In this article, I will breakdown how to run effective discovery calls within the sales process, in just 7 easy steps. It’s no secret that the sales discovery call is one of the most crucial parts of any sales opportunity. Delivering demos without this vital component is likely to be a wasted activity.
A couple of months back I posed the question to my LinkedIn network: how vital is discovery. The response was overwhelming: it was absolutely vital. In fact, many respondents said that it’s the stage where deals are often won or lost.
What happens in a discovery call?
The sales discovery process is about finding out whether a lead is realistically going to buy from you. It usually involves up-front research into a client so you understand them thoroughly, followed by a call in which you find out more than you could from desk reading.
It’s about finding out the prospect’s pain points, understanding their needs, and helping them to see why the product you’re selling is the right one to help them achieve their objectives.
It’s also a tool to help you. Sometimes a prospect is genuinely not a good fit for the product you’re selling. This is your chance to identify that, and make sure you don’t waste your time on a low-value pitch.
Crucially, this is an opportunity to listen to what the prospect has to say. This is the call where they tell you what they want. It’s where they give you the information you need to make a sale to them. So don’t spend it all talking.
How long should a sales discovery call be?
The short answer? It depends. A sales discovery call could be anywhere between 15 minutes to 1 hour or longer. The long answer is that you’ll need to take into account the customer lifetime value (LTV) and the amount of time it will take you to collect all the information you need from your prospect.
If your LTV is less than $1,500-2,000, a 15-minute call should suffice. For more complex or larger ticket deals, you will want to schedule 1 hour for the call in order to ask all the questions you need to ask, and to allow the prospect to clarify the nuances of their challenges.
A 7-step process for structuring a winning sales discovery call
While discovery is deemed so crucial to sales success, it’s extremely difficult to do it effectively.
Sales reps often struggle to ask the right questions or get the right answers. They don’t know how to build urgency to buy, and all too often they take shortcuts to just jump straight to demo.
Many sales leaders are unsure how to coach their reps to have better discovery calls, or simply feel they don’t have the time to listen to lots of calls to find out how they can improve.
Here’s what to do in your sales discovery process:
- Pre-strategize and role play.
- Record your discovery calls.
- Set the agenda and get prospect buy-in.
- Ask questions (with levels).
- Tell a story / add narrative.
- Work the close.
- Coach, learn and repeat.
1. Pre-strategize & role-play
It’s time that sales teams woke up and realized that without practicing and rehearsing, you’re not improving or preparing in the right way.
The best sports personalities in the world have coaches, and they practice and train every day. Why shouldn’t sales be different?
Before your sales discovery call, work with a coach (a manager), and run through questions you aim to ask. Practice responses you are likely to give based on assumed objections.
Discuss the desired outcomes you have for the call, and what information you hope to glean. Think about it like doing your stretches in the warm up to the main event.
We always practice our discovery calls to listen back to things that may have been missed, or to pick up on any negative language/crutch phrases you may want to try dropping from your calls.
2. Record your discovery calls
I cannot recommend highly enough the importance (where possible) to record your discovery calls. For a call that may last in excess of thirty minutes, there is no way on earth that any human can remember every single detail, nuance, and intrigue areas from their call.
And you aren’t going to solve that by scribbling down illegible notes that can sometimes throw up more confusion than intended when re-visiting them a few days later.
You have the technology. Use it. Recording your calls provides the perfect opportunity to capture/re-visit every single word, point, and emotion in a discovery conversation. It means that managers can listen and make an independent judgment on how strong the chances of a sale are. And they can use the call to coach reps afterwards to help us get better as sales people.
If you aren’t recording your discovery calls. Start doing it. Trust me.
3. Set the agenda and get prospect buy-in
Too often I’ve heard reps jump straight into their sales discovery call with an interrogation. They fire off a barrage of questions that the prospect wasn’t expecting and they immediately start off on the wrong footing.
They don’t help the prospect understand the objective of the call, and what happens at the end.
I’ve found that it’s best to start off with an agenda for the call along with some objectives. This is the perfect way to both manage expectations of the prospect and get them bought into your sales process, but also – to help you take control of the conversation.
This discussion is an opportunity for you to discover, learn, and build value. It isn’t for prospects to derail you.
Example script to set the agenda:
“The purpose of this conversation, Mr. Prospect, is for me to learn more about your situation and how we may be able to help. If you think it’s worth your time at the end of the call to continue the discussion, a typical next step would be for me to schedule some more time with you to provide a demo of our solution. Does that sound good to you?”
4. Question time
Discovery is ultimately split between asking questions and listening.
Relevant and meaningful questions are key to the success of finding out more about the prospects situation, but crucially – their compelling reason as to why they would even want to see your product, never mind buy it.
Through experience, I have categorized the sales discovery call questions into three separate buckets to help coach reps into following a process and structure when conducting discovery:
Level 1 Discovery Questions:
These tend to be more aligned with ‘qualification’ rather than discovery, as they establish the prospect’s current situation and the appropriateness of delving deeper.
Good examples of these types of questions would be things like:
‘What are your plans for growing your Inside Sales team this year?’
‘How often do you coach your rep’s calls on a weekly basis today Mrs Prospect’?
The responses to these questions will help set me up to peel away the layers and snorkel deeper into process and opportunities.
Level 2 Discovery Questions:
These questions will start to uncover more detail about potential of the prospect’s challenges with the answers they gave to level one questions, and thus start to give evidence of how I may be able to help them.
Good examples of these types of questions would be things like:
‘How are you dealing with the challenges of on-boarding and ramping new hires as your team grows?’
‘How much is time an obstruction to coaching your rep’s on a more frequent basis?’
These questions will start to open up possible pain points, which is where I have the opportunity to expose that pain, and build up urgency to solve the problem.
Level 3 Discovery Questions:
These are the questions which really count, and are often those which reps feel less comfortable asking.
A reality check here, is that without asking the tough questions, you will always struggle to build urgency to buy.
Think of level three questions as the ones which highlight what the prospect is missing out on by not using your product, or indeed what they could achieve if they bought it.
Good examples of these types of questions are:
‘How much revenue per rep do you believe you are currently missing out on, by having a ramp time which you believe is two months longer than it needs to be?’
‘If you could coach your reps more frequently, how many more deals do you think they would close as a result of doing so?’
5. Be a story teller
We’ve all heard that telling stories is the new way of selling, and I couldn’t agree more.
Customers don’t want to make decisions based on what you think is right or wrong. They want to hear how similar people and personas have shared similar challenges and experiences that they can resonate with.
There’s also a reason why every organization globally craves case studies and customer testimonials. Telling the story of how you have helped solve a problem of a similar prospect in a similar situation will be far more compelling than just talking about products and features. Instead of pitching your product, try building in storytelling examples such as:
“One of our other SaaS customers who had similar challenges to yourself with long ramp time of reps, was able to reduce the time it took to get new hires up to speed by 25%, by building libraries of their winning discovery calls to listen to on week one in the new role. How much quicker do you think your new hires would get up to speed by listening to 20 great discovery calls in their first week?
Another advantage of storytelling: stories are a great alternative to asking Level 2 / Level 3 questions if you get stuck on a call.
Storytelling has become the go-to comfort blanket to my own reps, if they ever get tongue tied or aren’t sure what to ask. An example of putting this into practice is:
“We’ve just been working with ABC Software company this past 6 months as too many of their reps weren’t hitting quota, and they assumed that many of their deals were being lost at the discovery call stage. What’s your experiences of this with your own sales team?”
6. Go for the close
A great sales discovery call is only great if you can close the prospect down to next steps. If you feel the discovery call has been successful, the aim here is to summarize the specific areas in which you feel your product or service will be of value.
There are two ways I typically approach this:
The ‘assumptive’ close – This is a way of confirming back to the prospect how you think you will be able to help address specific challenges identified during questioning, without necessarily ‘over pitching’ or selling your product. A confident tone and message can help build confidence in your prospect that scheduling more time will be worth it:
“Mr Prospect, based on the challenges we’ve discussed today about your long ramp time, and how you feel this needs to be reduced in order to achieve your revenue goals this year, I really think this is an area we can massively impact on. When can we schedule some time so I can show you how we would begin to do that?”
The ‘prospect buy-in’ close – This is less assumptive by design, but invites the prospect into agreeing with you that they have a challenge that they want you to share how you can solve:
“Mr Prospect – you mentioned that you simply don’t have the time to sit in on all of your rep’s discovery calls to coach under performers, yet you feel this is the ultimate solution to getting them to become more successful. If I could demonstrate how we have helped other Sales Leaders address this exact problem, is that something you would want to see?”
Both of these I find are equally effective, and it’s worth A/B split testing them to see which one you feel has the most success and gets the more positive, enthused response from your prospects.
The other important aspect of the close (as well as getting a time and date locked down!), is the opportunity to bring other important stakeholders into the sales process.
It’s surprising how few sales reps do this in practice, and they ultimately lose out on an easy opportunity to shorten a sales cycle. A great way of asking this question without coming across as too pushy is:
“Who else is this important to?”
Simple but so powerful.
7. Coach and repeat
So I mentioned at the start about recording your discovery calls. And I’ll also come back to my first point about the importance of practice and rehearsal in refining our craft as salespeople.
Running an effective sales discovery call is a tough skill to learn, and even I am a long way from perfect. Regular coaching has proved to help sales people boost their revenue by 17%. Dynamic coaching has proved to improve win rates by 27%. The case for regular coaching cannot be argued with.
Start to leverage call recordings as a way to self-reflect, break down, and review what went well and what didn’t to help develop skills. Time is no longer a challenge thanks to conversational intelligence platforms which make it easy to break down calls like game-tape.
Furthermore, advanced sales technology enables sales leaders to gain valuable insights into sales discovery calls without needing to invest huge amounts of time listening to them.
Powerful data linked to rep talk time, questions asked, and topics discussed mean that managers and reps alike can start to understand how to improve discovery conversations, and learn the recipe for success within their own organizations.