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sales discovery questions examples
August 22, 2023

13 Great Sales Discovery Questions That Will Close More Deals

sales discovery questions examples

Sales revenue is won and lost in discovery — the crucial part of the process where opportunities are qualified. At the same time, sellers uncover prospects’ compelling reasons to buy by gaining visibility of the pain, value, cost savings, and benefits that your product or services can unlock.

My own rather crude “survey” revealed most sales leaders say 90-95% of the sale relied on a great discovery call.

But discovery time, and earning the right to ask all your discovery questions, is really limited. While your rapport, value proposition, and great questions may maximize this, you cannot afford to waste a single question.

What Is a Discovery Call?

During a sales discovery call, sellers ask the prospective customer questions to help them understand how their company can assist the customer. Discovery questions help create velocity in the sales process, and standardized questions allow a sales team to consistently communicate in a way that helps improve conversions of prospects to customers.

Key Principles of Great Discovery Questions for Sales

Every question and answer has to move the needle to:

  • Create fit (and qualify out where that doesn’t exist)
  • Demonstrate compelling value (the type of value that makes deals happen)

With initial discovery calls often scheduled for 10-15 minutes, how many lousy questions do you want to ask? How many questions that fail to reveal the full value and problem you can fix can you afford?

There are many great discovery call questions you can ask, and this article is not meant to be a checklist or anything close to being completely conclusive. The best questions will come from listening and asking pertinent questions that help reveal opportunities specific for that prospect. But the following discovery question examples, in no particular order, will work beautifully to aid your objective of creating fit and value.

13 Discovery Question Examples to Inspire Your Next Call

1. Can you tell me more about that?

You are starting to get somewhere. The seed of a pain or opportunity may be emerging, but you don’t know enough yet. One of the most frequent mistakes sales reps make is not going deep enough at this stage — they note the insight, pain, or value and fail to fully understand its cause, cost, repercussions, and extent of the issue.

You can ask a further direct question, but it may be too specific, loaded (assumptive), multichoice (“is the cause x, y or is it z”), or even worse, plain useless in eliciting any greater value to you or your prospect.

When you ask, “Tell me more about that?” you invite the prospect to continue to share more detail and granularity, without risking any of the above.

2. Why is that important to you?

This open-ended discovery question will help you not only understand why this may be a priority to resolve or unlock, but crucially it is personal. Why is it important to the buyer? What would solving that problem or unlocking that opportunity make a difference to them personally?

Does this problem give them endless headaches? Does it use up valuable time and resources? (By the way, what would they do with that time if they had it back?) Has someone tasked them with solving that problem? Has that been set as a priority to them by the business or their seniors? Is this linked to their compensation? Is their job on the line if they don’t solve the problem?

3. What happens if nothing changes/you don’t do x?

What does the status quo look like? What’s the consequence of not solving this pain or pursuing the opportunity? Revealing the extent and cost (monetary, resource, personal, etc.) of not taking action gives context to understanding how much of a priority this is likely to be and why. And it helps the prospect describe an undesirable outcome — that perhaps you can help them change.

4. Can I ask you a difficult question?

You are about to ask the “tough question.” It’s going to get uncomfortable, but it is crucial in helping all parties get real value.

This question achieves three things:

  1. It prepares the prospect — this is no longer a bolt from the blue that can cause upset or disrupt the rapport you have built.
  2. It seeks permission — you are respectful and don’t want to ask if it’s not with permission. You can still hit reverse if required (it rarely is).
  3. You can explain why you wanted to ask — even though you appreciate it’s uncomfortable. For example, you could say, “In order to help suggest a solution, can I ask you a difficult question?”

This question takes all the edge away from your “tough question.”

(Pete Caputa, formerly of HubSpot and now tearing it up at Databox, wrote a great article about asking tough discovery questions.)

5. Is it (current solution) working?

What are the existing problems, issues, concerns, or missed opportunities in the prospect’s current solution. The sentiment and tone of response will guide as to whether this represents an area you can add value and solve, or whether the opportunities to help are elsewhere.

“Is it working?” is not abrasive, but it gets immediately to the point of revealing need.

6. Who else cares about (solving problem/opportunity revealed)?

Creating excitement in solving a problem or adding value is great, but the average B2B sale has 6.8 decision makers involved. Is your prospective customer a decision maker? Who is? And who else will be involved, influence, or sign this off?

Asking who is the decision maker can undermine your prospect. Or worse, they may say they are, but this becomes a half truth at best and only revealed when it’s too late.

This question ensures you understand who else is incentivized to solve this and why, allowing you to probe how you can engage, demonstrate, convince, and get the excitement in each and every stakeholder.

7. Where is this on your list of priorities today?

Excitement is great. Problems may feel like they are there to be solved. Opportunities are a no-brainer to unlock. But nothing happens if it is not important enough and time bound — ideally with a compelling reason.

This question reveals how important the problem is, and it allows you to subsequently determine the compelling event and timescale to a successful sale.

8. If we fixed that, what would that mean?

What is the value of making this change — solving this problem or exploiting this opportunity? What changes or happens as a result? These may, of course, be financial, resources, focus, strategic, or risk mitigation. It also may be very personal — and you should ask that, too.

The subtly is in the word “we.” Subliminally “we” are now going to solve this problem together.

9. Are you ready to solve this now?

Does urgency exist? Is there a compelling event? Why?

If they are not yet ready to “solve this,” it will reveal the reasons, hurdles, or timescales so that you can address, mitigate, or work with them.

Or their answer may reveal that it is not as compelling as the excitement or fit initially suggested.

10. If I can propose a solution, what would we need to do to make that happen?

Before even revealing how you can solve their problem, you want to understand the steps to making this happen. This presents a clear roadmap on how such a solution gets approved.

It also couples the solution that is about to be revealed (but not yet) to this roadmap or series of actions.

11. What’s going to stop us working together by xx (‘end of this month’)?

This question is tried and tested to reveal any hurdles or actions not yet spoken or discussed. But the key is to make it time-bound. What could stop this from happening within a timescale you are just about to add to your CRM? What are the risks, hurdles, people, and required actions that may stop or delay this from happening?

12. What’s stopped you from solving this previously?

Likely the prospect’s problem or opportunity isn’t new. And it hasn’t been previously fixed. Why? Priorities? Cost? Ability?

But what has changed? Is it as simple as you presenting a unique way for them to achieve this within the commercials, resources, and power they possess?

Or has it not been compelling enough, has it not been a high enough priority, was it tried and failed, or so on?

13. What are your other options to solve this?

While this can reveal direct competitors, the likely competition will be to do nothing or an alternative way to achieve the desired outcome.

By understanding, dismissing, and articulating the benefits and value over these alternatives, your solution can become the “best solution.”

How to Run a Sales Discovery Call [Template Included!]

Now that you know the most important discovery questions to ask, make sure you know how to run a sales discovery call. By following this template, you’ll build trust with the buyer and establish a solid foundation for the rest of the sales process.

1. Prepare for the Discovery Call

Before the call, research the buyer’s company and industry to make sure you understand their background, challenges, and potential pain points. Review existing communication with and information you have about the buyer. Then set clear objectives for the call: What do you hope to achieve? What information do you hope to gather?

2. Start the Discovery Call: Introduce Yourself and Build Rapport

Start with a friendly greeting and a brief introduction of yourself and your company. Establish rapport and create a comfortable environment for the conversation. This is your opportunity to establish a bond with the buyer.

3. Set the Agenda for the Discovery Call

Outline the purpose of the call and what the buyer can expect to discuss. Ask the buyer if they have any specific topics or questions they’d like to cover.

4. Ask Your Discovery Questions

Begin the discovery process by asking open-ended questions that encourage the buyer to share information. Avoid questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” Some examples to get you started:

  • Can you tell me about your current business challenges?
  • What goals do you hope to achieve in the next quarter/year?
  • How do you currently address [specific problem]?

Then as the more probing questions listed above to delve deeper into the buyer’s goals and challenges.

5. Actively Listen to the Buyer’s Responses

Pay close attention to what the buyer says. Show genuine interest in what they say and avoid interrupting. When possible, record the discovery call so you can really focus on what the buyer says and not worry about and get distracted by taking notes.

6. Clarify What the Buyer Said and Ask Follow-up Questions

Ask follow-up questions to dig deeper into the buyer’s answers. You want to understand the root causes of their challenges and the impact those challenges have on their business.

7. Identify and Verify the Buyer’s Problem

Summarize the challenges and pain points the buyer mentioned to ensure you understand their problem. Communicate the value of solving the problem. Relate the challenges to solutions your product or service provides.

8. Share Your Value Proposition

Transition to discussing how your product or service can address the buyer’s challenges and help them achieve their goals. Highlight specific features, benefits, and success stories that align with their needs.

9. Qualify the Buyer and Determine Fit

Assess the buyer’s level of interest, budget, authority, need, and timeline (BANT criteria). Determine if there’s a good fit between the prospect’s needs and what you’re offering. Be prepared to address concerns and objections that the buyer might raise.

10. Establish Next Steps

Based on the conversation, propose the next steps in the buying process. This could include scheduling a product demo, sending additional information, or arranging a follow-up call.

11. Close the Call

Summarize the key points of the conversation and reiterate the benefits of your solution.

You should also confirm the buyer’s interest in moving forward and outline the agreed-upon next steps.

12. Thank You and Follow Up

Thank the buyer for their time and insights. After the call, send a follow-up email, summarizing the call, reiterating action items, and sending additional resources. Another option is to create a digital sales room to share resources, collaborate, and continue the conversation.

Common Questions About Discovery Calls

If you are new to sales, conducting discovery calls can be intimidating and confusing. Here are answers to some common questions about discovery calls that can help you become more proficient doing them.

What are the three types of discovery call questions?

1. Open-Ended Questions: Open-ended questions encourage prospects to provide detailed and comprehensive responses. These questions cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no,” and they prompt the buyer to share insights, challenges, and information that can guide the sales conversation.

Examples of open-ended questions:

  • Can you tell me about your current business challenges?
  • What goals are you looking to achieve in the next quarter?
  • How do you currently handle [specific problem] within your organization?

 2. Closed-Ended Questions: Closed-ended questions are those that can be answered with a brief response, often “yes” or “no” or a specific piece of information. These questions are useful for gathering specific details and confirming information.

Examples of closed-ended questions:

  • Do you currently use a CRM system?
  • Is your team experiencing budget constraints?
  • Are you the final decision-maker in your company’s purchasing process?

 3. Probing Questions: Probing questions are follow-up questions that dig deeper into a buyer’s initial response. They help salespeople explore the context, motivations, and reasons behind the buyer’s answers, providing a more comprehensive understanding.

Examples of probing questions:

  • Could you provide more details about how [challenge] is impacting your team’s productivity?
  • What specific outcomes do you hope to achieve by implementing a new solution?
  • Can you elaborate on the factors that led to your decision to consider a new vendor?

How many questions should you ask during a discovery call?

The number of questions you should ask during a discovery call varies depending on the complexity of the prospect’s needs, the time available for the call, and the depth of information you’re trying to gather. Rather than focusing on a specific number of questions, it’s more important to ensure that you cover the essential topics and gather the necessary information to move the sales process forward.

Some guidelines to consider:

Quality over quantity: It’s more important to ask well-thought-out, relevant questions that lead to meaningful insights rather than trying to reach a specific question count.

Cover Key Topics: Make sure you address key topics such as the buyer’s challenges, goals, pain points, current solutions, decision-making process, timeline, and budget.

Adapt to the Conversation Flow: The conversation should flow naturally. If the buyer is elaborating on a particular topic, you might ask fewer questions in that area. On the other hand, if a topic is glossed over, you might need more questions to gain a complete understanding.

Tailor Questions to the Buyer’s Engagement: Pay attention to the buyer’s engagement and comfort level. If they seem eager to share, you might delve deeper. If they appear reserved, be respectful of that and avoid overwhelming them with too many questions.

Be Prepared to Go Deeper: Be ready to ask follow-up and probing questions when necessary. These can often provide deeper insights and help you better understand the buyer’s situation.

How do I prepare for a discovery call?

Preparing for discovery calls is essential to ensure that you gather relevant information and create a productive and engaging conversation with your prospects. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you effectively prepare for discovery calls:

1. Research the Buyer: Gather information about the buyer’s company, industry, and role. Look for recent news, press releases, and any publicly available information that can help you understand their business better.

2. Review Previous Interactions: If you’ve had any prior communication with the buyer, review emails, notes, or any recorded interactions to understand their context and concerns.

3. Understand Common Pain Points: Identify common pain points and challenges faced by their industry or role. This will help you frame relevant questions and tailor your approach.

4. Set Clear Objectives: Define what you aim to achieve during the call. Whether it’s gathering specific information, uncovering challenges, or understanding their goals, having clear objectives is crucial.

5. Craft Relevant Questions: Develop a list of open-ended, probing, and context-specific questions that will guide the conversation toward uncovering the buyer’s needs and aligning them with your offerings.

6. Anticipate Objections: Think about potential objections or concerns the buyer might raise. Prepare responses that address these objections effectively.

7. Prepare Value Propositions: Outline how your product or service can solve the buyer’s challenges and provide value. Tailor your value propositions to their specific needs.

8. Gather Necessary Resources: Have any relevant product information, case studies, testimonials, or resources ready to share during the call if they’re applicable to the conversation.

9. Choose the Right Platform: Ensure you’re familiar with the communication platform you’ll be using (phone, video call, etc.) and have any necessary equipment and tools ready.

10. Create a Call Agenda: Outline the key topics you plan to cover during the call. This can help you stay organized and ensure you cover all important points.

11. Plan and Practice Your Introduction: Prepare a concise and engaging introduction that establishes your credibility, the purpose of the call, and shows genuine interest in the buyer’s situation.

12. Create a Follow-Up Plan: Prepare a plan for what steps you’ll take after the call, whether it’s sending a follow-up email, scheduling a demo, or sharing additional resources.

How do you come up with discovery questions?

Creating effective discovery call questions requires a combination of preparation, active listening, and adaptability. Here are some guidelines that you can follow to come up with meaningful discovery call questions:

Preparation: Research the buyer’s industry, company, and role. Understand their challenges, pain points, and goals. Familiarize yourself with your own product or service and how it addresses common customer needs.

Define the Objectives of the Call: Clearly outline the goals of the discovery call. What information do you need to gather? What insights will help tailor your pitch?

Start with Open-Ended Questions: Begin by drafting a list of open-ended questions that encourage the buyer to share their perspective and provide details about their situation.

Cover Key Topics: Develop questions that cover key areas such as challenges, goals, current solutions, decision-making process, budget, timeline, and desired outcomes.

Think About Pain Points: Craft questions that uncover the prospect’s pain points and challenges. For example, “What are the biggest obstacles your team faces in achieving [specific goal]?”

Probe for More Details: Use probing questions to dig deeper into the context and reasons behind the prospect’s responses. For instance, “Can you provide an example of how [challenge] impacted a recent project?”

What’s the best question to ask during a discovery call?

While there isn’t a single “best” question that applies to all situations, asking effective questions during a discovery call can greatly impact the quality of the conversation. Here’s a question that is often considered crucial and can lead to valuable insights:

“Can you tell me about your biggest challenges or pain points related to [specific area or topic]?”

This question is powerful for several reasons: It focuses on the buyer’s challenges, it’s specific to the buyer’s situation (and shows you did your homework), it’s open-ended and encourages the buyer to provide a detailed response, the answer gives you insights and allows you to tailor your sales pitch, and the question engages the buyer.

What Makes a Great Discovery Call?

We reviewed over 200,000 sales conversations and analyzed the patterns of great software sales calls. Find out the traits of the best discovery calls in our latest report, The 7 Pillars of Great Sales Conversations.

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The 7 Pillars of Great Sales Conversations

We reviewed over 200,000 sales conversations and analyzed the patterns of great software sales calls. Find out the traits of the best discovery calls in our latest report.

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