The 7 Steps of a Discovery Sales Call - Best Practices and My Personal Tips

You’ve worked hard to generate leads for your company. Whether you used cold outreach like email or phone calls, inbound marketing, events, or public speaking to uncover potential customers, you don’t want to waste those valuable leads. It takes a lot of effort to secure a discovery sales call and you need to lay the right foundation for future relations with the prospect. This is your first step in acquiring a new customer!

Say you finally have a call with your dream client. Here are the best practices, my preferred structure, and some personal advice for conducting a discovery sales call.

Before you get started, remember one thing. You should be doing a lot more listening than talking during this phone call. Research shows that the most successful salespeople listen for 60 to 70 percent of their conversations with customers.

You should also keep in mind the primary goals of this discovery call. You’re trying to answer these two questions:

First, is the customer a good fit for your product or service? Do they fit your ideal client profile? Do they fit the demographics you have in mind for your product or service? For instance, are they the right size company? Do they generate the right amount of revenue? But more important than demographics is the question of whether the prospect has the right pain points. Do they have goals that you can help them achieve? Are they experiencing the problems you solve?

Second, is the customer willing to move forward? Is this potential customer willing to take affirmative steps in exploring a deal with you? Are they willing to look at possible solutions that you offer and take action? How serious are they about solving the problem?

In order to answer these two questions, here are the best practices I’ve developed for structuring a discovery sales call. There are seven steps which you can easily follow.

1 - Build Rapport then Set the Agenda

(2 minutes)

Don’t just dive into a conversation about business right away! Start off on the right foot by trying to relate to the prospect on a personal level, human to human.

People like to do business with people they like and trust! How do you go about building trust? Do a little research before your call and try to figure out what you and the prospect have in common. Folks you knew in college, places you’ve lived, sports teams you like - see if you can find anything that’s a jumping-off point for conversation. Not only does it show you’ve done your research, but it shows you’re similar to them (at least in a few little ways).

But you don’t need to spend too long building rapport. Ultimately, you must take control of the conversation, and you do so by setting an agenda for the discussion ahead. This roadmap should note that:

  • You plan to inform the customer about your business and how you help similar clients.

  • Then, you’d like to ask some questions to learn more about them and their challenges in the areas where you might be able to help.

  • Close by saying that your ultimate objective is to figure out if there’s a fit. If not, that’s okay. You’re happy to share advice about how similar companies have addressed relevant challenges.

By taking this approach you accomplish two things. First, you’ve stated what should be your honest intention. You really should be evaluating your prospects to determine whether they are a good fit for your products or services. (Wasting time and effort trying to close the wrong types of customers is always a bad decision.) Second, by making it okay for you to go your separate ways, you lower your prospect’s sales resistance, which allows them to be more honest with you. Sales resistance leads to withholding information, due to a lack of trust. Everyone fears they will be sold something they don’t truly need. But once you’ve made it clear that your intention is to help them, you start building the trust that is necessary for any successful business relationship.

2- Personal Introduction

(1 minute)

Now it’s time to introduce yourself. Show your expertise, explain your credibility, and talk about your passion surrounding this problem or the customers you help. Tell the prospect a little about your story and your background.

What are your primary goals and responsibilities? Why are you passionate about this topic? Why do you care about solving this problem for this particular customer? Keep it brief - no more than a minute.

What’s the rationale behind this introduction? Revealing a little about yourself (but not too much) creates an opportunity for reciprocity, prompting the prospect to reveal a little about themselves too. In his book Influence, Robert Cialdini, Ph.D. states that one of the keys to persuasion is the concept of reciprocity. If you do something for someone, they’re much more likely to respond by doing something for you. Their opportunity for reciprocity comes after you’ve shared your background and that of your company.

3 - Company Elevator Pitch

(2 to 3 minutes)

Next, you’ll deliver a high-level overview of what your company does. In less than three minutes, you’ll want to:

  • Explain what kind of customers you help and what sorts of problems you solve.

  • Differentiate your business and your methods from the ways that other companies try to solve the same problem.

  • State the alternatives ways or workarounds customers typically employ try to solve the problem without your product or service, and describe why they fall short.

  • Then explain the two to three meaningful things your company does differently.

  • Close by discussing the benefits and results that your customers frequently obtain by working with you.

4 - Prospect Introduction

(2 to 3 minutes)

Now let the customer introduce themselves. This is where the reciprocity described above kicks in. You can get them started by saying something like, “All right, so can you tell me a little bit about you and your role in the company?” The idea is to get the customer talking so that you can learn exactly who you’re speaking with.

What are their job responsibilities surrounding the problem you solve? Do they have experience or expertise relating to the problem? Do they have a personal opinion on the problem?

You want to know who you’re speaking to, whether they will be involved in the decision-making process, and importantly, whether they have any views on the topic at hand. Listen closely for these points, and if you don’t get what you need, don’t be afraid to ask questions.

5 - Qualifying Questions

(15 minutes)

Next, you’ll dive into the meat of your conversation. This is when you determine whether or not the prospect presents a real sales opportunity. You accomplish this by being curious about their goals and challenges and uncovering whether the prospect is sufficiently motivated to take action. These “qualifying questions” will help you figure out if the prospect is a fit. There are four types:

Background Questions - Begin by asking open-ended, “background” questions that are designed to elicit the circumstances in your prospect’s world as it relates to your product or service. Determine the facts. Do they fit the demographics of your target customer? Ask your questions about revenue, location, number of employees, etc. to find out. But there are two important limitations: Only ask those questions that are (1) connected to your sale and (2) you can’t determine by doing your own research. You don’t want to ask a C-level executive questions you can answer by looking on the prospect’s website. There’s no faster way to lose credibility.

Problem Questions - Next, learn whether the prospect is experiencing the types of challenges you solve or has the types of goals you can help them achieve. These “problem” questions will allow you to determine whether the customer is a fit for your product or service. You typically uncover a gap between where the customer is now and where they want to be. Therein lies the foundation of every sale. You should know by heart the problems your product or service solves and the types of outcomes you can help customer achieve. Ask your prospect whether these are the issues they face.

For example, imagine if you had a marketing company that helps customers generate better leads. Your problem questions might ask whether your prospect has any challenges around lead generation or if their current number of leads is sufficient to reach their goals.

Evidence Questions - The next type of qualifying question, “evidence questions,” inquire about the factors, circumstances, or data your prospect is evaluating to reach their conclusions about the existence of articulated problems. This is where you’ll find the numbers and facts that the prospect is using to define the problem. If the problems are less quantifiable, you’ll uncover strong emotions. These are also the data points and sentiments your prospect will use to evaluate success.

Returning to the marketing company example, you might ask the prospect how many leads they currently receive per month and how many they need to reach their goals. If there’s a gap in those numbers, how does your prospect feel about that gap?

Collecting data, numbers, and evidence also helps you to show quantifiable returns, like the ROI they could obtain from working with you or how exactly you can make a difference.

Impact Questions - Then, ask “impact questions” to determine how the existence of the acknowledged problem affects the company as a whole, the individual you’re speaking to, and others within the organization. Dig deep to find the second and third order consequences of the problem. Like evidence, impacts may also be quantifiable. This usually comes in the form of a company-wide KPI or specific metrics individuals are accountable for. You will again find strong emotions here, such as workplace stress, anxiety, and exhaustion.

Impact questions are where you begin to increase the size of the problem in the prospect’s mind. The problem you uncovered has now been shown to affect other important KPIs and negatively impact employees within the organization. By asking impact questions, you’re painting a picture and defining the scope of the acknowledged problems. This is how you motivate prospects to change, by helping them to realize that the pain of doing nothing is worse that any they’ll encounter by initiating change.

It therefore goes without saying that if you can’t find a lot of negative impacts or the prospect seems apathetic about the issues, then you don’t really have a sales opportunity. Simply stated, there is a direct relationship between the quantity of negative impacts you uncover and the likelihood of a prospect making a buying decision.

6 - Explaining Your Solution

(5 minutes)

By this time in the conversation, if it’s going well, you’ve uncovered a number of problems you can help the prospect solve and confirmed that those problems are negatively impacting the company and individuals within it. You know it’s going well if the prospect is anxious to hear how you can help. Through this invitation, or when you feel you’ve dug sufficiently deep into the prospect’s problems and their consequences, you’ll then begin to describe how you can help.

There are two important things to remember when explaining your solution:

First, when talking about the features and benefits you offer, tailor these only to the problems that the customer has acknowledged. When you talk about things beyond what they’ve acknowledged, you’ll lose them. They are most interested in those areas where they’ve admitted they need help.

Second, tell success stories. Look for opportunities to analogize the prospect’s situation to prior customers with whom you’ve had success. People remember stories a lot better than facts and figures. Showing them that you’ve helped someone else promotes your credibility. It also gets them to remember you much better than if you’d just listed features and benefits.

7- Closing and Next Steps

(5 minutes)

Finally, you close the call. But there are a few things you need to do first.

Confirm value. Ask the customer, “Based on everything that I’ve shared with you today, do you think it makes sense to tackle these problems?” This is important because the first hurdle toward working together is getting the customer to see that it’s worth their time and effort to address the problems they’re having. You must confirm that they see value in solving the issue before you ask if they’d be willing to explore a solution with you.

Determine the decision maker. Are there other people involved in the decision-making process? If so, who are they? What role will they play? What steps will there be in the sales process going forward from this call to a signed contract? Based on your past experience selling this product or service, you may have a general idea of who has to sign off on a purchase decision. If they don’t have a concrete process, one way to figure this out is to ask, “The last time you made a decision in this area, what steps were involved in the decision-making process and who was involved?”

Get clarity on the next steps for both sides. Figure out and clearly explain what you and the customer are going to do now.

First, what commitment are you, the salesperson, making to take the next step in the sales process? When will you have that done? Be sure to set a deadline.

Second and most importantly, what is the customer going to do to advance the sales process and when are they going to have that done? It could be something like introducing you to someone else or giving you access to an important piece of data. Whatever it is, there should be some investment of time, labor, or resources on the customer’s part to show that they’re committed to the process. Set a deadline for them as well.

And with that, you can wrap up the conversation by giving your thanks and appreciation for their time and the information they’ve provided. Then say your goodbyes!

Remember, people aren’t robots. No conversation goes perfectly. But in general, this outline should give you a good idea of the important components of a discovery sales call, the timing of each, and a few tips for getting all the information you need from a prospective customer.

Does your discovery sales call look a bit like this? How many steps does yours have?