30 Smart Sales Discovery Questions [+ The Ideal Call Structure]

The goal of a discovery call isn't to get the person on the other end of the line to say “yes” to working with you.

The goal is to accurately diagnose their problem and present the next best step for them to take.

To do that, you need to ask the right sales discovery questions.

But what do you ask? And when?

We’ve got all of the questions you need, plus tips on how to structure your discovery sessions.

Smart Sales Discovery Questions

All about discovery calls

A discovery call is the first call in the sales process after someone has become a lead and shown some interest in your company.

The purpose of a discovery call

The purpose of the call is for both parties to assess the viability of a partnership and whether or not to move forward with the sales process. Depending on the complexity of your product or solution, that process might involve half a dozen stakeholders, multiple meetings, ROI calculations, cybersecurity compliance vetting, and more.

How discovery calls fit into the sales process

A discovery call takes place after a lead has been acquired through inbound marketing or outbound sales (cold email or cold calling). Discovery calls are typically 20 to 30 minutes long. If, during a discovery call, you see a potential benefit for both parties, you should ask them to continue exploring the possibility of working together. For instance, you might invite them to a second call and ask them to bring any other decision-makers.

For simple or low-cost offers, one call might be all you need to seal the deal.

No matter your process, make sure that it’s clear to your buyers. Explain to them how it works, like this example:

“At the start, you might say something like ‘This is a two-part process. The first is half an hour, where we’re going to go into your needs. The second is an hour, where we’ll demo the software. Does that work for you?’” - Daniel Hebert, Director of Sales at Q4

How to improve your discovery calls

Regardless of what you’re selling or what questions you’re asking, these tips can help improve your discovery calls:

  • Ask follow-up questions to get more details - Don't just run through a list of questions. After you get an answer to a question, take a moment and consider if there are any other details or clarification you need before moving on.

  • Know when to be quiet - Being a good listener means just that: listening. Don't interrupt or attempt to finish your lead’s sentences when they get stuck. Challenge yourself to be patient. doing so will help the lead trust you and share more interesting details.

  • Listen to your old calls - Listen to calls that progress to the next stage of your sales cycle to see what went right, and listen to calls that didn't move forward so you can try to identify where you might have gone wrong.

Act like a detective (and believe no one) - Don't take your lead’s word for it. If they say they want to rebrand to target a different audience, you might ask if they've done anything to validate that new audience segment. This way, you're not making assumptions or misdiagnosing problems.

The anatomy of a great discovery call

We’ve categorized the questions into 5 main categories.

The categories are presented in the following order because it fits the ideal structure of a discovery call:

  1. Open up the conversation - Set the stage for the conversation and cover the basics.

  2. Assess the situation - Identify the core problems, goals, and priorities.

  3. Disqualify as needed - Figure out if the lead is not a fit, or not likely to convert any time soon.

  4. Get agreement - Make sure you’ve understood their needs correctly.

  5. Present next steps - Ask a few closing questions so you have all the information you need to suggest the next step.

Now, onto the questions!

Opening questions

You might ask a few or all of these to set the scene.

1. From a high level, I know your company offers [blank]. What do you specialize in, or how do you stand out in your market?

With this question, you show that you’ve done your research. You also make room to find out information about their niche or specialization that might not have been easy to gather online.

2. Is your company making any major changes to your target audience or offers this year?

This question helps you find out if the company is undertaking any major changes. They could be relevant to your solution, or just help you understand the company’s priorities better.

3. What are your main responsibilities?

Use this question to understand what your lead is in charge of, and what other responsibilities might get in the way of the one most relevant to your offering.

4. A lot of companies in your industry are dealing with [blank]. Are you struggling with that too?

With this question, you can guide the discovery call toward something you can help with. You also show your knowledge of the industry. It’s a better way of opening up the conversation compared to just asking what they're struggling with.

5. What made you interested in talking with me today?

This question is a no-brainer. It's a great way to uncover motivation.

Daniel Hebert, Director of Sales at Q4, recommends that you personalize this question to the path each lead took to get to that call. This will yield better results and ensure that you’re not phrasing the question in an off-putting way.

  • For inbound leads: “What led you to book a demo with us?”

  • For outbound leads: “We reached out to you out of the blue, what made you want to hop on a call with me?”

6. On a scale of 1 to 10, where are you in your own internal evaluation of the issue?

CTM consultant Hannah Ajikawo recommends prefacing this question with something like, “I want to get a feel for where things are for you so we can make sure our discovery makes sense.” If the person gives you a low rating to show that they’re just at the beginning of this process, then you might want to spend the discovery call talking about how they will assess the problem and which stakeholders they will involve.

If they give a high rating and are farther along, you might want to focus more on what problems and solutions they’ve analyzed and where they still need help.

Assessment questions

These questions are great for figuring out how invested your lead is in solving the problem.

7. What are you currently using to solve this problem?

Use this question to figure out if the lead is engaged with any of your direct competitors, or if they're using indirect solutions like manual work and spreadsheets.

8. How urgent is this problem?

Find out if there are any big fires that need to be put out. The more urgent the problem, the faster they are likely to convert and the more time you know you should spend on this lead.

9. Why is this problem a priority right now?

If there isn't an urgent disaster underway, this question can help you understand why the company is invested in fixing the issue now.

“Sell the problem, not the product. If you understand their problems better than anyone else, the buyer is more likely to choose you.” - Daniel Hebert, Director of Sales at Q4

10. Who else on your team is really invested in solving this problem?

In many cases, it takes a whole buying committee to make a decision. This question is great for identifying not only stakeholders and decision-makers, but champions who might be able to help get the deal across the line.

11. How soon do you hope to solve this problem?

This question helps you discover the lead’s expected timeline (and how reasonable it is). Their answer will also give you information about the level of priority

12. If this problem is solved, what teams and roles will be impacted?

Use this question to figure out the far-reaching nature of this problem. Later, you can use this information to present a higher potential ROI than you might have been able to otherwise.

13. What metrics are you expecting to impact?

Get clear on the exact metrics that this lead owns and which ones they need to improve. Use your experience with former clients to gauge whether or not your company will be able to help.

14. Why hasn’t this problem been prioritized before?

Suss out any potential roadblocks and collect more details on the problem.

Disqualifying questions

Use these questions to disqualify leads who aren’t ready to do business with your company, so no one is wasting their time.

15. Do you have [essential prework]?

This question is simple. If your ideal client needs to have some sort of technology, or department, or role in place for you to be able to help them, then you need to ask that.

16. Is someone on your team able to invest [necessary amount of time]?

Do you need someone on their side to be able to invest a certain amount of time or handle a certain task? Then make sure that person is available.

17. Is there a chance that you will stay with your current supplier or solution?

If they're already using one of your competitors or doing things the old-school way, you need to find out how likely it is that they'll stay put so you don't waste your time on further calls and follow-ups.

“Make sure that your prospect has agreed that this is the way they’re going to go about solving for their challenge. If they’re still figuring out how to solve the problem—maybe a new hire or sticking with the status quo, or working with an offshore agency—there’s a very low chance of it closing. It’s too early on.” - Hannah Ajikawo, GTM Consultant at Skaled

18. Is there a dedicated budget for solving this problem?

Find out if they already have a budget approved to solve this problem. If not, you don’t want to invest too much time talking with this person. You might instead give them resources to get that budget approved.

19. What team or stakeholder owns the budget for solving this problem?

If they do have the budget, find out where it's coming from. This will help you know who to involve and what sort of messaging to use to win them over.

20. What problems are more pressing or might take priority over this?

Use this question to discover if your solution isn't really as much of a priority as the lead is making it seem. If they have bigger fish to fry, now might not be the best time to kick off a complex sales process.

Agreement questions

Use one or two of these alignment questions to make sure you’re on the same page.

21. Would you say that [blank] is the most pressing problem?

Double check that you've understood the biggest problem that they currently need to solve. If their most pressing problem isn't super related to what you do, it’s probably not the right time to move forward.

22. Would you agree that [blank] is the main motivator for solving this issue now?

Make sure that you understand their reasonings for seeking out a vendor. This will help you tailor the buying experience.

23. Would you agree that [blank] is the best way to solve this problem?

Check that they're actually interested in what you're selling, and that they're not still considering a wide variety of options.

24. Would you agree that these are your top priorities in order? [List priorities.]

Make sure you know the lead’s top priorities, so that you can keep them in mind throughout the buying process, and update them if they change.

25. Would you say that [blank] is the biggest roadblock right now?

Get clear on what's standing in their way, so that you can devote your time to battling the blockers that would get in the way of the deal.

Questions for determining next steps

Get all of the information you need to pitch the right next step, be it a large meeting with several people from the account or an ROI calculation call with someone from your side.

“Always facilitate and serve. Show your buyer how to have the internal discussion that will help them buy your solution in the future. Help them through the decision-making process. Facilitate and serve.” - Hannah Ajikawo, GTM Consultant at Skaled

26. Do you have a list of vetting criteria for choosing a solution?

Especially when purchasing software, IT and procurement teams will come up with essential checklists. If your lead has one, try to get access to it so you can see if your solution is even an option for them.

27. Who else is a decision maker in choosing a vendor?

Now's the time to make sure you've uncovered every possible decision-maker, so you can involve them in further stages of the buying process.

28. What does your company’s process for choosing vendors look like? Any legal reviews?

Find out if there are any complex vetting processes coming your way. There could be security questionnaires, compliance reviews, legal hurdles, and PR monitoring.

29. Is there anything you want to know from me before we talk about the next steps?

Before you invite the lead to the next step, you should check if you've answered all of their questions. The questions they ask can help you better understand their needs during this process.

30. How can I make it easier for you to get a solution approved?

It's your job to help the lead. They know how easy or how hard it is to get new vendors approved, and they know what's standing in the way. So ask them point blank how you can help.

For the leads that are a fit, invite them to the next step in your sales process. And for the ones that aren't, point them in the direction of resources that might help them (and save your time for higher priority leads).

Discovery calls can be tough, but these questions—plus your experience and intuition—will see you through.

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30 Smart Sales Discovery Questions [+ The Ideal Call Structure]

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