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Sales discovery calls - the fundamental guide

  • Jul 11, 2022
  • 6 minutes

What is a sales discovery call?

The sales discovery call is the first formal meeting with a prospect in the sales process. This call is a valuable opportunity for a sales rep to get to know the potential customer and understand the buyer’s needs, challenges, priorities, and goals. The insights gained during an effective sales discovery call enable a rep to determine if their product or service is a good solution for the specific prospect - a key step in some of the most effective sales methodologies.

Why is the sales discovery call so important?

Since reps only have one chance to start the sales process with each prospect and make a great first impression, it's essential that they get their discovery call right. After all, there’s a lot riding on it. 

It takes an average of 8 touches to get an initial meeting with a new prospect (and that call may be the rep’s one and only chance to speak with that potential new customer). This is mostly because prospects do a lot of research online and narrow their solution options before speaking to a salesperson. 

Questions to ask in a discovery call

There’s lots of information you ideally want to get out of the prospect during the discovery call to set yourself up for a successful sales process. So find out:

  • The goals of the prospect’s business and of their specific department
  • What current blockers they are experiencing around these goals
  • Where your prospect sits in the organisation and what metrics they are responsible for
  • Whether they have sufficient budget available for your product or service
  • Whether they have a genuine need for your product or service
  • What other products or services they currently use, that might be relevant to your own
  • Who else in the organization would be involved in the decision-making process and who give the ultimate go-ahead
  • What timeline they are working with to purchase a solution
  • When the prospect is available to book in the next step in the sales process (if they have been qualified as an opportunity)

How to prepare for an effective discovery call

Although prospects may share attributes, industries, needs, or challenges, each one brings unique characteristics as well. So, it’s important for reps to do their homework in advance of discovery calls to ensure their success.

#1 Past history prep

Before researching prospects, reps should check the company CRM. It’s essential to determine if anyone in your company has ever engaged with this potential customer previously and what the outcome was. Plus, this may provide additional valuable insights.

#2 ‍Research, research, research

Gather information about your prospect, their company and their industry. With the vast amount of information available online, this investigation shouldn’t take more than five to fifteen minutes per prospect.

#3 Get to know the person 

It’s helpful to know some personal and professional facts about a prospect before speaking with them. Having this knowledge enables reps to prepare questions that help build rapport and start the conversation off on a positive note. Look for locations, previous employers, schools, or interests in common. This can help launch the conversation by bringing up identified commonalities.

#4 Company and context

When seeking insights about a prospect’s company, start by looking at the company website and social media pages. Then search for recent news articles about the company. Information about the prospect’s business that reps should be focusing on include:

  • Product or service offering
  • Their standing in the marketplace
  • Annual sales
  • If they’ve had, or are anticipating, a merger or acquisition
  • If there are any apparent pain points that your solution would solve

It’s also a good idea to find the company’s competitors and what your company’s relationships are with them. It’s helpful to know if any of these competitors are currently using your solution.

#5 Go industry-wide

Being current with industry data is always a good idea. If the prospect’s industry is one that isn’t encountered on a routine basis, it might be time to do a quick refresher on what is happening in their sector. Doing a Google search should reveal any key trends or changes occurring in the industry and help guide the line of discovery questions. It’s also beneficial to know which industry the prospect is in because you may already have clients in the industry, providing deeper insights around how the prospect may benefit from your solution.

#6 Pre-qualify

Only 50% of prospects are a good fit for your solution. It’s best to learn this before investing valuable sales time on a call with a lead that is unlikely to become a paying customer - or worse, become a troublesome one. So, taking the time to review the facts uncovered during pre-call research can be a real time-saver. It decreases the number of discovery calls while increasing productivity and close rates. And it’s a result of spending more time with highly qualified prospects. Disqualifying a prospect at this point is just as important as qualifying. By disqualifying a lead, you free up more time to spend with potential buyers who are more likely to become paying customers, which ultimately increases overall close rates while increasing productivity.

#8 Identify the gaps

Gathering all this prospect information enables reps to prepare to build rapport and trust. Plus knowing which department and position the lead is in helps identify common needs and challenges ahead of the call. It also makes it possible to have a better conversation with the potential customer instead of interrogating them. This previous knowledge allows reps to share what they know and ask deeper questions from the start to fill in the gaps instead of starting from scratch, which frustrates prospects, potentially alienating them.

#9 Post-call prep

An effective discovery call is only the beginning of the sales process. So, why not keep up the momentum by preparing a “leave behind” content package to be shared with the prospect immediately following the call? Having a selection of relevant blog posts, eBooks, videos, or reports ready makes it easier to send them off without hesitation. This puts valuable insights from your company at the fingertips of your prospect for easy reference as they work through their buying process.

How to make your discovery calls memorable

1) Demonstrate understanding

Buyers want to speak with sales reps who take the time to do their homework. Prospects expect sellers to demonstrate a strong understanding of their company, industry, common challenges and how your solution improves their day-to-day. They don’t want to spend their time educating salespeople on things they should already know. By showing potential customers you already understand them, it puts you in their good graces and sets a positive tone for future engagements.

Being armed with a clear understanding, complete with essential details, enables the creation of a tailor-made solution designed to best meet the customer’s requirements. It also makes it easier for the rep to serve up quality content and insights to better guide the prospect through their buying journey (which is another thing that buyers prefer!)

2) Don’t be “just another rep”

There are key characteristics buyers find desirable. Listening, for example, has been shown to be so appealing to buyers that sales reps who make the effort to listen intently have the ability to influence them. Other ways reps can differentiate themselves from their competitors during a discovery call is by uncovering the full set of buyer needs, communicating value, and showing buyers what’s possible.

The game-changer: recording & coaching discovery calls 

It’s impossible for sales leaders to listen to each discovery call in the moment, nor would you want to. There are too many elements to observe, so discussing the call, even immediately after it’s completed, would be confusing at best. That’s why it’s essential to record all discovery calls.

This facilitates reviewing all of these calls, even ones that take place concurrently. It makes it possible to gather data, insights, and analytics to guide deeper analysis of each call while saving time.

Recording discovery calls isn’t only a timesaver that makes it possible to review all calls when most convenient. These recordings also simplify coaching by allowing easy identification and assessment of specific moments based on what a rep is working on improving. They also facilitate self-coaching and peer-to-peer coaching, thereby taking the pressure off the sales leader—spreading the burden of coaching across the entire team and accelerating results.

Elements to review include:

  • Did they do their homework? This will be evident if the rep is prepared to build rapport and asks questions based on pre-call research. This also allows them to meet prospects where they are in their buying process.
  • Are they asking open-ended questions to uncover challenges, budget, authority, timeline, and to determine if the prospect is a good match?
  • Are they practicing active listening? This can be determined by checking the talk-to-listening ratio data on the call. If they are doing this, they are asking clarifying questions to gain deeper insights around the lead’s situation, goals, and concerns. Then they confirm their understanding by paraphrasing what they heard.
  • Assess overall results as well with standardized KPIs such as percent of highly qualified leads converted to the next sales meeting and percent of pipeline closed/won.
Call recordings also make it possible for team members to review and learn from their own calls. They can identify poorly worded questions or unpleasant word crutches they may be using when there should be silence or a more smoothly spoken sentence. The ability to replay portions of their own calls simplifies tracking their progress as well while working on improving specific elements of the discovery call.

Ready to start reviewing your discovery calls? Flick through our sales call scoring guide.

Tom Lavery is the CEO and Co-Founder of Jiminny, the leading conversation intelligence and sales coaching platform that helps companies maximize their revenue. With over 15 years of experience in high-growth VC/PE-backed SaaS companies, Tom was previously SVP at Reward Gateway, now sharing his wealth of knowledge as a speaker in the conversation intelligence space.

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