Essential discovery call questions

Posted January 31, 2019

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By Serena Miller

Editor, Sales Best Practices at Outreach

We give a lot of attention to cold calling best practices and quick tips, and in an ideal world you would just close the deal and call it a day on that first call (ha, if only), but in our world of B2B sales it's just the beginning. All of our efforts to help you crush your cold calls are for the sole purpose of booking the next step in the sales process: the discovery call.

If you lead the discovery correctly, you and your prospect will determine if the fit and the timing are right, or not. Either way, the pipeline flows, so knowing when to table a potential deal is just as important as knowing when to move one forward.

Like a good first date, an effective discovery call begins with asking the right open-ended questions. Keep reading for 9 sets of essential questions to ask on your sales discovery calls that will help you qualify your prospects.

"How do you have a great conversation with scripting? Questions tight. Conversation loose."

Build rapport with the stakeholder 

These questions are entry points for building trust and demonstrating your general knowledge of the field. During your discovery call, remember to frame these questions in a way that reflects your interest and concern about the prospect, with the aim of building a genuine relationship. Initiate and/or be on the lookout for other opportunities to make personal connections such as events attended, books read, admired thought leaders, hobbies, pets, advocacies, favorite sport teams, etc.

Example rapport questions:

  • Please describe your role in the company. What do you do on a daily basis?
  • What’s a good/bad day like for you?
  • Which metrics do you track?

When opportunities arise, ask about the prospect’s location (tourist spots, sports team, positive news, etc.) or company (trending industry news, etc.)

Explore the prospect’s business, industry, and market 

Time to show your savvy side by focusing on business. As a diligent sales professional, you have (hopefully) done prior research in this area and created not only an engagement strategy but a discovery call checklist as well.

Example exploration questions:

  • Your industry is [insert qualitative description]. Which aspect of the industry does [prospect’s company name] focus on?
  • Can you tell me more about your key products/services?
  • What’s your specific market? Have any idea of your market share?
  • Any plans to scale operations/launch new products?

Probe problems and prospect pain points 

Make these sales discovery questions count by practicing empathy and active listening. Based on the challenges shared by the prospect, you can get a general picture of whether their organization can benefit from your product. Never assume you know their problems thoroughly. Prospects will have unique needs that only they can properly articulate - it’s your job to keep them talking.

Example probing questions:

  • What sort of targets or KPIs does your team use and measure?
  • How often do you achieve those targets?
  • What are the recurring challenges that you need to address? Are there major roadblocks holding you back?
  • What factors do you think cause those problems/challenges?

Assess competition 

This is where you can read the terrain and discover good spots for making a strong entry. There’s a good chance your prospects are already addressing their challenges using a product or service similar to your own. But there’s also the possibility that they’re not using any solution from your sector at the moment. It’s imperative that you gather intel, either way.

Example assessment questions:

  • How are you addressing the challenges you mentioned today?
  • Which aspects do you like/dislike about the solution?
  • Do you want more from the solutions you already have? What other features/capabilities are on your wish list?

Identify prospect needs, goals, and timelines 

Solving a problem is one thing. Living your best life is another. Steer the sales discovery call towards a state where the prospect will eagerly transition from just voicing out grievances to opening up about their actual needs, core motivations, and long-term goals.

Example goal-identifying questions:

  • What’s the ideal team/business performance for you at this point?
  • Do you have any idea how to make that ideal achievable?
  • What types of business solutions do you think will get you to that ideal state/inflection point?
  • When do you think that solution should be implemented? What will it take to make that happen?

Clarify prospect’s decision-making process 

In the B2B space, a single contact rarely has full authority in making major purchase decisions, unless you are talking to the CEO of a four-person startup. As a sales operator, it’s your responsibility to accurately chart an organization’s decision-making process in terms of milestones and the specific triggers that will move every stakeholder in the process to give their nod on a major acquisition/purchase.

Example decision making clarification questions:

  • How do you make a major decision in your organization?
  • Who else, in addition to yourself, will need to review and sign off on a proposed solution?
  • Have you adopted and deployed a similar solution before?
  • Do all relevant decision-makers agree with your ideal solution?
  • Who else in the company should we reach out to?

Evaluate budget

Pricing counts among the key factors that greatly impact purchase decisions. However, do not feel disheartened when prospects initially signal that your solution does not match their budget. Unless you have exerted all efforts at communicating value, continue highlighting the state of success, happiness, or awesomeness that your solution can help them achieve. Reinforce your sales discovery call templates with ROI figures, especially those your other customers have already achieved.  

Example budget questions:

  • Do you already have a budget for a solutions upgrade? Who sets the budget?
  • How do you know if an investment is worth the cost?
  • How would you determine ROI?

Ascertain solution fit and highlight value proposition 

Even for the most seemingly-perfect accounts, the solution you offer and the prospect’s situation might still be mismatched. Perhaps your solution works best with a minimum number of users and their startup simply doesn’t have the numbers yet. Perhaps your product integrates better with specific platforms that they don't use. To ensure customer happiness, make sure not only that your solution delivers on its promises but that the expected results make your prospect feel justified for investing in you.

Example fit questions:

  • How are your current solutions meeting your expectations?
  • Which aspects of your process or performance need significant improvements?
  • What is your highest priority right now?
  • How does a successful outcome look to you? How would you feel if you were to achieve such outcome?
  • Are you willing to modify other areas of your operations to fully benefit from the ideal solution?
  • What would a [percentage] jump in your [metric] performance mean to you? (repeat this for every metric your solution positively impacts)
  • What will be your counter strategy if your competitors use the ideal solution and you don’t?

Move engagement forward 

Now for the fun part! The faster you move prospects through the pipeline, the more you accelerate sales velocity and help drive revenue. Use these questions to guide the right prospects forward in the buyer journey.

Example next-steps questions:

  • Have you made a similar purchase before?
  • How did that go? What things during that purchase do you want to happen/not happen again?
  • I want to help make it easier and more beneficial for you. What things will make it easier for you to make a decision?
  • One customer [did this action] and it made her quite happy. Is that something you would consider?
  • Schedule next meeting/Ask for permission to present/conduct a demo. (e.g., When’s the best time to meet again?; What do you want to be on top of our next meeting agenda?; Who else should attend?; etc.,)

Pick and choose from these lists to tailor your discovery calls to each prospect and your own sales strategy. Remember: no need to force all the questions or the conversation won't flow. Keep discovery calls to about 30 minutes. 

Recap: How to avoid common discovery call mistakes

  • Stay flexible: Most sale reps steer the conversation to an area they feel comfortable with. This works some of the time, but not enough to get truly great results. Sellers must be flexible enough to help the conversation go where it needs to win the deal. 
  • Be curious: We've all felt lost in a sales meeting before. Industry leaders will use words we don't understand and internal jargon. That feeling is something we avoid, but digging in and asking for clarification shows that you're engaged and interested in finding a solution. 
  • Get to the insight, not just the answer: Just because someone fits your ideal customer profile or describes common pain points, doesn't mean they'll buy from you. When you hear something meaningful, show the prospect how it connects it to the bigger picture.
  • Name the problem, not just the solution: Discovery is not about finding ways to help your buyer buy your product. The purpose of discovery is to help your buyer understand their own problem better — and motivate them to fix it — rather than staying with the status quo. 
  • Balance the give and take: It's natural to want to give more than take when establishing report with a prospect. But in discovery, an eagerness to pitch shortens the time you have to gather information that will make what you give later in the sales cycle much more valuable.

Close more deals with Outreach 

Remember, it takes more than a great discovery call to improve your close rates. While discovery is a crucial milestone on the path to closing, sellers often find themselves in a constant struggle to balance priorities. Discover how Outreach guides sellers to take actions that lead to winning outcomes — across every stage of their sales cycle.

Want more discovery call tips from seasoned sales pros? Follow Outreach VP of Sales Mark Kosoglow's #DiscoDeepDive on Linkedin, or check out a few of our top posts for AEs:


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