How to Ace the Discovery Call [with 17 Effective Questions]

August 2, 2021
12:00 am

If you had to pinpoint the single most pivotal moment in the B2B sales process, what would it be? Maybe that hopeful moment when you generate a lead? Or, the happy moment you finally close that deal? There’s one that wins hands down: the discovery call. 

Top performing sales professionals value this initial call as it sets the tone of your working relationship with a customer. It can make or break the deal.

Let's take a look at how the discovery call is a powerful sales tool.

What is a discovery call?

The discovery call is the first call you’ll make with a potential customer who has expressed interest in your company. Perhaps they were referred to you, signed up for a demo, completed their free trial, or opened one of your outreach emails. Sometimes – though not often – a cold call can even turn into a discovery call, depending on the circumstances.

Whatever the case, a discovery call gives you the chance to identify the customer’s reason for considering your product or service. And to try and understand their problem and pain points. It’s also an opportunity for the customer to learn more about your company and decide whether it makes sense to keep talking to you.

The ultimate goal of a sales discovery call is to determine whether your company and your prospect are a good fit for each other.

If the discovery call goes wrong, it’s tough to make the sale.

How to ace the discovery call: 7 proven steps

1. Take care of the practicalities

We’ve all been in those video calls where setting up takes an excruciatingly long time. Problems starting is actually the most frequently reported issue with meetings today – 50 percent of video conferencing users are wasting nearly 10 minutes on setup. 

While this is bad for team meetings, it’s very bad for customer calls. Technical issues create stress before you’ve even connected. 

You should also be diligent in letting prospects know what to expect. Something as simple as an agenda for the discovery call can really help cultivate trust between you and the customer

So, pay attention to practicalities. Before the call, you could:

  • Make sure the customer is comfortable with the medium you’re using. For example, while your team may prefer Zoom for discovery calls, the customer may be used to Google Hangouts. Zoom requires a download for them so that might be a potential hiccup. Ask the customer how they would prefer to connect or at least make sure you send clear instructions about any tools they are unfamiliar with. Video calling is usually the best option to create a personal connection, but make sure your prospects are fine with it. 
  • Report if the tool creates problems. Some sales teams are legacy users of tools that don’t work properly. If the video conferencing tool you’re using often gives you trouble, tell your manager. If there’s a possibility to replace it, grab it with both hands.
  • Setup call routing. To ensure that your calls, meetings, and potential customers get to the right place without sitting on hold, set up a call routing system. This will ensure a better experience for the user and lead into a more productive discovery call.
  • Send a detailed calendar invite. A calendar invite shouldn’t just provide the time of the discovery call. It should also contain an agenda and specify who the customer will be speaking with (e.g. you might include a brief introduction of yourself mentioning your title and linking to your LinkedIn profile).
  • Share your presentation beforehand. We’ll explore the sales presentation a little later, but at this stage, be ready to share the document with the customer before the discovery call. You can do this in the invite, if you have your deck ready, or a day before the actual call.

In general, ask yourself: what you can do to make the call go smoother? If it’s a technical problem that often comes up, address it. If you can provide more information to the customer about what to expect, do it. Don’t leave your prospect in the dark before the call.

2. Study your prospect before the call

Just as prospects should know who they’re meeting, you should also know about them. It’s not enough just to have the company details or the title of the person you’re speaking to; superficial research won’t cut it.

Before the call, take a deep dive into all the information you can find about your prospect. You can look into:

  • Notes from fellow sales reps. Maybe your company has had sales calls with the same prospect before. Or maybe your company’s sales development representative (SDR) has collected notes from cold calls or initial web chats. Absorb all of this information to get a sense of the customer’s situation.
  • Similar customers. If you’ve worked with similar customers or industries to implement your company’s solutions, it’s good to refresh your knowledge on them. Perhaps have a case study at hand or reuse a slide the other customer had found useful. 
  • Social media. Look into the social media of the company to check out any news, topics and initiatives they’ve posted and see whether they’re hiring or opening new offices. You can also take a look at the LinkedIn profiles of the people you’ll be speaking with during the discovery call to see their experience and areas of expertise.
  • Useful sites. Crunchbase or similar sites will inform you about funding, number of employees, or location of offices. Other sites may be useful depending on your niche: for example, if you sell hiring software, you could take a look at your prospect’s Glassdoor page.
  • Products they use. Study the information you have on what products or services your prospect is using. This may come either directly from your prospect (e.g. from an email communication) or through other means (e.g. social media). If they’re currently using a direct competitor, prepare to make some well-meaning comparisons during the call.

3. Create a personalized deck

So you’ve spent hours upon hours perfecting that sales deck. Your presentation contains a clear list of your company’s benefits and features, information about your brand, and a good sales pitch. That should do, right?

Unfortunately no. A generic presentation, no matter how awesome, will not win you the best deals. Prospects don’t want to sit through a slideshow explaining your company’s merits. They do want to hear about them, but only as a small part of the conversation.

This is why it’s best to personalize your presentation. Have a template as a backbone and then create custom decks based on what you know of each prospect. You can also add the prospect’s company logo and branding (e.g. colors) to add a more personal and familiar touch.

Apart from design, here are a few things you can do with your presentation:

  • Say what you know about your prospect. After your research, you’ll have a good idea of what’s happening in your prospect’s world right now. Put those high level details in a slide, and ask your customer “This is what I know about you, have I missed anything or is there something you’d like to add?” This will also help break the ice and kickstart a meaningful conversation about your customer’s needs.
  • Answer any questions you’ve received from prospects. Perhaps your prospect reached out with a few questions they wanted answered or had expressed particular concerns to your SDR. If you know they have specific questions, answer them in your deck.
  • Make (respectful) comparisons with competitors. You mustn’t bash your competition, but if you know your prospect is considering a competitor, you can add a slide or two about how you compare. Mention a few strengths of your competitors and compare them to your strengths. Try to connect these strengths to what you hear from your prospect about their challenges. 
  • Take notes with your prospect. Share your screen during video calls so you can work on the information presented together. If your prospect finds inaccuracies or missing information, give them freedom to make changes on the deck.
  • Add the benefits. Part of your presentation should be about what benefits your solution will have. But, make sure it’s personalized as much as possible. If, for example, you have information on how much they’re currently spending, you can say “Here’s how much our solution can save you”.
  • Share your presentation. And not just before the call. After the call, when there might be changes or additions, send the presentation again. Let them know they can use it internally if they want to get their colleagues up to speed, or keep it as a record of your communications for future reference. 
  • Be clear about next steps. It’s important to include next steps in your presentation. Doing this helps you stay in control of the sale and keep track of the timeline in writing. See our tip 5 for more.

Once you have this presentation, you can also use it as a discovery call script: a collection of talking points in an order that makes sense to make sure you always know what to say next.

4. Get the intro right

You’ve prepared well and have a killer presentation. You log into the call… and then what? 

If you’ve never spoken to someone before, you need to first establish some rapport and ease the prospect into the conversation. Even if you know the prospect, it pays to work a bit on your introduction to the discovery call. That way, you’ll make communication smoother and avoid the risk of awkward silences or stifled dialogue.

So, here are a few ideas to consider:

  • Start with thanking the prospect. The first thing you could say to a prospect is “Thank you.” This may be thanks for taking the time to speak with me today, thanks for agreeing to an early morning meeting, or anything else relevant to the prospect.
  • Be witty. Don’t force it; but if you actually have a funny remark or smart observation to make, go ahead and do it. Making the prospect laugh or be curious about something can help break the ice and establish rapport.
  • Mention time. Discovery calls may take 30 to 60 minutes, most of the time. Mention the estimated duration. Ask the prospect if that’s ok with them and listen to what they say.
  • Lay out the agenda. Along with the duration of the call, you could use a slide from your presentation to explain what you’ll be talking about in the call and why. You could say you’ll begin with introductions and then provide a high level structure of the conversation. Briefly state the goal of the call (e.g. to discuss the prospect’s needs and pain points and figure out whether your company can help). 
  • Introduce yourself. “Let me introduce myself briefly.” Mention your name (if there are other people on the call you haven’t exchanged emails with) and talk a bit about your background and expertise.
  • Invite introductions from the prospect. After you’ve introduced yourself, invite the people in the call to do the same. Ask them to also share their initial purpose of being in this call, what do they hope to gain from it.
  • Start with the presentation. Remember the “here’s what I know about you” section? Start there, piggybacking from what they said in their introduction about the purpose of being in this call.

5. Ask thoughtful questions

According to research by Gong, you should aim to ask about 11 to 14 questions during discovery calls to increase your chances of closing the deal. So, choose your questions wisely. 

The main purpose of your questions is to mine for information that will help you paint a picture: your customer’s “why”. You should be able to leave the call knowing the challenges they’re facing and how your product or service can help solve them. That’s why open-ended questions work well – they help you explore your prospect’s situation by letting them do the talking.

Here are 17 effective discovery call questions to ask:

  1. Tell me a bit about your role and your goals
  2. What prompted you to have this conversation with us?
  3. What would you like to achieve with this type of solution?
  4. What are the challenges you’re facing?
  5. How have you addressed this challenge before?
  6. How are you dealing with this challenge now?
  7. What is it you like about your current solution and want to keep in future?
  8. What would be the ideal solution for your pain points?
  9. Are you looking at other solutions?
  10. What costs are involved in your situation now?
  11. How much will it cost if you do nothing?
  12. What do you think the benefits of implementing this solution will be (e.g. revenue, cost savings, productivity) 
  13. What’s your timeline for finding a solution to the problem?
  14. What are your most important criteria for choosing a solution?
  15. Are there any obstacles in your buying process?
  16. What do you need to make a decision?
  17. Are there other stakeholders we should talk with?

These questions can have alternatives that are more tailored to your prospect. For example, if you’re selling paper (like you were an employee from The Office), you can ask “what’s your environmental footprint from using this kind of paper?” if you know environmental concerns exist in your prospect’s company.

6. Control the timeline

They say the most dreaded answer in sales isn’t a “no”, it’s a “maybe”. If a prospect decides not to buy, then you know where you stand – you can circle back at a later time, keep them engaged, or just let it go. 

But, “maybe” means you’re at the customer’s mercy. Unless you play it right, that is.

What you can do is:

  • Lay out their options. It helps if you have a slide with options for the customer. For example, you can say “You can proceed in four ways: 1. Do nothing, 2. Buy from us, 3. Buy from a competitor, 4. Keep researching.” This is a good prompt to discuss what the customer is thinking. 
  • Talk about next steps at the end of the discovery call. Discuss the appropriate next steps. This is the time to ask them what they need to make a decision and when they’d like to make it. If your prospect doesn’t really know the next steps or what actions they should take, you can present a typical timeline from your experience with similar companies (e.g. a product demo, a call with upper management). They might also ask you to send them a particular slide or share a proposal. Add these steps in the presentation, too.
  • Reverse-engineer the timeline. Based on dates that are significant for your prospect, you can establish a realistic timeline. For example, if they’ve told you they need to be up and running by end of the month, you can say that they may need a week for implementation, a week for budget approval, so they definitely need to have a product demo by end of the week.
  • Make it about them. As a salesperson, it’s easy to only think of the sales process from your own perspective: prospecting, discovery call, demo, contract signing. But, the customer has a totally different outlook. They care about making a decision, purchasing, implementation, training, and finally using the product at full productivity. As sales expert Skip Miller says: “Give the customer an I-Date (implementation date).”

7. Practice and Strategize

They say practice makes perfect. In the case of a discovery call, you can practice both before you go into the call with a specific customer and in general to hone your listening and persuasion skills. This means figuring out what’s working and what’s not and forming strategies around how to improve your discovery calls.

Here are a few ideas to do this:

  • Record and study your calls. Using a tool like Gong, you can easily record every discovery call you make. You can then set aside some time during the week to listen back to parts of the conversation you remember struggling with or that could have gone better. You should also listen to the parts you did a great job in – it’s important to know your strengths and how you can use them.
  • Do some mock calls with your manager. This may not be something you’ll have time to do frequently. But, it’s still very useful to take some time to practice your questions or pitch with someone else. They can give you pointers and help you shape your approach.
  • Make sure you can talk confidently about pricing. Pricing is a sensitive subject and can easily go wrong. Yet, some research shows that money is being talked of 4-6 times on discovery calls. This means you need to be prepared to have this conversation without dodging – especially with enterprise customers who have strict budgets. Ask your manager to help you perfect your approach to pricing.
  • Collect frequent questions or issues. If your prospects usually ask the same questions, take notice. Or if you frequently have trouble answering a specific objection, keep a log and test some strategies to address it. If questions or objections become important to a customer’s decision, consider including them in your presentation.
  • Jot your arguments down before the call. Before you go into the call, think about what the prospect may ask you. You may have already collected some frequently asked questions. Or you can brainstorm potential questions you may receive. Then, write down the general idea of your answer (not the actual answer, because you don’t want to sound scripted).
  • Study resources or take courses. It almost goes without saying that learning via content or courses can really help your professional development. Ask your manager to recommend readings, subscribe to sales newsletters and use some of your company’s budget to take online courses or workshops.

You’ve discovered the opportunity

If you come out of the discovery call with useful information on your prospect and clear steps for the future, you’ve got it right. Now, your sales process can carry on smoothly – the hard part’s over. Your prospect should be ready to decide whether to proceed with you or not.

But, and this is the key part, you should know whether or not to proceed with them, too. Sometimes, the discovery call will reveal that your product or service actually isn’t a good fit and can’t meet the customer’s why. In this case, don’t be afraid to cut the sales process short. 

Tell your prospect you don’t think you can meet their needs right now. Refer them to partner or sister companies if you can. This attitude will also help break the stereotype that salespeople will do or say anything for the sale. That’s the best way to build trust – and your prospect will remember that if you’re ready to meet their needs in the future.


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