Discovery call questions that will qualify leads and build relationships

Discovery Call
What is a discovery call and why are they important?
How to prepare for a discovery call
How to execute an effective discovery call
How to evaluate and optimize your discovery calls
Discovery call best practices that will help you close more deals
Final thoughts

A discovery call is the first of many important conversations that will hopefully end in you closing the deal.

This is because, to turn a prospect into a client, they usually have to be nurtured through the sales funnel. However, getting the discovery call right can give them a head start along the journey to them becoming a paying customer.

In this article, we explain what a discovery call is and what they are designed to achieve. We also take a look at how to prepare for, execute and evaluate your discovery calls before ending with some high-level tips that you can use to make more effective calls that convert leads into warm prospects.

What is a discovery call and why are they important?

A discovery call is the first call you have with a prospect after they’ve shown early interest. Perhaps the prospect submitted their email via a website form to see a product demo, or maybe they’ve reached out in an email to ask about your pricing.

The ultimate goal of a discovery call is to qualify or disqualify a prospect. That is, you’re trying to decide whether the prospect is a good sales opportunity (and worth pushing through the sales funnel) or if they’re a poor fit for your product.

You’re trying to see if the contact fits your definition of an ideal prospect. You do this by “discovering” their needs, pain points and goals and establishing how your product can be the solution they’re looking for.

Throughout the process, you build up a relationship with the contact, which either helps you present relevant solutions or tells you to nurture them more slowly (e.g. noting to follow up after their next round of funding).

The sales discovery call is the start of your relationship with your potential customer.

A discovery call can help:

  • Establish rapport between you (the sales rep) and the prospect. As the discovery call is the first conversation you have with the prospect, it helps you build a relationship and set the prospect’s expectations of your brand. By speaking directly with the prospect, you can personalize your pitch and highlight the most relevant features.

  • The prospect understand your business and offerings. From the buyer’s perspective, a discovery call is an opportunity to determine whether your offering solves their problem and is within their budget. Your prospect should leave the call with a solid understanding of what your company does and how your product or service can help them.

  • Evaluate whether the prospect is likely to purchase your offering. The discovery call is the first step in the lead qualification process and will help you determine whether or not the prospect is worth devoting your resources to. If they aren’t a good fit for your company, you can save both your and the prospect’s time by moving on quickly.

By understanding your prospect, personalizing your service and presenting them with highly relevant solutions, you will leave them with plenty to think about before your next contact.

How sales methodologies affect discovery calls

Certain sales methodologies can inform your approach as they provide a discovery call template for your initial meeting, helping you better understand your prospect’s position. Which methodology you use will depend on your company’s preferences.

For example, let’s say your company favors the SPIN selling model. You can break down the SPIN model and apply it to your discovery call questions like so:

  • Situation. Find out who the prospect and their company are and what solutions they are currently using.

  • Problem. Identify pain points with their current process.

  • Implication. Intensify these pain points so that the prospect realizes their problem.

  • Needs payoff. Lead the prospect to realize how your solution could help them.

This is very similar to the solution selling and consultative selling methodologies which aim to pinpoint the prospect’s pain points and explain how the product will solve them better than your competitors.

How to prepare for a discovery call

The point of a sales discovery call isn’t necessarily to make the sale right away. Instead, the aim is to evaluate if the lead is a good fit and, if so, move them towards the next stage in their buyer journey.

This is why sales call planning is key to delivering an effective discovery call.

Research your prospect and their company

To ensure a productive discovery call, conduct thorough research on your prospect and their company beforehand. Preliminary information gathering helps you narrow down the essential questions that will fill in any of the missing information you require to make an effective sales pitch.

In your research, look for information that will help you to understand the prospect in detail, from their position to their needs and pain points.

Begin by looking into the prospect’s company (their company website is a great place to start). Find out...

  • What the company does and what industry they’re in

  • Their values, mission and vision

  • How many employees they have and who are the key stakeholders and decision-makers

  • What solutions they use and how they relate to your offering

By finding out this information, you can narrow down how your product or service could appeal to them and who you need to talk to in order to land the sale.

Next, try to find any information on the prospect themselves (LinkedIn and other social media platforms are good sources of information). For example:

  • Their level of experience and current role

  • Personal interests or achievements

  • Any projects that they’re working on that your offering might be relevant to

Throughout this discovery process, you need to pay particular attention to any disqualifying information. If you find evidence that the prospect isn’t a good fit for your organization, put them aside and make a note to revisit them in the future to see if they have become warmer. If they are still cold when you reconnect, move on to other prospects.

Strategize and practice your discovery call approach

Based on the information you’ve gathered about your prospect so far, develop a strategy for your discovery call. For example, you may find out that they’re working on a project that your offering can help with, so you’ll plan to ask your discovery call questions around this project.

If you’re new to making sales calls, it can help to establish a general template or basic discovery call script. This should include an introduction that includes your name, company name, a few relationship-establishing questions and some key details about your offering.

To gain confidence, practice this call with your sales team in a roleplay setting. This can help to optimize your script and prepare responses to key challenges. The discovery call script can then be personalized for each prospect based on the information you have about them.

Plan a clear agenda for the discovery call

Armed with the information you’ve learned about your prospect and a strategy for how you will approach the discovery call, it’s time to codify this into an agenda.

An agenda helps your prospect see where the call will take them and what value they’re going to get out of it. It also provides an opportunity for the prospect to add more items they’re interested in.

Schedule a time and date for the call

With the agenda in hand, it’s time to contact the prospect and work out a time and date for the call. Offer some brief information about yourself, your company and your offerings, and then ask for a date and time that suits them for a discovery call.

If they agree to a call, send them a follow-up email that includes the time and date for their calendar and the agenda for the discovery call.

How to execute an effective discovery call

Here are all the steps you should take to execute your discovery call effectively, stay on track and provide the most value to your prospect.

Set the tone

Try to set the tone and build rapport from the start of the conversation. Remember, the discovery call isn’t an interrogation. You want to know each other, so open with some small talk to find out a little about your prospect and how their day is going. This is the first step in building a relationship with your prospect and helps to ease them into the conversation.

Set the agenda

Once you’ve opened the discovery call, gently steer the conversation to business. A good way to do this is by setting the agenda for the call.

One way to do this is by asking the prospect whether the allotted amount of time is still good for them and finding out what their desired outcomes are for the call. Once you know their position, clarify the structure of the call so that they know what to expect.

You can then start with some opening discovery call questions that help to set the stage, such as:

  • Tell me a little about your company?

  • What does your day-to-day look like?

Ask qualifying and disqualifying sales discovery questions

This is the crux of the conversation and establishes whether the prospect is a good fit for your organization so that you can decide whether to push them down the sales funnel or not.

Your sales discovery questions should be simple and to the point. Each question should identify something about your prospect that you didn’t know so that you can discover whether your offering has any value to them.

Here are some types of key qualifying questions (with examples) you could ask your prospect.

Further information about their company and role.

Ask what the prospect does at the company, including their daily activities and metrics they manage. This helps to gauge how your product may be able to improve their daily workflow and increase their metrics.

For example:

  • Tell me about the metrics that you’re responsible for

Find out about their goals and problems.

Ask your prospect what their goals are and whether there are any problems relating to their goals. If you discover anything relevant to your offering, ask how they currently address the problem to achieve the desired outcome, why they approach the problem this way and what they like or dislike about the process.

For example:

  • What’s your biggest challenge at the moment?

  • If your current solution has an issue, can you solve it quickly?

Discover what they think will help solve their problems.

Ask what they think a successful solution would look like, how this would change their outcomes and why it’s a priority to address the problem now rather than later.

For example:

  • What would solve your main challenges right now?

  • How would an effective solution affect your bottom line?

Likewise, here are some disqualifying questions to ask:

The prospect’s timeline and budget for solving their problem.

If their timeline doesn’t match your solution, or their budget is too low, you can disqualify the prospect. You may also learn that it’s not the solution for them right now, but it could be later. In this case, you can set a reminder to follow up down the line.

For example:

  • How large is your budget for solving this problem?

  • Is solving your challenges a priority for you?

If there are any roadblocks preventing the prospect from solving their problem.

There may be issues with funding, organizational structure or otherwise that prevent the prospect from addressing their issue right now. In this case, it’s better to deprioritize the prospect and return to them later when any obstacles are out of the way.

For example:

  • Are there any obstacles that would prevent you from implementing a solution?

The objective of these questions is to achieve a bird’s-eye view of the prospect’s situation and to see whether they align with your ideal customer profile.

To make an informed decision about the next steps, listen attentively and ask open-ended follow-up questions until you get to the heart of the matter. Pay attention and you might discover important details about your customer that you can use to reframe the conversation in a way that gets them excited about moving forward.

Establish and sharpen the prospect’s pain points

One of the sales discovery question targets is to determine your prospect’s pain points. These are the specific problems your prospect is facing.

Once you’ve established their pain points, it’s time to double down. Your prospect may not fully realize the extent of their problem or how it affects their bottom line.

For example, say your prospect is the head of a consultancy company and you sell project management software. You could ask whether the current tool they use has affected their ability to deliver results for new clients, if they’ve lost any potential deals because of it or if their team finds it frustrating to use.

You may discover that they have been harboring doubts for some time. By focusing on their pain points, you increase the intensity of their problem. This adds urgency to the situation by showing the prospect that if they don’t address the problem, they’ll lose lead opportunities and revenue.

Some questions you could ask include:

  • What is preventing you from achieving your goals?

  • Have you missed any opportunities because of this challenge?

  • How much money could you free up for other projects if you solved this problem?

Tease your solution

Now that your prospect’s pain points are in full view, it’s time to tease how your offering is the perfect solution.

For example, you could ask:

  • Would it help you achieve your goals if you had access to [one of the benefits of your offering]?

  • Would your operations change with [one of the benefits of your offering]?

Keep in mind that your objective isn’t necessarily to make a sale here and now. Rather, you want to give them something to think about when you close the call.

For example, you might want to share some key attributes of your offering that the prospect would be able to use to solve their issue, then let them consider this until your next meeting.

The best way to do this is to show proof of how your product or service has helped similar businesses. This social proof can be extremely effective in convincing prospects your solution will work for them too.

Organize what happens next and end the call

If all has gone well up to this point, and the prospect seems like they’re a good fit for your business, it’s time to plan the next contact. To do so, end the call by asking your prospect whether you can follow up with them at a particular date and time, then follow up with an email to lock it in.

This may be another discovery call if further discussion is required, or it may be a product demo to discuss your solution in more detail and address pricing.

Some key questions to keep in mind as you enter the next stage are:

  • Who (at their company) needs to be involved in making a purchase decision

  • Whether there are legal or procurement policies they need to follow when choosing a vendor

  • Whether you are competing with other brands to win the sale

How to evaluate and optimize your discovery calls

While completing a successful discovery call is a great feeling, it isn’t the last step. You can optimize future discovery calls based on your successes and failures. Recording your calls is a great way to follow up and evaluate your discovery calls.

Break down and review the call recordings

First, analyze your recent discovery calls. Depending on how many calls you make, you may want to do this monthly, quarterly or biannually. Note anything to do with your approach or missed opportunities that could be improved.

For example, take a look at the qualifying information that you learned about your prospect. You may find that you neglected to ask a key question and missed details that would have helped you understand the prospect further.

Likewise, you may discover that a particular line of questioning wasn’t well received and needs to be adjusted for certain prospects. Perhaps you misjudged the tone of the conversation or a question was too pushy.

Test new strategies based on insights

With these insights, you can develop new strategies, discovery call templates and scripts. Test and optimize these with your sales team. Once they seem to be performing well, give them a trial run in a few discovery calls.

Following the example above, you might realize that you need to spend more time in the small talk stage to warm up the prospect. In your next call, you could try to make the prospect more comfortable before asking sales-related questions.

Holding effective discovery calls comes with constant practice and an iterative approach. Keep trying new things. Keep the sales tactics that work and throw out the ones that don’t. As your skill as a salesperson develops, you’ll find that the discovery calls become easier and easier.

Discovery call best practices that will help you close more deals

Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your discovery calls:

  • Ask effective questions. Each of your questions should help you understand your prospect more or answer whether they are likely to become a customer. Open-ended questions are better than yes or no questions as they offer more complete answers, helping you uncover more insights. Planning your questions in advance can help you to get the most out of the call without stumbling over your words.

  • Warm up before the call to maintain the right mindset. If you’re distracted or uninterested, the prospect will notice. However, if you’re confident, assertive and enthusiastic, they’ll be eager to listen and will take note of what you’re saying. This helps you establish rapport, build trust and land more sales.

  • Stay conversational and avoid interrogating the prospect. Try to maintain a friendly, non-pushy tone. Remember, you want to build a relationship with the prospect, so try to be assertive but not come on too strong. This is a fine balance and crucial sales skill that only comes with practice, so keep at it.

  • Use precise language. A discovery call template or script can sometimes help. For example, when describing your product or service, it’s a good idea to stick with the terminology that your company has outlined. Precise language avoids ambiguity and confusion and helps keep the discovery call on the right track.

  • Add value for the prospect. You want to leave your prospect with a positive impression of you and your company. If you add value through tips, recommendations and an overall friendly demeanor, they will be more likely to reach out when they’re ready to make a purchase decision.

  • Understand your prospect’s needs. Research thoroughly and keep asking questions during your discovery call until you truly understand your prospect, their needs and how your offering can solve their problems. This is key to developing a targeted value proposition and will help you close more deals.

  • Have a positive sign-off. Regardless of whether the discovery call ends in future engagements or disqualification, it’s important to end the call on a positive note before you hang up. There may be future engagements with that prospect or their company, or they may refer you to another prospect.

Final thoughts

The discovery call is your first real chance to find out which prospects are worth pursuing and develop quality relationships that lead to sales. A great discovery call will identify a prospect’s needs and pain points and build the foundation from which you can develop a personalized value proposition.

For this reason, it’s vital that sales professionals thoroughly prepare for the call, choose the right questions and use a reliable calling software like CloudTalk to deliver the phone call with enthusiasm.

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