Luckily, you can find out right from the start. In this post, you’ll learn what a discovery call is and the best questions you could ask to uncover whether your prospect is a good fit. Let’s get started.

In many cases, the discovery call is the most important step in the sales process. It sets the tone for the entire relationship, both pre- and post-sale. Either you’ll be able to establish an authoritative relationship or you’ll be stuck playing catch up.

I’ve had deals that I thought would be relatively standard, but because I didn’t dive deep in discovery, they ended up being unduly complex.

Before calling your prospect, you’ll need to do a bit of preparation and be ready to share insights. 

The importance of the discovery call can’t be overstated — here’s why.

Discovery calls are crucial for sales professionals to understand the details of a prospect’s situation. Luckily, most prospects are okay with participating in a discovery call, as long as it’s not an interrogation.

Here are some benefits of the discovery call.

Prospects will leave the discovery call knowing who you are and what your company is all about. They might have specific questions about a product feature or a term, which gives you an opportunity to gauge and capture their interest.

If you do the call well, prospects will be assured that you understand their problem and that you will make a professional assessment to determine if you can help them or not. In doing so, you’ll show them that you’re invested in their success and not just getting their money.

The list of benefits can go and on, but let’s get right to it. Below, I’ve listed my go-to discovery questions. You won’t be able to cover every question on every call — and it might not make sense to.

The questions below can be separated into four subsections within the sales discovery process: setting the stage, qualifying the prospect, disqualifying the prospect, and establishing the next step. Let’s take a closer look.

We’ll assign each of the questions above to the appropriate part of the sales discovery process.

This is where you validate your research and learn about the customer’s situation. This gives you the proper insight you need to move forward.

This seemingly simple question begins with an easy topic: The prospect’s own company. This gives them a chance to introduce themselves in their own terms, but be careful: If you ask this question too early, it might seem like you didn’t do any research at all. Begin by stating what you already know, then ask the question so they can build upon your description of their business.

With this question, you can begin to find out more about the employee (not the business) in a more casual, low-pressure way. No need to dive into the nitty-gritty, and the best part is that they’ll be excited to share.

Here’s where the pressure begins to mount. If they don’t touch on what they’re responsible for during the previous question, then this will uncover that information. Note that the word “metric” is important here, since you’re asking about a quantifiable measure of success. That way, you can quantify how much your product can increase that metric.

After you’ve learned about your prospect, it’s time to identify their goals and clarify their pain points. You can use the Budget, Authority, Need, and Timeline (BANT) framework to help formulate the questions you’ll be asking during your discovery call.

Learn about their problems so you can solve for the customer.

You might also append a timeline to this question: Tell me about your goals for the next month/quarter/year. Choose a timeline depending on the implementation process of your product. For instance, if you sell an enterprise-level tool that takes six months to set up, you might ask about yearly goals instead of monthly goals.

While the prior question might hint at a timeline, this question explicitly asks when your prospect must achieve the goal. A yearly goal might be “To increase revenue by 5% year-over-year,” but the cut-off date for that is in three months, just in time for the New Year. “Yearly” does not mean “next year.” It could be as soon as this quarter.

If this question seems vague to you, that’s because it’s meant to be. You won’t pigeonhole the prospect into giving you a certain answer. By giving them a chance to bring up any problem they’re facing, you can find out their business challenges at a more overarching level.

Now, this question gets a little more specific. We’re still keeping it open-ended, but you’re driving them toward a distinct area of the business. While this is a yes or no question, it’ll prompt the prospect to think more deeply about their challenges.

You could potentially skip over this question if your prospect naturally reveals why it’s a priority in their previous answer. That said, knowing exactly why it’s a priority can help you uncover how urgent this problem is for your prospect.

Knowing the roadblocks your prospect has faced in solving the problem can hint at the roadblocks they’re facing now (or could potentially face in the future). For instance, if your prospect cites budget as an issue, then you’ll know to focus on that as a qualifying factor.

With this question, you’ll find out how the prospect envisions resolving the problem even without your product.

Here, you’ll find out what their image of success looks like. Is it realistic? Is it something your product can help them achieve? Listen without judgment, but be sure to take note of their expectations to confirm whether you can actually help.

Ask this question to find out, in a different way, just how urgently they need the product to solve their challenges. If they say they don’t have a plan in place or can’t envision solving the problem another way, then they are most definitely a good-fit prospect.

Next, ask questions that might disqualify the prospect. Find out what you can about the decision process, from budget to scheduling.

Even if you have an idea of the roadblocks the prospect will face, it’s still important to ask this question so you can get an answer straight from them.

This will give you a good idea of whether your product’s implementation timeline and your prospect’s timeline align. If not, then they’re not a good fit.

Is there enough money to invest in a new product or project? When it comes to sales, it’s never too early to talk about budget.

Measure up the tone of the conversation prior to asking this question. It might be too probing for a prospect who’s not well acquainted with you yet. If you and the prospect are on comfortable terms, find out where exactly the money will be coming from.

An executive sponsor is a senior-level employee who’s directly involved in a project and is committed to its success. Whether that’s your prospect’s direct manager or a C-suite executive, it’s important to know whether the owner of the budget is a single person or the entire department.

Lastly, ask questions that move the prospect along the pipeline. Provide a solution and offer next steps.

If you’re speaking with a smaller firm, then the answer will most likely be no. But this question is important if you’re working with enterprise businesses. Try to get access to the decision criteria if possible.

Knowing what your prospect has tried before will be instrumental in establishing a competitive advantage. You should be prepared to uphold your product above the competition’s even if the prospect doesn’t mention them by name.

Who else is your prospect considering purchasing from? This question will uncover that without sounding whiny or defensive.

If you’ve gotten to this point, you’ve probably established a high level of trust with your prospect. So you can ask right out about the purchase process without pushing them away.

While question #14 alluded to roadblocks, this question will reveal if there will be any unexpected changes that might bring the deal to a halt. Plus, if the prospect didn’t share too much when you asked about roadblocks, this question could do a better job at uncovering them.

The prospect might not have anything for you, or they might ask for additional resources and documentation. Either way, you want to give them a chance to articulate ways you can make the process easier.

You can instill relief in your prospect by helping them envision how their work life will improve after they purchase your product. This will do a lot of work when it’s time for your prospect to present your solution to stakeholders.

Will they have more customers? Or will they have wasted less time doing menial tasks? Again, nudge them to envision how things will be better with your product on hand.

Close the call strongly by suggesting a date to follow up.

Next, I share a full discovery call template that you should follow for a greater chance of success.

This goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: Spend as much time as you can researching and understanding your prospect’s business. Know their vertical, their challenges, and their goals. Take a look at their engagement history with your company. Did they download a specific resource? That will give you a hint of their goals and needs.

Keep doing research until you feel like you know your prospect’s business better than they do.

You don’t want the deal to go sideways early on or for the conversation to be derailed. Send an agenda to your prospect to ensure you’re covering everything they want to talk about, and give them a chance to add more items if necessary.

When you send the agenda, set a time and date that works for both parties. Ask your prospect how much time they’ll have. If they’d prefer to meet for 30 minutes instead of an hour, it’s important to take that into account.

Depending on their flexibility, you might even be able to carry out a product demo right in the discovery call. Be careful with this approach: If you demo the product too early, you might forget to focus on the prospects’ needs and challenges.

Next, when you’re on the call, open it up conversationally. Ask how their day or week has been, or what they did over the holidays. As you go into the following steps, be sure to keep the tone conversational. This isn’t an interview; it’s a way to get to know each other better.

It’s time to set the stage using the questions I suggested above. Remember, they are:

You can skip the last question if they touch upon their metrics of success when they describe their day-to-day work.

Just by the previous questions alone, you’ve probably gotten a good idea of whether your product can help. Further qualify the prospect by asking at least three of the following questions:

Remember, keep the tone conversational. These questions should flow naturally.

It’s just as important to disqualify the prospect as it is to qualify them. That way, you don’t waste your time. Ask the following questions:

Feel free to make the tone less conversational here and get a little more firm. You want the prospect to think carefully through their answers and not just throw out the first thing that comes to mind.

Last, establish next steps. There should be no question about what the prospect (or you) should do to move the deal forward. Be sure to ask:

A legal or procurement process isn’t a roadblock to a sale, but a lack of a business plan is. Once you’ve gotten the big-ticket items out of the way — for example, establishing a goal and talking through potential plans to achieve it — you can move on to the nitty-gritty of the deal.

Ideally, a discovery call will either clearly surface a sales opportunity or definitively disqualify a prospect. You should come out of your calls with an understanding of your prospect’s needs and how you can help solve them.

Always add value to the discovery call by providing some recommendations or simple ways to help. If you leave the prospect with a positive impression, they are more likely to reach out when they become sales-ready (if they aren’t currently).

By investing time and energy in creating a great discovery call, you’ll know for sure whether your prospect is a good or poor fit for the product. This will ensure you only spend time on the prospects who are more likely to close, allowing you to exceed quota and become a standout performer in your team.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in October 2015 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

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