The most awkward moments are over: You made the cold call. You stirred some interest. You earned the privilege to have a discovery call.
That single call could be the most important step in the sales process. You established some rapport through the cold call or successful marketing effort, but the discovery call will set the tone for the relationship with prospects (or soon-to-be-customers).
Now’s the time to learn and understand the prospects’ needs, pain points and goals. Then build the bridge between those and your solution.
The anatomy of a successful discovery call
Here’s a breakdown of the most successful discovery calls:
- Rapport building (25%)
- Questions and answers to uncover three to four business problems (50%)
- Wrap-up logistics and next steps (25%)
Let’s look at each component more closely:
Salespeople can’t depend solely on the strength of rapport built during cold calls to carry the discovery call. They need to spend some time re-establishing or building stronger rapport during the first 25% of the discovery call.
Rapport building needs to be about more than the weather or the big game. Salespeople want to research their prospects to break the ice. Use social media and company websites to find topics or professional information to start conversations that make them comfortable.
The key to successful rapport-building is to make the conversation about what prospects like/think/do. You can find a common link on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn – for instance, recent promotion, marathon run, industry event or volunteering experience.
Once you’ve built the rapport bridge, get to business with an opening like this.
- Thank prospects. “Thanks for taking the time to chat with me today. “
- Nail down the timing. “We agreed to chatting for 30 minutes. Is that still ideal for you?”
- Lay out the premise. “Naturally, you’ll have questions for me about my company. And I have questions for you about your group and goals.”
- Describe the goal. “Typically, a call like this ends with us deciding on the next step in your evaluation. If at any point you realize this is not a good fit, will you please let me know?”
- Confirm the agenda. “Is there anything more or different you’d like to get out of this call today?”
Uncover business problems
Salespeople want to ask questions to uncover one business problem. Then move on sequentially to problems two through four.
“Why three to four customer problems? Why not more? Why not less?” says Chris Orlob, Senior Director of Product Marketing at Gong.io, which conducts sales conversation research. “Diving into three to four customer problems correlates with the highest likelihood of advancing the deal to a firm next step.”
Ask too many questions or delve into too many topics and you can muddy the water. Once you spread prospects’ focus too thin, it gets complicated and they balk.
While the point of a discovery call is to ask questions, taking turns speaking matters. Researchers found that the higher number of speaker switches per minute increased the odds of a successful discovery call.
Wrap-up and next steps
“Discovery calls should feel similar to a casual chat over coffee with a friend – not a ‘light in their eyes’ interrogation,” Orlob says.
When all is said and done, salespeople talk 46% of the time and prospects talk 54% of the time on an ideal discovery call.
The wrap-up should include a review of the three or four business problems uncovered. Follow the same sequence you did in discovering them to keep the conversation clear.
Then make sure the conversation moves forward by confirming the next steps, who is responsible for them and the expected timeline for things to happen. Salespeople want to lock down specifics on who, what, where and when so there’s no room for ambiguity or turning back.
7 research-based quick tips
Keep in mind these research-proven tips for every discovery call.
- Ask more questions. Top performers ask as many as 11 to 14 questions per call.
- Focus more on big talk, less on small talk. You need small talk to open conversations and build rapport. But the more salespeople make big talk – questions and information clearly focused on prospects’ key issues – the more successful they are at getting the next appointment.
- Be consistent with the flow of questions. The timing and frequency of questions matters. Salespeople don’t want to ask all their questions up front. The best salespeople allow time for prospects to respond and ask questions throughout the conversation.
- Address several problems. You don’t want to focus on just one business problem you can solve. It limits your value. Cover three or four distinct problems, no more.
- Schedule wisely. Discovery calls work best early in the week and late in the day. Gong.io researchers found Mondays between 3 and 5 p.m. are optimal times.
- Add a story. Researchers have found that building a story prospects can connect with into the call – ideally near the end of questions or start of wrap-up components – increases the chance the discovery call will lead to another conversation. In a few sentences, tell prospects about a customer who faced a similar situation and had success with your solution. Include a quantifiable success – perhaps a percentage increase in efficiency or dollar saved.
- Avoid some questions. You want to avoid close-ended questions – anything they could answer with a simple, “Yes” or “No.” Many times that means a question turns into a request framed like this: “Tell me about …” Also avoid asking a series of questions. One at a time for maximum clarity.
53 questions for a great discovery call
Every discovery call will take a unique course. Here are questions to use in just about any situation.
Questions that build rapport
In addition to the rapport-building based on what you learned about prospects pre-call, you can use these questions to show genuine interest in their work and life.
- How did you get into (industry, job discipline, shared hobby, etc.)?
- Are you originally from (company location)?
- Are you a fan of (sport, cuisine, team, cultural attraction or recognized event related to their location)?
- What do you like most about (industry, shared hobby, job role, etc.)?
Questions that validate research
Beyond making the personal connection, salespeople may want to ask a few questions to validate the pre-call research they did and assumptions they made based on it. Try these:
- Are you still having problems with (a specific issue you saw in social media)?
- What are the primary roadblocks to getting the problem resolved?
- How are you handling (change you saw announced on company website)?
- What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced since you (changed roles/were promote/switched companies … some change you saw in their LinkedIn profile)?
Questions that uncover needs, challenges and goals
You likely have an idea of prospects’ needs and challenges. But you want to dig deeper to make sure needs and challenges are a good fit for the solutions you’ll share with them.
- What is the biggest challenges you look to solve?
- Have you tried to solve that problem so far?
- What’s led to you wanting to make a change now?
- What part of your job is most frustrating?
- What caused you to address this issue today?
- What do you think could be a potential solution?
- What prompted you to explore our solution?
- Can you tell me about your current process?
- What are you looking to improve?
- What if you didn’t do anything and kept the process/situation the same?
- How do you see our solution fitting into how you plan to move forward?
- If you could wave a wand and have exactly what you wanted most for a solution, what would those things be?
- How does picking the right solution impact you?
- How would picking our solution make things better for you?
- Which components matter most when figuring out which solution is right for you?
Questions about authority
Sometimes early in the sales process, you’ll want to check and establish prospects’ authority to and influence on the decision to buy. These questions will help determine if you have the right person to move forward with and if there are others who should be part of a conversation, plus uncover more about their buying process.
- In addition to you, who else in your organization faces the same issues?
- Are there similar issues any of your colleagues are concerned about?
- Who is typically involved in the decision-making process?
- What’s your typical purchasing process like?
- Do you have embedded decision criteria for choosing a vendor?
- Who compiled the criteria for choosing a vendor?
- Have you ever made a purchase like this before?
- What metrics are you responsible for?
Questions to build demand for your solution
Once you recognize that prospects are good fits for you, the right questions can help them see that your solution is a fit for them. Try these:
- What would your most successful outcome look like?
- Say you had no budget restrictions. What kind of changes would you like to make happen?
- What will you do with all the extra time/revenue/resources after making a change like this?
- What happens if you don’t come to a decision?
Questions about budget
Budget questions come most naturally into play with prospects who are actively searching for a solution and have established you’re a good fit. Assume that most prospects don’t have a budget set aside for your solution (but that a budget will appear when you establish solid value). Ask:
- Are your responsible for setting the budget in this situation?
- Do you already have some budget allocated?
- What are you ideally looking to invest in?
- How is your budget established for a solution like this?
Questions about competition
Don’t assume you’re the lone vendor who found the prospects you’re dealing with. Expect there are competitors and don’t be afraid to ask what you’re up against. In competitive fields, you will want to ask questions like these:
- What other solution providers are you looking into at the moment?
- What has been your experience with (competitor)?
- What positive impact has your current provider had on your business?
- How do you feel we compare to other solutions you’ve looked at so far?
Questions about timing and implementation
You probably won’t close any sales at the end of a discovery call. But you can still use the conversation to uncover information about timing and implementation – which will help you both understand if you’re the right solution for now. Ask:
- In an ideal world, when do you see yourself implementing this?
- What are your timeline goals for making the decision?
- When is the contract up for the current solution you have in place?
- Do you and your team have the time and resources in place to transition to a new solution?
- What could be done to make this an easy transition in the time frame you imagine?
Follow-up and move-forward questions
Once you’ve found well-qualified prospects and it’s time to wrap up the conversation, use questions to move forward. Try these.
- What would be the best time for our next meeting?
- What goals do you want to accomplish at our next meeting?
- What’s the best time to follow up with you on what we discussed – late this week or early next week?
- When could you, the other stakeholders and I connect next week?
- How would you like me to contact you with (something you agreed the prospect should see or hear) later this week?