How Salespeople Can Ask the Right Questions During Discovery

I attended the Sales 3.0 Conference in Philly last week, where many of the talks had a shocking theme running through them: Discovery is dead.

The premise was that buyers hate it. They view sales discovery calls as an annoyance — a roadblock to the demos and nuanced answers they crave from vendors.

That’s surprising because that’s never been my experience.

I’ve always found that asking thought-provoking, deliberate and intentional questions is not annoying — it’s engaging. And it’s the critical component that allows sales professionals to make the leap from seller to valued business advisor.

How can we reconcile these two viewpoints?

It all comes down to what you mean by discovery. In my mind, there are two keys to effective sales discovery calls.

Step 1: It’s not about you. It’s about your buyer

Salespeople often make the mistake of viewing discovery as a one-time event that’s used to begin qualifying an opportunity.

As a result, it takes on a transactional light: Give me this info, then I’ll give you what you really want.

Sellers start the call and attempt to run through their list of questions. Typically, these are situational questions that are stacked at the beginning.

This ends with the potential buyer feeling like they’re being interrogated and putting their guard up, which only makes sense.

After all, have you given them a reason to answer? Have you added value in your past interactions? Are you prepared to share insights from your research and lessons learned from other customers?

Research shows that impactful business relationships are built on a foundation of trust, credibility and rapport.

While trust is built incrementally over time, there are two powerful actions you can take to hit the ground running:

  • Put the pro back in sales professional: Building your personal brand on LinkedIn is vital to presenting as the talented and dedicated sales professional you are.
  • Put in the time to do quality research: People trust those who understand their point of view. Go beyond pain points to understand the priorities of the prospect’s company and form a narrative of the unique challenges that are most likely already on their radar.

On the other hand, credibility is something you can establish immediately:

  • Tell a good story: One of the most influential and succinct ways to present as a trusted business advisor is by telling a value-based story. It’s a 30-second opener that explains how you and your company have helped individuals like the prospect in the past.
  • Think like an executive: If you come in with a transactional mindset, you put yourself at an incredible disadvantage. When you develop the business acumen to adequately understand how the business objectives, business issues, problems and value connect with your unique solution, you’re ready to sell to decision-makers.=

When you look at rapport building, there’s nothing more powerful than asking the right questions, which leads us here.

Step 2: Ask the right sales questions.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking there’s a magic number of questions or the perfect sales-call script out there.

If you do, you’ll fall into the trap of overanalyzing and miss the X-factor that will make your discovery calls valuable for you and your buyer: You need to ask questions that get the prospect talking.

After analyzing nearly one million sales calls, found that “high-performing reps ask fewer questions per minute than lower-performing reps, but are able to get the prospect to open up more.”

Our research confirms this. When we asked sales leaders what separates their top performers from the rest of the pack, the second most important quality was the ability to ask relevant, targeted questions throughout sales conversations and actively listen to the answers.

Start with open-ended questions that showcase your familiarity with the prospect’s situation and your interest in helping them.

For instance, if your research revealed that the company recently brought new executives on, you might say:

  • “I saw that ___  brought on a new CEO & CFO. With those leadership changes in place, how does that impact your priorities for the business objectives and key initiatives that the company is focused on right now?”

Once you’ve learned about the changes in focus and how those impact the individual you’re speaking to, shift the conversation to better understand their perspective on possible solutions.

  • “When you think about implementing a  ___,  what are you hoping will change as a result?

Throughout the journey, you’ll want to ensure you’re using the prospect’s language to build rapport and ensure they feel heard. You might say something like:

  • You mentioned that ___ could be a potential roadblock in your first few months of ___. What are some of the other challenges you see from a ___ perspective that could get in the way?”

These are merely examples, but you get the idea: The more the prospect talks, the more you win.

Of course, not every question can be open-ended. The magic behind the O-P-C questioning technique is the ability to get them talking, go deeper when you need more information and confirm what you’ve heard to improve your understanding and showcase your commitment to uncovering their most critical business issues — and helping to solve them.  

Ultimately, effective sales discovery calls will always expand perspectives and add value. Remember that discovery is a process and must be mutual — the salesperson needs to understand the prospect, and the prospect also needs vital information from the seller.

When you switch your mindset from checking a box to having consultative business conversations, you better serve your potential buyers — and improve your chances of uncovering challenges that your product or service is uniquely qualified to solve. In doing so, you’ll forge trusted business relationships and uncover the value that motivates individuals to act with urgency.

Until next time, happy selling,


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