Sales revenue is won and lost in discovery - the crucial call or part of the process where opportunities are qualified for fit, whilst the compelling reasons to buy are revealed by gaining visibility of the pain, value, cost savings and benefits that your product or services can unlock.
Our own rather crude ‘survey’ saw most sales leaders citing as much as 90-95% of the sale relied on a great discovery call.
But discovery time, and earning the right to ask all your discovery questions, is really limited. Whilst your rapport, value proposition and great questions may maximize this, put it this way - you cannot afford to waste a single question.
Key Principles of Great Discovery Questions:
Every question and answer has to move the needle to:
- create fit (and qualify out where that doesn’t exist)
- demonstrate compelling value (the type of value that makes deals happen)
With initial discovery calls often scheduled for 10-15 minutes, how many lousy questions do you want to ask? How many questions that fail to reveal the full value and problem you can fix can you afford?
There are many great questions you can ask, and this article is not meant to be a checklist or anything close to being completely conclusive. The best questions will come from listening, and asking pertinent questions that help reveal opportunity specific for that prospect, but the following in no particular order, can all be amazing questions that will work beautifully to aid your objective of creating fit and value.
1. Tell me more about that?
We are starting to get somewhere. The seed of a pain or opportunity may be emerging, but we don’t know enough yet. One of the most frequent mistakes sales reps make is not going deep enough at this stage - they note the insight, pain or value and fail to fully understand its cause, cost, repercussions and the extent of the issue.
You can ask a further direct question, but it may be too specific, loaded (assumptive), multi-choice (‘is the cause x, y or is it z’) or even worse, plain useless in eliciting any greater value to you or your prospect.
‘Tell me more about that?’ invites them to continue to share more detail and granularity, without risking any of the above.
2. Why is that important to you?
This open ended discovery question will help to not only understand why this ‘may’ be a priority to resolve or unlock, but crucially it is personal - Why is it important to YOU? What would solving that problem or unlocking that opportunity make a difference to them personally?
Does this problem give them endless headaches? Take them valuable time and resource (by the way - what would they do with that time if they had it back ;-) Has someone tasked them to achieve/solve that? Has that been set as a priority to them by the business or their seniors? Is this linked to their compensation? Is their job on the line if not?
3. What happens if nothing changes/you don’t do x?
What's the status quo look like? What’s the consequence of not solving this pain or pursuing the opportunity? Revealing the extent and cost (monetary, resource, personal etc) of not taking action, gives context to understanding how much of a priority this is actually likely to be and why, and helps the prospect describe an undesirable outcome - that perhaps you can help them change.
4. Can I ask you a difficult question?
You are just about to ask the ‘tough question’. It’s going to get uncomfortable, but is crucial in helping all parties get real value.
This question achieves three things:
a) Prepares the prospect - this is no longer a bolt from the blue that can cause upset or lack upset the rapport you have built
b) Seeks permission - you are respectful and don’t want to ask if it’s not with permission. You can still hit reverse if required (it rarely is)
c) You can explain why you wanted to ask - even though you appreciate its uncomfortable. ‘In order to help suggest a solution, can I ask you a difficult question?’ for example.
This question takes all the edge away from your ‘tough question’.
Pete Caputa, formerly of Hubspot and now tearing it up at Databox, wrote a great article on this subject. https://blog.hubspot.com/sales/how-to-ask-your-prospect-tough-questions
5. Is it (current solution) working?
What are the existing problems, issues, concerns or missed opportunities in their current solution. The sentiment and tone of response will guide as to whether this represents an area you can add value and solve, or whether the opportunities to help are elsewhere.
‘Is it working?’ is not abrasive, but gets immediately to the point of revealing
6. Who else cares about (solving problem/opportunity revealed)?
Creating excitement in solving a problem or adding value is great, but the average B2B sale has 6.8 decision makers involved (https://hbr.org/2017/03/the-new-sales-imperative). Is your guy/gal a decision maker? Who is? And who else will be involved, influence or sign this off?
Asking who is the decision maker can undermine your prospect - or worse, they say they are, but this becomes a half truth at best, but only revealed when it's too late.
This question ensures you understand who else is incentivized to solve this and why, allowing you at probe how you can engage, demonstrate, convince and get the excitement in each and every stakeholder.
7. Where is this on your priorities today?
Excitement is great. Problems may feel like they are there to be solved. Opportunities a no brainer to unlock. But nothing happens if it is not important enough and time bound - ideally with a compelling reason.
This question reveals how important this is and allows you to subsequently determine the compelling event and timescale to a successful sale.
8. If we fixed that, what would that mean?
What is the value of making this change - solving this problem or exploiting this opportunity? What changes or happens? These may of course be financial, resources, focus, strategic, risk mitigation. It also may be very personal - and you should ask that too.
The subtly is in the word ‘we’. Subliminally ‘we’ are now going to solve this problem together.
9. Are you ready to solve this now?
Does urgency exist? Is there a compelling event? Why?
If they are not yet ready to ‘solve this’, it will reveal the reasons, hurdles or timescales so that you can address, mitigate or work with.
Or reveal that it is not as compelling as the excitement or fit initially suggested.
10. If I can propose a solution, what would we need to do to make that happen?
Before even revealing how, can we understand the steps to making this happen. This presents a clear roadmap on how such a solution gets approved.
It's also coupling the solution just about (but not yet) revealed to this roadmap or series of actions.
11. What’s going to stop us working together by xx (‘end of this month’)?
Tried and tested to reveal any hurdles or actions not yet spoken or discussed, but the key is to make this time-bound. What will stop this potentially happening within a timescale you are just about to add to your CRM? What are the risks, hurdles, people and required actions that may stop, or delay this happening.
12. What’s stopped you solving this previously?
Likely the problem or opportunity isn’t new. And it hasn’t been previously fixed. Why? Priorities? Cost? Ability?
But what has changed? Is it as simple as you present a unique way to them to achieve this within the commercials, resources and power they possess?
Or has it not been compelling enough, high enough priority, tried and failed or so on.
13. What are your other options to solve this?
Whilst this can reveal direct competitors, the likely competition will be to do nothing, or an alternative way to achieve the desired outcome.
By understanding, dismissing, articulating the benefits and value over these alternatives, your solution can become the ‘best solution’.