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What is a Discovery Call?

A discovery call is the first conversation a sales professional has with a prospect. The call is the earliest opportunity to build rapport, understand the customer’s needs and begin to earn trust through open-ended questions.

The discovery process also serves as a qualification process that reveals if each party is a good fit for one another. Qualifying questions also determine the extent to which the sale is viable. Factors like deal size, profitability, and the customer’s likelihood of buying are all aspects that determine viability. Deal qualification is a top priority because pursuing a sale demands considerable resources as the customer’s buying journey elongates.

Simply, a discovery call goes further than a traditional sales call by using questions to learn the customer’s pain points. Asking questions reveals both the viability of the opportunity and the path to the sale. The challenge: time is short. Customers will not allocate much time to this early phase.

Therefore, the sales teams must:

    1. Form a Questioning Strategy
    2. Float Ideas
    3. Check for Additional Needs

1. Forming a Questioning Strategy

A questioning strategy takes shape before the call. The key is to identify only those questions that cannot be answered with research. This early stage is the sales professional’s opportunity to exhaust all efforts to understand the customer via independent work. The questions asked during the limited period of a discovery call should be those that offer insight unavailable through any other means.

These key discovery questions are most effective when they are part of a funnel approach. Here, the first questions begin broad and become more focused with each successive question. While the specific questions will be different for each customer, in nearly all cases it is important for the sales professional to understand which stakeholders are involved and how the decision-making process works.

These questions should be phrased in a concise manner. The more time the customer has to talk the more information will be revealed and the more likely they will be to volunteer information. If the customer offers answers that are brief it is important to continue to pursue more detailed answers. This requires some finesse on the part of the sales professional. At this early stage, it is not wise to push the customer out of their comfort zone. However, to yield meaningful information from the call the sales professional must begin to learn detailed information.

Though a questioning strategy involves preparation it is alright for the sales professional to allow tangents. The customer may supply an unexpected piece of information. In this case it is often productive to explore the topic with unprepared questions.

2. Floating Ideas

A discovery call may appear to be too early of an event to float ideas. However, it is important to remember that floating an idea is merely an attempt to crystallize an understanding of the customer’s challenges and goals. When a sales professional floats an idea they gain insight by learning how the customer responds to the idea. Additionally, by floating ideas, the sales professional engages the customer’s priming bias, which is the inherent tendency to become more open to an idea with repeated exposure.

The benefit to floating an idea is that it is not committal. That is, if the idea does not resonate with the customer then the sales professional can simply move forward with questioning. This point underscores the important fact that floating an idea is not the same as positioning a solution later in the sales process. Sales professionals should only position a solution later in the buying journey once they have a complete understanding of the customer’s needs.

Often the customer’s needs are complicated and even they are unclear on the root of the challenge. This complexity is another reason why floating ideas is so important. It gives the customer a chance to gain clarity on the nature of their goal. As they hear different ideas the dialogue becomes deeper. As the customer articulates their responses they are forced to think more critically about the core issues they face. Sharing experiences, leveraging stories, and using relevant data sets are examples of ideas that can be floated to guide a more prescriptive dialogue while also building credibility and differentiating with expertise.

3. Checking for Additional Needs

The discovery call is a valuable opportunity to check for additional needs that were not reflected in any of the pre-call research or in the lead capture data. By checking for additional needs the sales professional is also exploring ways to access the customer’s white space. In doing so the customer may learn of other services and products the sales professional offers that were previously unseen. When checking for additional needs the sales professional begins to form an early idea of what capabilities to highlight later in the pursuit when they position a solution.

This approach is akin to casting a wide net. Essentially, the sales leader is asking, “what have I not asked that I should have.” Even the most thorough questioning strategy risks missing critical information if the sales professional does not check for additional needs. Some may be hesitant to ask what they have missed for fear that it suggests they are lost in the discovery call. In truth, most customers will appreciate being given the chance to vocalize details that would have otherwise gone unheard.

This question is also a way to boost the customer’s talk time and help them understand their problem. Any effective discovery call should have the sales professional spending at least 70% of their time listening. By putting this question last the sales professional improves the chances that the customer will be more effusive because by this point in the call there will likely be some level of trust and rapport to make the customer feel comfortable in offering more information. The questions early in the call and floating ideas both set the tone for this final part.

As the modern sales cycle grows longer and more complex the discovery call has become more important than ever. This first conversation sets the tenor for the buyer experience and is a way for sales teams to gain a critical early advantage by uncovering the customer’s core challenges. With this information all of the following stages of the buying journey are likely to keep the customer and sales professional in lockstep with one another.

About the Author

Richardson Sales Performance is a global sales training and performance improvement company. Our goal is to transform every buyer experience by empowering sellers with critical skills so they can create value to buyers and drive meaningful conversations. Our methodology combines a market proven sales and coaching curriculum with an innovative and customizable approach to learning that ensures your sales teams learn, master, and apply those behaviors where and when it matters most — in front of your customers. It’s our job to anticipate change in your industry so that your sales team can focus on fostering long-term relationships, becoming indispensable partners for their buyers.

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