9 Effective Sales Call Discovery Questions To Use In 2023

Sales management14 mins
Brendan Connaughton|Mar 23, 2023
sales person running discovery meeting

I once had a district manager, and whenever he met a new salesperson, he’d first ask them what their “opener” was. He swore that he could guess how good a salesperson they were, based on their answer. Though I’m not sure I agree with it, his approach is an interesting idea.

For reference, his favorite opener was “what’s a typical day like for you?”

A salesperson’s ability to extract useful information from a prospect is paramount to success. Questions are the primary tool by which someone would get information from another person.

In fact, research shows 22% of salespeople list discovery as the most difficult part of their job, which makes sense. In most situations, there are numerous questions you could potentially ask. However, since you have a finite amount of time with a prospect, you have to be efficient with your inquiries.

To get to the answers that help you close the deal, we’ve put together a guide on how to create a list of sales discovery questions that helps you really understand your prospect, so you can support them better. And as a bonus, we've also added our top nine discovery questions examples to ask prospects when you want to get the ball rolling.

Let's get down to it!

What are discovery questions?

In B2B sales, “sales discovery questions” refer to the questions a salesperson will typically ask during a discovery call. The main goal of these discovery call questions revolves around building trust, identifying prospect’s needs, their roadblocks, and how your product can help them achieve their goals.

Understanding the value of efficient sales discovery call questions

Journalists and salespeople are more alike than they're different. Both interact with humans on a daily basis, they're both looking for problems (and solutions), and both ask questions. In both cases, asking the right questions is fundamental to success. The wrong questions can lead a journalist off-trail and put a damper on a sales process faster than a bolt of lightning.

The right questions? They can be more precious than a self-digging gold mine in your backyard.

You could have the best product in the world, the best service, and the most attractive pricing -- If you don't ask the right questions, you won't understand your customer's actual needs to respond to.

Here's a quick overview of what good discovery sales questions could do for you:

  • Help you identify and qualify potential customers
  • Give you a better understanding of their current situation
  • Uncover their needs and wants
  • Understand their purchasing process
  • Determine the best solution for them
  • Identify factors that may stop them from buying
  • Help you understand how they make decisions
  • Establish trust and rapport
  • Show that you care about them (genuinely!)
  • Better understand where in the sales process your prospects are
  • Gauge what other sales conversations and collateral will help your prospects

How to build a strategy for your customer discovery questions

People like hearing template-driven discovery questions about as much as they like having someone call them during dinnertime. If you don’t want your discovery meeting to feel like a cold call, you need to adapt to:

  • The person in front of you
  • Their pain points
  • Business goals
  • And biggest challenges

Creating a successful discovery process boils down to two golden rules:

  • Tailor your questions to the individual's specific stage in the buyer's journey
  • Make sure your questions contribute to the conversation

Let's take a closer look at each of them.

Ask questions for each stage of the buyer's journey

During a sales discovery call meeting, one of your main goals is to meet your prospect where they are -- and make sure they know this isn’t yet another disguised sales pitch. Good sales professionals adapt questions to the specific stage of the buyer's journey in a smart way to ensure you keep the conversation close to your prospect's pain points. Here are some examples of questions you could ask at each of the three main stages of the buyer's journey:

Awareness stage:

  • What are your goals for the next year?
  • How will implementing a solution help you achieve your goals, in your opinion?
  • What are some other ways you're working towards your goal?

Consideration stage:

  • What solutions have you considered so far?
  • What criteria are you evaluating when considering a solution provider?
  • What budget have you allocated to this project?
  • What is your current solution (if any) doing well? What isn’t it doing so well?

Decision stage:

  • What made you decide to go with our solution?
  • How can we help ensure a successful implementation of the solution?

What do you consider to be the most important success criteria for this project?

Make sure your questions contribute to the conversation

Although there's no one-size-fits-all recipe for a great discovery call, there are a few best practices to keep in mind:

Start with the least sensitive questions

Building trust happens gradually, so it's important to ease into the conversation, especially when it’s your first call. Don't start asking questions about budget or business challenges (hold those off for a later stage.) Instead, begin with something more casual. This will help your prospect relax and open up, as well as give you valuable insight into their personality.

Listen more

This is, ultimately, the best rule of any communication. In his cult book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie spoke about the power of showing genuine interest in the other person. And although he wrote it down in 1936, the advice is more relevant than ever. In a world of always-on, 24/7 selling, being someone who actually listens is a rare and valuable (!) skill.

Focus on the prospect, not the product

It doesn't matter what you're selling: if you bring up your product every other sentence, you'll lose your prospect. Focus on them, how you can help them achieve their goals, and how they can benefit from your solution. Not only will this yield better information exchange, but it will also make you more likeable.

Be flexible

Your goal is to create a productive dialogue, not an interrogation. Listen to your prospect and adapt to their answers. Ask follow-up and open-ended questions that invite new conversations. Remember, your discovery call questions aren’t about reciting the same text to every potential customer that comes your way: it's about really learning more about them.

Be mindful of the time

Finally, don't forget to respect the customer's time. Keep your discovery call within a reasonable (and mutually agreed) timeframe. Make sure to use conversational signposts and check-ins so that your customer knows you're actively listening to them and understanding their needs. This will build rapport and trust with your customers — and eventually close more deals too.

Research your prospect

A quick look at your prospect’s LinkedIn can tell you more about where they live/ work, what experience they have, who the organization’s internal stakeholders may be, and why their company may be in the market for a new solution like the one you offer. A bit of research can go a long way in making your sales cycle smoother and more efficient.

Top 9 best questions successful sales reps use

As promised, here are the top nine best discovery questions we frequently use in our sales process:

1. What problem are you trying to solve?

There’s only one reason we ever buy anything: to solve a problem. We may not always phrase it that way, but that’s the truth. For example, any time you buy food, the problem you’re solving is hunger. Or, if you buy a coat, the problem you’re solving is staying warm.

Your prospect is no different. They have a problem, and you can earn their business if you sufficiently show how to solve it. However, you’re only able to do that if you fully understand what their problem is.

Though it can be hard to ask direct and sometimes difficult questions, it boosts the efficiency of your sales process. And it’s well worth your time to do so. Only 13% of customers believe a salesperson understands their needs. Since it’s so foundational to the sales process, this is a great question to ask early in your discovery process.

2. Tell me about your current process

It's likely your prospect has a workflow they’re currently using. If they’re talking to you, that’s a pretty clear signal whatever it is they’re currently doing is no longer working. Or, at the very least, can be improved upon.

By asking about their current process, you can uncover the pain points they may be experiencing. You’re also given insight into how you may be able to position your product as a better solution. For example, at Qwilr we often hear prospects mention how much of a pain it is to update business proposals or contracts and then resend them to get signed.

With that information, we can segue into a quick product demo, talk about how a Qwilr page can be updated, have the prospect refresh the link on their end, and the changes will be reflected in real-time. This way, they see there’s no back-and-forth and no recreating materials involved in the process – we’ve solved one of their sales pipeline bottlenecks.

When you understand your customer’s current process, you’re able to better position yourself as the next evolution.

3. What do you do day-to-day?

When you tell someone you’re a salesperson, they probably think most of your time is spent selling. However, as you well know, that’s not the case. In fact, salespeople only spend about 35% of their time actively selling.

Though that may seem crazy for someone outside of sales, those who know the job wouldn’t be anywhere near as surprised by those numbers.

The reality is someone’s job title only gives you a little bit of information about what they do day in and day out. Similar to the question above, when you ask about your prospect’s daily activities, what you’re looking for are ways, or areas, to which your product or service is applicable.

And, if you want to take it a step further, quantify the information your prospect shares. For example, we sometimes hear sales teams spend 2-3 hours each day creating sales proposals. We know with Qwilr, we can dramatically reduce that time. Based on the salary of the average salesperson, we can quantify the cost of manual processes to our prospect with an ROI calculator, to visualize the value of our solution.

Whenever you can show a prospect their current process is more costly than your solution's price, it’s a no-brainer to move forward with your offer.

4. What are your top priorities? (price, value, etc.)

Every prospect has their own set of priorities. For example, some may be most concerned with how easily your service may integrate with their current workflow. Others may be interested in specific features or to make sure security measures taken. For many, price is the biggest determining factor.

By asking about their priorities, you can better speak to any concerns they may have and overcome their objections. You’ll also be able to discover any potential deal-breakers early on.

5. Who’s involved in the decision-making process?

As teams have become more cross-functional and purchases more complex, the number of people involved in purchasing decisions has grown over the past few years. In fact, on average, there are seven people involved in the decision-making process for most purchases.

The goal of asking who’s involved in the decision-making process isn’t really to get the names of all the decision-makers, but to understand the roles and influence across the buying committee. For example, if you’re pitching to a sales manager, your approach will be different than if you are pitching to an account executive.

Knowing who else is weighing into the decision empowers you to start planning early for those conversations and what’s most important to each deal influencer.

6. Do you have a timeline for getting a new tool/ service?

Timing is as important a part of closing a deal as any. When you know if your prospect has a specific timeline, you can better understand where they are in the buying process and how urgent their need is.

If they don’t have a solid timeline, chances are they’re earlier in the process and probably in the research phase of their decision. However, if they have a hard deadline, it signals they’re a more serious buyer and may be closer to making a purchase.

7. What metrics are you responsible for?

We all have goals. And most of us measure our success by looking at one or a few different metrics. For example, a sales team may be responsible for monthly recurring revenue (or MRR).

As with many of the questions in this article, the real goal is to better understand your prospect and how you can frame your pitch to make it as relevant as possible. Being able to relate exactly how your offering could impact their primary metrics is incredibly powerful.

8. What is your ideal scenario?

Any time we buy something, we have an expectation of the item or service we’re purchasing. Not only do we have an expectation of how the product or service works, but we also probably have an expectation of the buying process, too.

By asking about an ideal scenario, what you’re really finding out is what the prospect’s expectations are. If you’re selling software, for example to solve laptop storages problems, they may expect your team to help set up integrations. They may also have an expectation of how long the software implementation takes.

No matter the case, it’s good to understand what those expectations are upfront. That way you can plan for them beforehand. Remember, the sales process doesn’t end when a prospect signs the deal.

9. Are there any potential roadblocks?

There’s a great saying, “An ounce of preparation is worth a pound of cure.” What it means is that being prepared upfront can save a lot of time later on. When selling, there is any number of potential roadblocks that could come up. If you’re unprepared, they can cause a lot of trouble and delays.

Though it might seem a little direct to ask a prospect if they foresee any potential roadblocks, it is the most effective way to be informed. If they do raise concerns you'll be able to address them accordingly, potentially avoiding a deal-breaker.

Staying curious

Learning about your prospect and their needs is integral to the sales process. One of the best ways to do that is by asking thoughtful questions to your prospect. Though there are any number of questions you can ask, the ones mentioned above should be a good place to start.

The more conversations you have, the more you can develop a bank of questions you can pull from to make sure you get the most out of your conversations. As long as you’re earnest in your effort and curious about your prospects, you’ll be on the right path.

About the author

Brendan Connaughton, Head of Growth Marketing

Brendan Connaughton|Head of Growth Marketing

Brendan leads growth marketing & demand generation at Qwilr – looking after performance marketing, SEO, CRO and analytics. Brendan’s has experience with high growth companies like Airwallex and lead growth teams agency side for a few years.