Why Sales Discovery is Not only an Up-front Process

While curiosity may have killed the cat, it also helped the sales rep close the deal …

Successful sales professionals are curious by nature. They are interested in learning about their prospect’s business, their circumstances, challenges, and the situations in which they find themselves. When sales reps authentically engage with a human-to-human connection, they are much more effective than reps who only focus on presenting and pitching their solution.


Engaging simply means that you have a conversation; and the way you control and direct the conversation is through the questions that you ask. Sales professionals who adopt the ValueSelling Framework learn how to ask questions. Those questions enable them to determine if they really have an opportunity worth pursuing. By asking the right questions, you can separate the shoppers from the buyers. Becoming inquisitive and curious will enable you to gain information from your prospect and demonstrate your knowledge of the subject with the thoughtfulness of your questions.

Three Kinds of Questions

Three main types of questions facilitate the transference of information between the buyer and the seller. These are open-ended, probing, and confirming questions – we call them the O-P-C questions. These questions help the seller understand the buyer’s issues, business problems, and priorities. Here’s a guide on how to put O-P-C questions into practice:

  • Open-ended – With open ended questions, you give your prospect the opportunity to respond with a freeform answer. You must actively listen to that answer and follow up with probing questions to gain a deeper understanding. Open-ended questions often begin with the 5 W’s – who, what, why, when, or where, along with how. You can also start with “tell me about” or “describe for me.” For example:
  • What are your biggest challenges today?
  • How are you handling this situation?
  • Tell me about the metrics you use to measure success.
  • Probing – Probing questions are used to clarify your understanding of the response to an open-ended question and can typically be answered with a “yes” or “no.” With a probing question, you can drill down to better understand your prospect. Probing questions let you show your knowledge and experience, and deliberately uncover needs or requirements that you may be uniquely positioned to address. For example:
  • Is your current solution easy to use?
  • What would you like the ideal solution to do for you?
  • Is your management team happy with the current ROI?
  • Confirming – It’s important to ask confirming questions to clarify your understanding, as these show you are listening and confirm that you heard the other person, and you understood their intent. For example:
  • If I understand you correctly, your current solution hasn’t been fully adopted by your team?
  • So, if it were easier to use, you could accomplish more?
  • I’m hearing you say that if you could demonstrate success with this project, you’ll save enough money to recoup your costs in six months?

Although all of these questions should sound conversational, it’s important to prepare and think about the questions you want to ask in advance. We teach salespeople to mix it up and be very natural in their execution of the questions – you don’t want to sound like you’re reading from a telemarketer’s script! Good questioning requires good listening and then response. A conversation typically goes back and forth between open-ended and probing questions, then when you’ve gained the information you need, you confirm that you’ve understood it correctly. With practice, you’ll be able to have a conversation with a very easy flow that is composed of a cadence of questions.

Don’t be Afraid to Hear “No”

When we ask probing questions, many salespeople are afraid to get a “no” response. However, probing is where you can really deepen your understanding, be purposeful, and direct the conversation. Sometimes we can help a prospect recognize something that they haven’t yet realized. That’s where probing becomes especially important – and, when you get a “no,” just go back to an open-ended question. For example: “Oh, that’s interesting. How did you solve that? Why isn’t that a problem for you?” Just remember, whenever you’re stuck, circle back to an open-ended question.

Extend Discovery throughout the Sales Process

Although most sales reps understand that it is important to ask questions, many believe that most of the questions should be asked early on, as part of the discovery process. They prepare five or 10 questions and ask them up front, and then start talking about how great their company and their product are – they think it’s more important to present than to engage. Yet, the best sales reps ask questions continually and weave them in even while they’re presenting. This tests their understanding and makes sure they are still in alignment with the prospect.

If you want to set yourself up for success, ask yourself: “How do I deepen my understanding every time I speak with my prospect or customer?” Questions are the fuel, and you can accelerate the sales process with insightful O-P-C questions.

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