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The sales discovery call is the most important conversation between buyer and seller.

It represents a crucial turning point in the buyer’s journey when the prospect is finally ready to engage after evaluating solutions on their own.

Discovery calls chart the course for the entire sales process, and done right, set the stage for lasting customer relationships.

Still, sellers tend to drop the ball on discovery more than you might think.

Per Salesforce research, 85% of prospects and customers report being dissatisfied with the on-phone experience. Another report found that over 40% of reps say they don’t have enough information before making a call.

What’s more, recent research from TOPO, buyers are taking fewer meetings since the COVID-19 pandemic went global—numbers are down 150%. Which means, sellers have even fewer opportunities to engage buyers one-on-one.

A well-established discovery call strategy can help sellers turn the odds in their favor.

Here’s a look at what you should include.

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What is a sales discovery call?

A sales discovery call is the first call a salesperson makes after connecting with a prospect. It’s arguably the most important part of the sales process, as it sets the stage for the entire relationship with a potential buyer—before and after the close.

The goal of the sales discovery call is two-fold.

For sellers, it’s about qualifying prospects and determining their pain points, needs and purchasing power within an organization.

More importantly, a sales discovery call is about building trust with prospects and establishing yourself as a trusted advisor who understands their problems and can provide out-of-the-box solutions.

As a seller, your goal is to ensure that the prospect walks away from the conversation knowing who you are, what you do and how you can help.

While you might assume that preparing for a discovery call doesn’t involve much more than checking out a LinkedIn profile and coming up with a few questions, the reality is, discovery is a multistage process.

How to develop an effective system for successful sales discovery calls

A sales discovery process includes everything that goes into ensuring that you have a successful call.

Much of the process happens before you pick up the phone.

You’ll perform pre-call research, identify valuable insights to mention during the call and develop probing questions that get prospects to reveal more about their situation.

Once you’ve established your goals, developed a plan and gathered relevant information, then you’ll want to set up a call.

During the discovery call, you’ll want to ask prospects qualifying questions, answer their questions and present insights that help establish credibility.

The end-game here is to get prospects to move to the next stage in the sales process.

Arm yourself with the right information

Don’t approach a prospect until you’ve done your homework.

By doing some basic research, and referring back to any prior interactions with this buyer, you’ll position yourself to offer personalized, relevant solutions right from the start.

A few things you should do to prepare:

  • Review the company website. Take a quick look around the prospect’s website. Try to get a sense of their business model, mission and company values. Aim to identify potential pain points or weaknesses you might help them address. See if you can gather any intel on how their org chart fits together—which may help you figure out how many decision-makers are part of the process.
  • Put your social selling skills to good use. Log into LinkedIn to learn more about the prospect on an individual level. You might find a connection in common–be it a shared alma mater or membership in an industry group—that can help you break the ice.
  • Check for company news. Did the prospect’s company make recent headlines? Whether it’s a product launch, IPO or a major acquisition, keeping an eye on the news can tip you off to any changes that could introduce new pain points and needs.
  • Look at your CRM data. Look at your interaction history with this prospect. What resources have they downloaded? What was discussed in prior email communications? What materials have you already shared? Have they revealed anything about their pain points/goals?

Ask high-impact questions

According to research from Gong.io, you should aim to discuss 3-4 problems in a sales discovery call. They also found that sellers who asked 11-14 discovery questions were most likely to have a successful call. The reps that asked between 1-6 questions saw the lowest success rates.

Alternatively, Drift recommends keeping it simple and asking just four questions.

Though it’s worth noting that they use an account-based marketing strategy that gathers firmographic intelligence upfront–something that might not be feasible for smaller companies that lack the resources and manpower to deploy ABM tactics.

In any case, as you put together what questions you’ll ask the buyer, you’ll want to stay focused on getting your prospect to define value from their perspective.

That same Gong.io report recommends phrasing your questions in a way that prompts a long response.

  • Walk me through the process of X
  • Can you help me understand y?
  • Tell me about Z…

Not only are these open-ended questions, they also encourage a multi-part response–something that sellers can use to create a narrative around the solutions they present.

In these next few sections, I’ll provide some examples of what kinds of questions you might ask at different stages in the discovery call.

Basic info

These types of questions are often answered during the pre-call research process. You should have a clear idea what your prospect’s role is, where they work and what that all entails.

That said, every organization is unique and you might start the conversation by asking buyers to explain more about how things work internally.

1. Tell me about your company
2. What do you do day-to-day?
3. What does success look like to you and how do you measure performance?

Qualification questions

After you’ve established the basic details about your prospect and what their job looks like, you’ll want to move into learning more about the goals and challenges they face. Here, your goal is to learn more about their problems so that you can find the ideal solution.

While we’ve covered lead qualification questions in another recent article, here are a few examples that you might include in your discovery call:

4. What are your goals?
5. What problems has your business tried to solve so far?
6. How has your business changed since [trigger event—i.e. expansion, acquisition, merger, new product launch]
7. Is there a budget available for X?
8. What is your team’s process for X?
9. How much of an impact does X have on your business?
10. How satisfied are you with your existing solution?
11. What does your ideal outcome look like?
12. What do you think could be a potential solution? Why?

Disqualifiers

Your lead qualification process should take care of most of your major red flags.

However, you’ll want to play it safe and make sure you don’t miss any major roadblocks that could prevent a deal from happening.

Examples include:

13. What roadblocks do you face in implementing this solution?
14. What is your timeline for implementing a solution?
15. Do you have the budget for this project? If not, when do you think you’ll have the funds?
16. Is this a pain point for everyone on your team? If not, are there any stakeholders that might prevent this deal from moving forward?

Uncovering pain points

17. How satisfied are you with your current solution?
18. What’s the biggest challenge you face with X?
19. What happens if you fail to solve X?
20. What roadblocks might prevent you from reaching top priorities?
21. If X happens, what measures are in placing for solving it?

Amplifying pain

These questions aim to turn up the heat. It might sound cruel, but intensifying prospect pain is key when it comes to creating a sense of urgency.

Here are a few examples of questions you might ask to tap into buyer emotions.

22. How much money are you losing to [key problem]?
23. How many opportunities have you lost due to [problem]?
24. How has [problem] impacted your team’s morale? Can you talk about that?

Get prospects thinking about how things could be better

After you’ve reopened prospect wounds, you’ll want to bring things back to the bright side.

25. How much money would you save if X were no longer a problem?
26. What would it mean for you personally to resolve X?
27. What’s the best possible outcome for you and your team? What will it take to get there?

Next steps

Finally, you’ll want to guide buyers toward taking the next step. Aim to gather a few more details that can help inform how you’ll proceed with working this deal, then end by making a recommendation.

28. Who else is involved in making this decision?
29. Have you defined criteria for selecting a vendor?
30. What would make this process easier—how can I help?
31. How will this solution make your job easier?
32. Have you purchased similar solutions in the past?
33. If I can help you do X, what would we need to do to make a deal happen?
34. Based on what you’ve told me today, I’d recommend X

To streamline the process, you’ll want to come up with a standard set of discovery questions for each persona so you’re not starting from scratch every time you’ve got a call on the books.
You’ll need to do your research but it’ll save you some valuable time.

Make sure you record your calls

Even the best listeners in the world forget key details from time to time. Make sure you record every discovery call and sync recordings to your CRM. This is important for a few key reasons, including:

  • It allows you to focus on the conversation rather than on taking notes. When you’re busy writing down everything the prospect says, you miss the opportunity to connect as actual people.
  • You’ll have a reference point for future communications and tailored solutions.
  • Recordings are a great learning tool. In sales coaching settings, one-on-ones and team meetings, sales managers can use recordings to point to areas that could be improved, as well as highlight specific best practices that sellers should be using during calls.

Oh, and one more thing, you may want to use video conferencing instead of the traditional landline, as you’ll be able to watch the buyer’s reaction as they describe challenges and pain points.

Final thoughts

Finally, it’s worth noting that there’s no “one size fits all” way to approach sales discovery calls.
While putting together a list of questions is a great starting point, the real secret to success comes down to learning how to probe prospects for more information.

Effective sales discovery calls should feel like a natural conversation, where buyers and sellers collaborate on potential solutions, uncovering pain points and problems together.

Those sellers that take the time to perfect the sales discovery process stand to build stronger connections with prospects that set the tone for lasting relationships and of course, more revenue.