18 steps to the ultimate discovery call + free discovery call checklist
You’re on a journey. No, you don’t need to leave your newly remodeled home office (we know you love it).
This is a journey of discovery, and it can be done right from the comfort of your overpriced ergonomic office chair.
You’re about to discover whether the new lead that just entered your sales pipeline is a good fit for your product.
Discovery calls can sometimes seem like just one extra step that slows down your time to close. But, what exactly is involved in an effective discovery call? How is it related to qualification? And how do you run a discovery call that works?
Don’t worry: you’re about to get the lowdown on all things discovery. In this guide, you’ll learn:
- What is a discovery call?
- How to run a discovery call: 18 steps to prep right and nail the call
- TL;DR: the only discovery call checklist you need
- Coaching your team to run more effective discovery calls
Ready to get started?
What is a discovery call?
When you fail at discovery, your whole sales process could go down the toilet.
Why? Because this is probably the first time you’ve actually spoken with your prospect. This initial conversation will stick in their minds (as much as we love to say people shouldn’t judge on first impressions, we all do it).
From this point on, they will either see you as a salesperson or an industry expert. They’ll either see your brand as sneaky or as an authority. They’ll see your product as either a waste of money or a real solution to their problem.
Feeling the pressure? Good.
By the end of the discovery call, both you and your potential customer should have a clear understanding of whether this is a good fit or not.
Qualification vs discovery process: what’s the difference?
Let’s start by making this clear: there is no universally accepted definition of discovery vs qualification. The definition varies from company to company, mainly because both of these sales activities have significant overlap in their goals and processes.
Sales leaders need to define for their reps what qualification and discovery mean within their unique sales process.
At Close, this is how we view discovery and qualification:
Discovery is a process, not an event. It’s more than just making sure your prospect is a good fit—it’s about the initial steps of developing a long-term relationship and building rapport with your prospect. During the discovery process, both you as the sales rep and your prospect get to know each other.
For SaaS sales teams, discovery is essential because it helps them build the kind of solid foundation that higher LTV and longer-retained customers need to grow. It’s about discovering your prospect’s pain points and developing a plan that will help them solve their problems.
Sales qualification, on the other hand, is an event that happens within the discovery process. This is where reps ask questions to decide whether the prospect is a good fit for the product and sales process.
We’ve always said that qualification consists of two steps:
- First, qualify selflessly: Can I help this prospect? Is my product the right solution to the problem they’re facing?
- Then, qualify selfishly: Can this prospect help me? Do they have the right timeline, budget, and authority to convert into a valuable customer?
A discovery call is part of the discovery process, and qualification happens inside that call. Remember that it will probably take a few calls and emails to finish the whole discovery process and fully understand the prospect's needs. The time you invest in the prospect will depend on the average LTV for this customer profile and the expected close rate.
So, how do you run an effective discovery call?
How to run a discovery call: 18 steps to prep right and nail the call
An effective discovery call has three distinct stages:
- Preparation before the call
- Structure and attitude during the call
- Follow-up after the call
We’re going to take you through each step to set yourself up for the perfect sales discovery call.
Let’s start with 5 specific actions you need to complete before the call.
1. Do intelligent research
Your lead’s time is valuable (and so is yours).
Show you respect the time they’ve taken out of their day to talk to you by avoiding repetitive, unnecessary questions.
Start by going through the lead in your CRM. How has your company interacted with this lead historically? What information have you already collected, or was automatically collected when the lead filled out a form on your website or responded to an email? Have they downloaded specific resources on your site? Were they ever previously in the pipeline with your sales team?
Next, learn more about this lead by doing research online. This could include:
- Connecting with them on LinkedIn (if you haven’t already), and seeing a bit about them. If you have a mutual connection that you can involve, even better: 84% of B2B buyers are starting the purchasing process with a referral
- Learning about the company on Crunch, LinkedIn, and other social media sites
- Using sales intelligence tools like ZoomInfo, Apollo, or LinkedIn Sales Navigator to dig into the finer details of the lead, their company, and their position.
While you can’t reasonably spend hours on research for each new lead that enters your discovery process, you should do enough research to have a general understanding of this person and the company they work for.
The goal is basically to avoid asking questions on the call about information you could’ve found online.
2. Pick a discovery call script that builds on what you already know
With your research done, you should have enough information to roughly determine:
- Whether this lead fits your ideal customer profile
- Some of the main challenges they may be facing
- Specific industry-related needs they may have
- Where they are in the buying process
Of course, it’s impossible to write out an exact structure for your discovery call, you’ll need to listen to the prospect and adapt to their responses during the conversation. However, you can use the information you’ve gathered to choose a discovery call script or talk tracks that are more specific to their situation.
First, set a clear goal for the conversation. Where do you want the process to go after this call?
Second, choose a few essential questions you need clear answers to. What do you absolutely need to know by the end of this call?
Next, pick 3 key ideas you want the lead to take away from the conversation. Remember, this call isn’t a sales pitch, so the most important ideas probably aren’t about your product itself. Instead, you may choose to highlight a certain pain point, tell a story that sets the stage, or make clear how important your next steps are for them personally to create a stronger sense of urgency.
With those goals in mind, it’s time to choose your key questions.
3. Choose the discovery call questions that align with the buyer's journey
When picking questions to add to the beginning of your discovery call script, it’s important to keep in mind where your prospect is in the buyer's journey.
Are they aware they have a problem, but unsure of how to solve it? Are they clear on what they need to do, and in the final stages of evaluating their options? Are they unaware of the pain point entirely?
If they’re in the awareness stage, for example, ask questions to identify the root causes of pain and call attention it, such as:
- What’s your current process for dealing with [challenge]?
- What solutions are you currently using? What’s working/not working with that solution?
- If you don’t find a solution that works, what will [process/team] look like in 6 months?
- Why is this a priority for you right now?
However, if the prospect is aware of the solution they need and are just evaluating options, you need to ultra-focus on that area of the buying process. You might use questions like:
- What are the must-have features you’ve decided on?
- What kind of results do you expect to see with a new solution?
- When do you expect to see those results?
- What other solutions are you looking at? Why those?
Align to the customer journey, and you’ll get to the root of what your prospect wants to talk about, rather than bumbling through a list of ‘required’ questions.
4. Schedule with common sense
You book a discovery call, the prospect confirms. The day comes, you call, and no one answers.
One way to avoid this is to book your discovery calls smarter. Look at your calendar before you set the appointment, and think about when your prospects are more likely to be busy and lose track of time. This would probably include Monday mornings, the morning after a holiday, or Friday afternoons. But it could include other times that are specific to your target market (such as the end of the quarter for sales teams).
Schedule smarter by using your intimate knowledge of your customer profile to your advantage. That’ll help you reduce the number of no-shows you get.
5. Set a clear discovery call agenda (and send it to them beforehand)
Anytime you schedule a meeting with a prospect, they should be aware of the plan for this meeting.
Creating and sending a meeting agenda for your discovery call tells your prospect 3 things:
- You’re taking this meeting seriously enough to make a plan
- Exactly what they should expect from this meeting
- A clear reason why it’s in their best interest to show up
In this agenda, there should be a clear value prop for the prospect themselves. What will they gain by showing up to this meeting? How will they benefit?
If your agenda answers that question for the prospect, they’ll be more motivated to be ready and engaged during the discovery call.
Now that the discovery call is scheduled and you’re prepped to go, let’s dig into 9 steps you need to follow during the call for an effective discovery call.
6. Turn on your camera
I know you probably read that and said, “Ugh.”
But this actually makes a serious difference in the success of your discovery call.
Our friends at Gong did the research: closed deals involve turning your camera on 41% more often than lost deals:
Photo credit: Gong
And it makes sense. After all, the goal of the discovery process is for you and the prospect to get to know each other, and a video call facilitates a connection on a personal level. You’re not two businesses interacting—you’re two people. Be a human on your discovery call, and you’ll form a more human (read: stronger) relationship with the prospect.
7. Remember to hit record
Yeah, this tip probably got a big ol’ sigh as well.
But hear me out.
I’ve talked a lot about how listening to your own recorded calls is one of the best ways to improve at cold calling. The same principle applies to discovery calls.
We’ll talk more below about how to evaluate your discovery calls, but I added this step here to remind you to HIT RECORD (because let’s face it, we all forget to hit record).
In Close, all calls can be automatically recorded and saved with the lead info. But it gets better: with our native Zoom integration, your Zoom recordings are also stored in the lead page, meaning you always know where to find those recordings and watch them back. Try it yourself for free for 14 days.
8. State your goals for this call
After you’ve both turned on your camera, hit record, and started the conversation, the next step should be to restate the goals for this call.
Here’s how it might sound:
“Thanks so much for taking the time to meet with me, Jane. The goal of this call is for us to chat about the challenges you’re facing and why you’re looking into our solution, and see if we can help. I’m sure you also have questions you want to ask, so we’ll make sure we leave time for those.
By the end of this call, we should both have a clearer idea of whether or not this is a good fit, and then you can decide if it makes sense to schedule a demo so I can show you how our product works.
Why does this work? Because from the get-go, you establish 4 things:
- You’re not there just to ‘sell’, you’re there to help
- This call has a clear goal: to discover fit (or quickly find out if it's not a good fit, and disqualify them)
- You’re not going to bully them into a purchase that doesn’t fit their needs
- The next step from here is a product demo
By asking, “Does that sound good?” at the end of this introduction, you also get buy-in for this agenda from the prospect.
9. Ask questions that generate conversation
Here is where qualification enters into the discovery process. It’s time to ask questions and see if your prospect qualifies to take the next steps in your B2B sales process.
The discovery process should be a conversation. The questions you ask (and the way you ask them) will determine how this conversation flows.
Start by avoiding too many questions that have one-word answers. Instead, ask open-ended questions that invite the prospect to give longer explanations.
According to research by Gong, there is a clear link between the length of your prospect’s response and the success rate of the deal.
Photo credit: Gong
The right discovery call questions to get longer responses could include:
- Talk me through your current process for dealing with [challenge].
- What would success look like for you with a new solution?
- Tell me more about some of the goals that your team has for the upcoming year.
- What are the main obstacles to these goals?
- What's your biggest challenge in regards to ___?
- What would be the effect on your team/company if these issues were solved?
Next, remember that your discovery call script is more than just a list of questions to ask. As your prospect responds and tells their story, actively listen to those responses.
Then, ask good follow-up questions:
- Tell me more about that.
- Do you have an example of that for me?
- What exactly do you mean by…
Don’t start a new thread with each question. Otherwise, it’ll sound like you’re just going through a list rather than actually trying to understand the person you’re talking to. Use good follow-up questions to show genuine interest in the prospect and uncover potential roadblocks.
For SaaS companies with a free trial, reps can also use questions during the discovery process to understand the prospect’s impression of the product. This can help throughout the sales process, or even identify red flags about the deal early on.
Ask questions like:
- How do you feel about the experience in-app so far?
- Are there any features that stood out to you?
- How has your process been affected by using our trial?
- What does your team say about the product?
With the right questions, you’ll nail this essential part of the discovery process.
10. Demonstrate your industry knowledge
You are more than a salesperson. You are an industry expert, an advisor, a peer to your prospect.
But if you don’t prove your industry expertise, decision-makers will see you as ‘just another salesperson’.
Demonstrating knowledge isn’t about being a know-it-all. In fact, the way you ask questions during a discovery call can be enough to prove you know what you’re talking about.
Instead of asking:
“How do you contact people?”
“Are you using automated email sequences for your cold outreach?”
Instead of asking:
“How do people find your company?”
“Tell me about your inbound lead gen process—are your inbound leads already qualified when they enter your pipeline?”
You'll notice that these are not open-ended questions. When used well, closed-ended questions can be even more impactful. The golden rule here is: Use open-ended questions, unless you have a good reason why in this specific moment in the conversation you want to focus on one specific point. In short, ask the kind of questions that only someone with deep industry knowledge could ask.
11. Be ready to answer questions or objections
A great discovery call is a two-way conversation. If a prospect is not asking you any questions, it's a bad sign.
Thus, be prepared. Analyze previous conversations to better understand what kind of questions your prospects are more likely to ask, and get ready to handle any objections that come up.
When you’re more prepared to answer questions, you can focus less on your response and more on what the prospect is telling you with these questions.
In fact, the questions your prospects ask you can sometimes tell you more about them than their answers to your discovery questions.
For example, if the prospect is asking many specific questions about competitors, they may be further into the purchase process than you realized.
If they’re narrowing in on a certain functionality of your product, that could tell you what their main priorities are when it comes to this purchase.
If their questions revolve around price, they may need extra convincing about the value of your product and potential ROI.
Pay attention to these questions, and you’ll learn more about your potential customers right from the early stages of the discovery process.
12. Prepare to correctly frame your pricing
Pricing is a tricky subject to tackle, but it can be impossible to avoid. According to research done by Chorus, money comes up 4-5 times on the average discovery call. (And discounts are mentioned on 50% of discovery calls.)
And this makes sense: After all, a discovery call involves qualification, and qualification usually involves making sure your potential customer has the budget to purchase your product.
The key is this—be confident about your pricing.
If your prospect asks about pricing (which is very likely) and you start sputtering and backtracking, they’ll lose trust in you.
Instead, frame your pricing around the value it provides.
This starts by knowing your potential customer. Understand how they’ll use your product, what size business they are, how many users they’ll need to onboard, and what kind of technical specs they require.
If you have straightforward pricing plans (like we do here at Close), it’s easy to qualify the potential customer and understand which plan fits their needs.
But before you give them a number, establish value.
Prospect: “How much is this going to cost? Just give me a ballpark.”
Salesperson: “Sure, I can give you a general idea of where your team would fit best within our pricing plans. But first, let me ask you: how much time does your team spend on data entry per week?
Prospect: “At least two or three hours for each rep, I’d guess.”
Salesperson: “And how much are you paying them per hour?”
Prospect: “About $20 per hour.”
Salesperson: “So, with 10 reps on your team losing three hours each per week, that’s $600 you’re paying them to do manual data entry instead of closing deals. Over the next quarter, that means you’re going to lose $7,200.”
Prospect: “Yeah, that sounds right.”
Salesperson: “What if I told you that you’d spend less than half of that on our CRM over the next quarter, and your reps would get back over 300 hours of time to spend doing actual sales activities?”
Instead of telling them the price, you’ve sold the value of your product.
13. Build trust with social proof
Stating random facts and figures is useless in the discovery process.
You’re in the early stages of building trust, and now is not the time to dump information about your product (otherwise, you start to lose credibility as a trusted advisor). But you can build trust in the value of your product by subtly introducing customer stories into your discovery call.
Stories are powerful tools. They capture attention and make it easier to retain information. Plus, stories that are relatable will put prospects into the shoes of your current customers and help them see the results they could be having with your product.
Get started with storytelling in your discovery process, and you’ll prove value without launching into your sales pitch too early.
14. Keep to your scheduled time
Respect for your prospect’s time also reflects in how long your discovery call goes. If you spend more than the time you’ve allotted, it may leave them with a negative impression (or make them more hesitant to book meetings with you in the future).
So, keep to the time you scheduled. If you see you’re running out of time and still have more ground to cover, either ask if they're ok extending the call for another 10 minutes, or book another call.
Respect your prospect’s time, and they’ll respect yours.
15. Schedule your next step
Here’s one of the biggest tips for a more successful discovery call: never hang up before you’ve scheduled your next step.
By the end of the call, you should know where this conversation will go. Are you going to book a meeting with other stakeholders? Schedule a product demo? A meeting with someone else on your team to answer technical questions?
Make a plan, commit to it, and put it on the calendar. Only then are you allowed to end the call.
Well, your discovery call is done. But your job isn’t finished. Here are 3 extra steps you must take after your discovery call:
16. Send a follow-up email right after the discovery call
A good follow up email after a meeting accomplishes two goals:
- First, it summarizes what you talked about during the call
- Second, it solidifies the next steps that you agreed on
A good discovery call follow up might look something like this (notice that this is typically also a great time to introduce highly relevant case studies):
Subject: Great chat today, can’t wait for Thursday
Happy we got the chance to talk about the issues you’ve been seeing with your sales team’s productivity. If your org is looking to make a move on this issue within the next few weeks, then we can get you a solution that fits what you’re looking for.
With 10 reps who all could use a Power Dialer and email automation, you have serious room for growth in productivity. (Btw, here’s a writeup on the company I told you about that increased their outreach volume by 3x)
I’ve got some goodies in store for you and your sales director at Thursday’s product demo, can’t wait to share some real-world solutions you can start playing around with. (Calendar invite should be in your inbox.)
17. Build a product demo that factors in their main pain points
You’ve done all this work to discover what’s really important to your prospects. If your next step is a product demo, it should reflect the conversation you’ve already had with this prospect by being personalized to their needs.
With most SaaS tools, it’s almost impossible to show prospects every feature during the product demo. So, don’t.
Instead, use the information you’ve gathered during the discovery meeting to build a product demo that highlights the solutions to their main business pain points.
Get the full scoop on running outstanding product demos here:
18. Evaluate each call to improve
You recorded your calls above. Now, it’s time to use those recordings to your advantage.
When evaluating your sales calls, here are some questions to ask yourself:
- How engaged was the prospect during the conversation?
- Did I understand and respond correctly to their concerns?
- Was I able to control the direction of the call?
- How was my confidence level when dealing with objections?
- Was I able to successfully connect with this prospect?
- Was I listening more than I was talking?
- Did I ask enough follow-up questions to get deeper answers?
Yes, we all know that listening to ourselves on a recording is cringe-worthy. But as said above, this is one of the best ways to improve your sales skills.
Be humble. Recognize your mistakes. Make a plan to improve.
TL;DR: The only discovery call checklist you need
Looking for just the meat of this article? Here’s the TL;DR version of the above.
If you’re a sales rep, use this discovery call template to organize your schedule and build more valuable relationships.
If you’re a sales manager, use this discovery call checklist to train your reps to run more effective discovery calls.
Before the call
- Do intelligent research
- Pick a discovery call script that builds on what you already know
- Choose questions that align with the buyer journey
- Schedule with common sense
- Set a clear discovery call agenda (and send it to them beforehand)
During the call
- Turn on your camera
- Remember to hit record
- State your goals for this call
- Ask questions that generate conversation
- Demonstrate your industry knowledge
- Be ready to answer questions or objections
- Prepare to correctly frame your pricing
- Build trust with social proof
- Keep to your scheduled time
- Schedule your next step
After the call
- Send a follow-up email right after the discovery call
- Build a product demo that factors in their main pain points
- Evaluate each call to improve
Coaching your team to run more effective discovery calls
As a sales manager, you want your team to run more successful discovery calls and qualify better.
Here are 4 ways you can coach your sales team during the discovery process:
Set clear criteria for discovery for your team
As we said above, each team needs to decide what discovery and qualification mean inside their sales process.
You, as a sales manager, have the responsibility to set up each stage of your sales pipeline and set clear expectations for which actions reps should take during each stage.
When your team clearly understands what’s expected of them at each stage, they’ll be more productive and more motivated.
Build a discovery call template your reps can use to structure their calls
Custom, personalized templates for your team are an excellent way to guide them toward more productive discovery calls.
In Close, you can set up Custom Activities that allow you to detail the most important questions your reps need to ask for qualification, as well as tasks they should complete during the call.
This can act as a discovery call template that your reps can use. Plus, the information they collect is stored in a structured way that’s easy to access for the entire team.
Review recordings with your reps
Discovery call recordings are a great place to start when coaching your reps to improve their sales skills.
In your next 1:1, have your rep choose one call they’re particularly proud of, and one they think could’ve been improved. Listen to the calls together, and look for specific places to commend your reps, as well as pieces of the conversation that could’ve gone better.
Coach on the call in real-time
Discovery is a very important part of the sales process and can make or break the long-term relationship with this potential customer.
Ever heard a failed call recording and wished you could go back in time to save the deal? With Close, you can (no time-travel required).
The live Call Coaching features in Close allow you to:
- Listen: You can hear the rep and the prospect, but neither can hear you.
- Whisper: You can hear the rep and the prospect, but only your rep can hear you.
- Barge: Everyone can hear everyone.
Use this feature to monitor your team’s calls in real-time. This helps you see how they act on a discovery call and gives you the opportunity to save the deal if the rep needs help.
Especially when coaching junior sales professionals, call coaching can give them an extra sense of security, knowing that their manager is there to jump in and help if they get stuck.
You’re one step away from more effective discovery calls
You’ve read up on how a discovery call works. You’ve learned how to discover pain points, learn about the prospect’s priorities, and use your questions to demonstrate industry knowledge and build trust.
There’s just one last step you need to take—put what you’ve learned into practice.
Don’t turn this into something that’s set in stone. Be willing to adapt to your prospects and your industry. Take the principles discussed here and apply them to your own process.
Then, you’ll build stronger relationships with customers that last longer and build higher revenue for your sales team.
Want to couple these methods with the right tools for the job? Get your free trial of Close to try Custom Activities, Call Coaching, call recordings, and more.