13 Great Sales Discovery Questions | Close More Deals Remotely
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 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 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.
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:
- It prepares the prospect — this is no longer a bolt from the blue that can cause upset or disrupt the rapport you have built.
- 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).
- 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 on this subject.)
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.”
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.