or not to continue moving them through the sales process.
In many cases, the discovery call is the most important step in the sales process. It sets the tone for the entire relationship, both pre- and post-sale. Either you’ll be able to establish an authoritative relationship or you’ll be stuck playing catch up.
I’ve had deals that I thought would be relatively standard, but because I didn’t dive deep in discovery, they ended up being unduly complex.
Sales Discovery Process
The sales discovery process is your first step in the connect phase of the sales process. In the sales discovery process, you will research your prospect, connect by phone, ask them key qualifying questions, answer any questions they have, solve their challenges, and hopefully move them along the sales pipeline.
Before calling your prospect, you'll need to do a bit of preparation and be ready to share insights.
- Research the prospect and their company: It’s always best to do a little research on your prospect before meeting with them. This will provide useful background information and may inform questions you’d like to ask during your call.
- Gather what you’re looking for in a customer: You’ll want to be clear on what you can and cannot offer the prospect prior to speaking with them. Review your buyer personas, and take into account any region or pricing restrictions.
- Separate your questions into 4 segments: staging, qualifying, disqualifying, and next steps. This will help your conversation flow in a natural progression chronologically.
- Share relevant insights: Do you have industry insights that would be relevant to your prospect’s concerns? If so, share them. This could be statistics or case studies that show how your product helped similar organizations.
- Be ready to connect your solution to the prospect’s goals: Discovery calls help you qualify a prospect, but they are also an important opportunity to sell your product. Demonstrate how your solution will help their organization achieve its goals. Everything you suggest should be tailored to their needs.
The importance of the discovery call can’t be overstated — here’s why.
Why are discovery calls important?
Discovery calls are crucial for sales professionals to understand the details of a prospect’s situation. Luckily, most prospects are okay with participating in a discovery call, as long as it’s not an interrogation.
Here are some benefits of the discovery call.
1. Prospects will better understand your business and product.
Prospects will leave the discovery call knowing who you are and what your company is all about. They might have specific questions about a product feature or a term, which gives you an opportunity to gauge and capture their interest.
Tip: Having solid product knowledge is critical for effectively engaging prospects during the discovery call.
2. You will have a chance to show you’re invested in their success.
If you do the call well, prospects will be assured that you understand their problem and that you will make a professional assessment to determine if you can help them or not. In doing so, you’ll show them that you’re invested in their success and not just getting their money.
Be sure to double-check any information that’s already associated with the prospect in your organization’s sales software. Look through your CRM or lead management tool to ensure you’re well acquainted with the prospect’s business.
3. You can gauge your chances of winning their business.
The discovery call will give you an opportunity to qualify your prospect and determine their business pain, their influence within the organization, their willingness to advocate for your product, and their preliminary attitude toward purchasing your product versus a competitor’s. You can use a sales qualification framework such as BANT or a BANT alternative to get this done.
The list of benefits can go and on, but let’s get right to it. Below, I’ve listed my go-to discovery questions. You won’t be able to cover every question on every call — and it might not make sense to.
You’ll see that they’re all open-ended questions. That’s because open-ended questions do a better job of getting the prospect to talk beyond a “yes” or “no” answer. Qualify your prospect using the following questions and disqualify at any point if it becomes clear they’re a bad fit.
Discovery questions are questions you ask a prospect to gauge whether or not they are a good fit for your product or service. These questions should be open-ended and focus on the prospect’s obstacles, processes, and goals as they relate to the product or service you are offering.
The questions below can be separated into four subsections within the sales discovery process: setting the stage, qualifying the prospect, disqualifying the prospect, and establishing the next step. Let’s take a closer look.
We'll assign each of the questions above to the appropriate part of the sales discovery process.
Questions That Set the Stage
This is where you validate your research and learn about the customer’s situation. This gives you the proper insight you need to move forward.
1. Tell me about your company.
This seemingly simple question begins with an easy topic: The prospect’s own company. This gives them a chance to introduce themselves in their own terms, but be careful: If you ask this question too early, it might seem like you didn’t do any research at all. Begin by stating what you already know, then ask the question so they can build upon your description of their business.
2. Tell me about your role. What do you do day-to-day?
With this question, you can begin to find out more about the employee (not the business) in a more casual, low-pressure way. No need to dive into the nitty-gritty, and the best part is that they’ll be excited to share.
3. What metrics are you responsible for?
Here’s where the pressure begins to mount. If they don’t touch on what they're responsible for during the previous question, then this will uncover that information. Note that the word “metric” is important here, since you’re asking about a quantifiable measure of success. That way, you can quantify how much your product can increase that metric.
Questions That Qualify
After you’ve learned about your prospect, it’s time to identify their goals and clarify their pain points. You can use the Budget, Authority, Need, and Timeline (BANT) framework to help formulate the questions you'll be asking during your discovery call.
Learn about their problems so you can solve for the customer.
4. Tell me about your goals (financial, customer-related, operational).
You might also append a timeline to this question: Tell me about your goals for the next month/quarter/year. Choose a timeline depending on the implementation process of your product. For instance, if you sell an enterprise-level tool that takes six months to set up, you might ask about yearly goals instead of monthly goals.
5. When do you need to achieve these goals?
While the prior question might hint at a timeline, this question explicitly asks when your prospect must achieve the goal. A yearly goal might be “To increase revenue by 5% year-over-year,” but the cut-off date for that is in three months, just in time for the New Year. “Yearly” does not mean “next year.” It could be as soon as this quarter.
6. What problem are you trying to solve?
If this question seems vague to you, that’s because it’s meant to be. You won’t pigeonhole the prospect into giving you a certain answer. By giving them a chance to bring up any problem they’re facing, you can find out their business challenges at a more overarching level.
7. Are you having problems in [area as it relates to the product]?
Now, this question gets a little more specific. We’re still keeping it open-ended, but you’re driving them toward a distinct area of the business. While this is a yes or no question, it’ll prompt the prospect to think more deeply about their challenges.
8. What’s the source of that problem?
It’s important to follow up with this question to uncover pain points or areas of friction. A prospect may know what their problem is, but if you don’t understand why they’re having the problem, you won’t be able to hone in on that source as something you’ll eliminate. Knowing the source of the problem is key to creating an irresistible sales pitch.
9. Why is it a priority today?
You could potentially skip over this question if your prospect naturally reveals why it’s a priority in their previous answer. That said, knowing exactly why it’s a priority can help you uncover how urgent this problem is for your prospect.
10. Why hasn’t it been addressed before?
Knowing the roadblocks your prospect has faced in solving the problem can hint at the roadblocks they’re facing now (or could potentially face in the future). For instance, if your prospect cites budget as an issue, then you’ll know to focus on that as a qualifying factor.
11. What do you think could be a potential solution? Why?
With this question, you’ll find out how the prospect envisions resolving the problem even without your product.
12. What would a successful outcome look like?
Here, you’ll find out what their image of success looks like. Is it realistic? Is it something your product can help them achieve? Listen without judgment, but be sure to take note of their expectations to confirm whether you can actually help.
13. If you didn’t choose a product, do you have a plan in place to address this problem?
Ask this question to find out, in a different way, just how urgently they need the product to solve their challenges. If they say they don’t have a plan in place or can’t envision solving the problem another way, then they are most definitely a good-fit prospect.
Questions That Disqualify
Next, ask questions that might disqualify the prospect. Find out what you can about the decision process, from budget to scheduling.
14. What are your primary roadblocks to implementing this plan?
Even if you have an idea of the roadblocks the prospect will face, it’s still important to ask this question so you can get an answer straight from them.
15. What’s your timeline for implementation?
This will give you a good idea of whether your product’s implementation timeline and your prospect’s timeline align. If not, then they’re not a good fit.
16. What’s the approximate budget for solving this problem?
Is there enough money to invest in a new product or project? When it comes to sales, it’s never too early to talk about budget.
17. Whose budget does the funding come from?
Measure up the tone of the conversation prior to asking this question. It might be too probing for a prospect who’s not well acquainted with you yet. If you and the prospect are on comfortable terms, find out where exactly the money will be coming from.
18. Is the budget owner an “executive sponsor”?
An executive sponsor is a senior-level employee who’s directly involved in a project and is committed to its success. Whether that’s your prospect’s direct manager or a C-suite executive, it’s important to know whether the owner of the budget is a single person or the entire department.
Questions that Establish Next Steps
Lastly, ask questions that move the prospect along the pipeline. Provide a solution and offer next steps.
19. Who else will be involved in choosing a vendor?
This is a critical question for understanding whether your prospect is a gatekeeper, influencer, or decision-marker. Indirectly, you’ll also find out just how involved the decision-making process is.
20. Do you have written decision criteria for choosing a vendor? Who compiled these criteria?
If you’re speaking with a smaller firm, then the answer will most likely be no. But this question is important if you’re working with enterprise businesses. Try to get access to the decision criteria if possible.
21. Have you purchased a similar product before?
Knowing what your prospect has tried before will be instrumental in establishing a competitive advantage. You should be prepared to uphold your product above the competition’s even if the prospect doesn’t mention them by name.
22. Is this a competitive situation?
Who else is your prospect considering purchasing from? This question will uncover that without sounding whiny or defensive.
23. What’s the process for actually purchasing the product once you decide on it? Are there legal or procurement reviews?
If you’ve gotten to this point, you’ve probably established a high level of trust with your prospect. So you can ask right out about the purchase process without pushing them away.
24. What are potential curveballs?
While question #14 alluded to roadblocks, this question will reveal if there will be any unexpected changes that might bring the deal to a halt. Plus, if the prospect didn’t share too much when you asked about roadblocks, this question could do a better job at uncovering them.
25. How can I help make this easy?
The prospect might not have anything for you, or they might ask for additional resources and documentation. Either way, you want to give them a chance to articulate ways you can make the process easier.
26. How will this solution make your life better?
You can instill relief in your prospect by helping them envision how their work life will improve after they purchase your product. This will do a lot of work when it’s time for your prospect to present your solution to stakeholders.
27. If you implement this solution, how do you hope things will be different in one year?
Will they have more customers? Or will they have wasted less time doing menial tasks? Again, nudge them to envision how things will be better with your product on hand.
28. Can I follow up with you on mm/dd?
Close the call strongly by suggesting a date to follow up.
You’ll know that you’ve run a good discovery call if you and your prospect are able to formulate a written sales plan and delineate the next steps. If there’s still uncertainty when you hang up the phone, schedule another call to iron out remaining details.
Next, I share a full discovery call template that you should follow for a greater chance of success.
Discovery Call Template
1. Research your prospect’s business ahead of time.
This goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: Spend as much time as you can researching and understanding your prospect’s business. Know their vertical, their challenges, and their goals. Take a look at their engagement history with your company. Did they download a specific resource? That will give you a hint of their goals and needs.
Keep doing research until you feel like you know your prospect’s business better than they do.
2. Create an agenda and send it to your prospect.
This is a critical tip. Never forget to create an agenda for the sales meeting. Discovery calls seem to have lower stakes than other sales calls, because you’re still early on in the sales process. This is wrong. Discovery calls have the highest stakes because they determine where the deal will go.
You don’t want the deal to go sideways early on or for the conversation to be derailed. Send an agenda to your prospect to ensure you’re covering everything they want to talk about, and give them a chance to add more items if necessary.
3. Set a time and date that works for both of you.
When you send the agenda, set a time and date that works for both parties. Ask your prospect how much time they’ll have. If they’d prefer to meet for 30 minutes instead of an hour, it’s important to take that into account.
Depending on their flexibility, you might even be able to carry out a product demo right in the discovery call. Be careful with this approach: If you demo the product too early, you might forget to focus on the prospects’ needs and challenges.
4. Open the call conversationally.
Next, when you’re on the call, open it up conversationally. Ask how their day or week has been, or what they did over the holidays. As you go into the following steps, be sure to keep the tone conversational. This isn’t an interview; it’s a way to get to know each other better.
5. Set the stage.
It’s time to set the stage using the questions I suggested above. Remember, they are:
- Tell me about your company.
- Tell me about your role. What do you do day-to-day?
- What metrics are you responsible for?
You can skip the last question if they touch upon their metrics of success when they describe their day-to-day work.
6. Qualify the prospect.
Just by the previous questions alone, you’ve probably gotten a good idea of whether your product can help. Further qualify the prospect by asking at least three of the following questions:
- Tell me about your goals (financial, customer-related, operational).
- When do you need to achieve these goals?
- What problem are you trying to solve?
- Are you having problems in [area as relates to the product]?
- What’s the source of that problem?
- Why is it a priority today?
- Why hasn’t it been addressed before?
- What do you think could be a potential solution? Why?
- What would a successful outcome look like?
- If you didn’t choose a product, do you have a plan in place to address this problem?
Remember, keep the tone conversational. These questions should flow naturally.
7. Ask disqualifying questions.
It’s just as important to disqualify the prospect as it is to qualify them. That way, you don’t waste your time. Ask the following questions:
- What are your primary roadblocks to implementing this plan?
- What’s your timeline for implementation?
- What’s the approximate budget for solving this problem?
- Whose budget does the funding come from?
- Is the budget owner an “executive sponsor”?
Feel free to make the tone less conversational here and get a little more firm. You want the prospect to think carefully through their answers and not just throw out the first thing that comes to mind.
8. Establish next steps.
Last, establish next steps. There should be no question about what the prospect (or you) should do to move the deal forward. Be sure to ask:
- Who else will be involved in choosing a vendor?
- Do you have written decision criteria for choosing a vendor? Who compiled these criteria?
- Have you purchased a similar product before?
- Is this a competitive situation?
- What’s the process for actually purchasing the product once you decide on it? Are there legal or procurement reviews?
- What are potential curveballs?
- How can I help make this easy?
- How will this solution make your life better?
- If you implement this solution, how do you hope things are different in one year?
- Can I follow up with you on mm/dd?
Discovery Call Tips
1. Prioritize qualification over process-based questions.
A legal or procurement process isn’t a roadblock to a sale, but a lack of a business plan is. Once you’ve gotten the big-ticket items out of the way — for example, establishing a goal and talking through potential plans to achieve it — you can move on to the nitty-gritty of the deal.
2. Keep asking questions until you fully understand your prospect.
Ideally, a discovery call will either clearly surface a sales opportunity or definitively disqualify a prospect. You should come out of your calls with an understanding of your prospect’s needs and how you can help solve them.
3. Add value in small and subtle ways.
Always add value to the discovery call by providing some recommendations or simple ways to help. If you leave the prospect with a positive impression, they are more likely to reach out when they become sales-ready (if they aren’t currently).
Great Discovery Calls Will Help You Close More Deals
By investing time and energy in creating a great discovery call, you’ll know for sure whether your prospect is a good or poor fit for the product. This will ensure you only spend time on the prospects who are more likely to close, allowing you to exceed quota and become a standout performer in your team.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in October 2015 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.