6 questions to ask on every sales discovery call

Avoid the land of no decision: 6 critical questions for every discovery call

Main illustration: Jordan Hetzer

In sales, it’s normal to spend hours rehearsing for an upcoming demo and fine-tuning the deck. But when it comes to the discovery call, many of us assume we can wing it.

It’s strange because the discovery call is how we uncover critical information early in the sales cycle. Details like use case and a prospect’s fit for our solution help us prioritize our deals. As account executives, the discovery call is our first opportunity to talk to a prospect after they’ve been qualified by an SDR.

The risk of doing it poorly or not at all is getting stuck in “the land of no decision” with the deal and your quota on the line. You can try dragging both across the finish, but even the best salesperson can’t persuade a prospect to buy a solution and use it if it’s not a good fit.

That’s why it’s so important to ask the right questions at this crucial step in the sales process. Here, I’ll walk you through the 6 questions I ask on every discovery call and what the answers reveal about the deal I’m working.

1. What initially piqued your interest?

Whether you’re dealing with an inbound or outbound lead, this is a softball question that helps uncover your prospect’s motivations for checking out your product. It’s a friendly way of learning about your prospect’s challenges at the start of the call. Some prospects may even give you in-depth answers that allow you to skip to more complex questions. Here’s an example of an answer I got:

To hit quota, we need to prioritize our pipeline

“Our pipeline is light for next quarter and our CRO has asked me evaluate multiple vendors that can help us become more efficient in converting website visitors to qualified opportunities. We’re looking to make a decision on a live chat product by the end of this month.”

Since it’s an open-ended question, I’ve found prospects are willing to share information more freely. For inbound leads I tailor the question to ask, “What drove you to request a demo?” and if I’m chatting with a lead through our Messenger, I rephrase my questions based on the pages they’ve visited, such as our pricing and solution pages. If it’s an outbound lead, I ask, “Was there something specific in my outreach that piqued your interest?”

2. What’s the problem you’re trying to solve?

Disqualifying leads is just as important as qualifying them. Not every prospect will be a good candidate for our product and to hit quota, we need to prioritize our pipeline and focus on prospects who can benefit from what we’re selling.

This question helps gauge a prospect’s fit for our solution. For instance, if the prospect is just “browsing” the latest tools on the market, that tells me they’re unlikely to move forward in the sales process and even if they do, it’s going to be dragged out.

3. How are you addressing this problem today?

Once you’ve determined what problem your prospect is trying to solve and the reason they took the meeting, it’s time to understand why they don’t already have a solution in place. Is their current solution just not cutting it? Has budget been the blocker to getting a solution in place?

Asking this question helps you learn more about your prospect’s internal processes. You’ll want to find out their current setup and what would be required to make your solution work. The last thing you want is to spend time forcing a square peg into a round hole.

4. How are you measuring your goals?

Peter Drucker famously said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”

People buy software to solve problems but in order for your solution to be compelling, they need know what metric they want to impact. Let’s say your prospect answers your question with:

Not having clear measurable goals is a big red flag

“We measure our 10 sales reps on monthly revenue. Currently their quota is $70K per month and our lead conversion rate is 5%. If we increase our conversion rate to 8%, we can get an additional $5K revenue per month per rep.”

This is one of the most important discovery questions because it shows you how serious the prospect is about solving the problem. You can use their answer to drive urgency for the deal, especially if it starts to stall. You can point back to the data and highlight how every month they wait will cost them $50K in lost revenue.

Not having clear measurable goals is a big red flag. If they expect to increase revenue but don’t know their lead conversion rate, it’s hard to establish realistic expectations for implementing your solution and doesn’t aid the handover to your customer success team.

5. How far are you into your evaluation process?

Understanding your prospect’s timeline and the competitors you’re selling against early in the sales cycle will have a profound impact on your win rate. It’s important to find out: are you the first solution they’re evaluating or the last? If you’re first into the deal, you can set the decision criteria for your prospect’s evaluation process and that gives you a big advantage.

If you’re not the first, then you need to be cognizant of the selling techniques your competitors might be using. For example, is their strategy to break down each of your solutions feature by feature? It’s important you approach the demo knowing what your product does well and critically, what your product doesn’t offer and why.

The goal of asking this question is to walk away with those two key pieces of information: timeline and competitors. If you need to probe further, I suggest following up with the questions, “When would you like to be up and running with a solution?” and “Which other vendors are you currently evaluating?”

The average number of people involved in B2B purchases has climbed to 7

6. Who else on your team should be involved?

According to HBR, the average number of people involved in B2B purchases has climbed to 7. Chances are the prospect who hops on your discovery call won’t be the only stakeholder in your deal. It might seem obvious, but it’s critical to get face-time with all the relevant stakeholders.

New account executives will often ask prospects, “Who’s the main decision maker?” This is a really easy way to irritate your buyer. You risk making them feel small, especially if they are the main decision maker. A better approach is to ask, “Who else on your team will be involved in the evaluation process?” Or say, “Typically we invite everyone who’s weighing in on the evaluation process to the demo. Who should I include from your end?”

Using discovery calls to find the right fit

It’s the insights you gain and share on the discovery call that help you find prospects that are the right fit for your solution. Remember in order to gain your prospects’ trust, you also need to add value. For me that means sharing relevant customer stories that tie the challenges my prospects are facing to what I’ve seen current customers accomplish. The discovery call is a two-way conversation that sets me and my prospect up for success.

This article originally appeared in Sales Hacker.

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