Sales Discovery Questions: Aim at Nothing & You Will Hit It Every Time

Do you know which sales discovery questions to close a prospect












You are sitting in a coffee shop, or maybe at your cubicle, prepping for your first prospect meeting with sales discovery questions. (At least I hope you’re prepping). You know you need to learn more about their needs, so you begin thinking about ….what? What do you typically focus on?

If you are like most sales reps, you will focus on developing your list of questions. Of course, that is a wise part of meeting prep, but if you focus only on your list of questions, you will miss the target every time. Why? Because there is no target. It is impossible to reach a destination that hasn’t been defined. That is why the most critical step, and often the most overlooked, is first clearly defining the meeting
outcome. In other words, determining the information needed vs. questions to be asked.

Simply stated, most reps are “question focused” vs. “information focused.”

Think about the sales support information you have at your desk (or somewhere in a binder you haven’t looked at for a while). I bet you have a list of questions organized in categories. Will you ask all those questions? Can you even reference those questions while leading the meeting? Does the discovery process ever have a chronological flow where you progress from one item to the other? Of course not. Questions are an essential tool, but they can distract us from our target – which is information.

Here’s a straightforward illustration. You are planning a vacation and decide to rent a beach house. Of the hundreds of houses available in the desired location, how would you determine which house is the best fit for you? You would develop a list of criteria (proximity to the beach, number of bedrooms, décor, price, etc.), not a list of questions. Why? Because if you know what you want to discover, the questions will come. They are just a byproduct of the information desired. Because you have determined the information needed (the outcome of the call), the questions will naturally follow. Sounds simple, but why don’t we do that with a prospect?

Unlike during a meeting with their doctor, the prospect is not a willing participant in the process.

We can’t just barrage prospects with a list of closed-ended sales discovery questions created to capture the information we want to know. “Are you the decision maker?” “Do you like my solution better than the competitor?” “You seem bored, is this really a critical need?” Because the trust level is low and they have numerous reasons for not telling the whole story, we must learn a little finesse. So, the focus can easily shift from the information needed to the art of asking questions – and I’m certainly not suggesting that this isn’t an important skill. But if we miss the first step – defining the discovery objective – we will miss the mark.

Not only does defining the discovery objective improve the questions we ask, but it also helps us gather the information that isn’t always captured by sales discovery questions. This information is often revealed by observing ancillary comments, clues offered by word choice, questions they ask you, tone of voice, or body language. If you have clearly defined your discovery objective, you are much more likely to look for this information. For example, when you are interviewing for a job, a great recruiter doesn’t ask you if you are a good listener. Instead, they observe you listening and decide for themselves. A great salesperson doesn’t just ask questions to determine the decision maker, they observe how people interact in the room or the words they use (i.e., “we will talk about it…” Who is “we”?). The objective is to uncover the person that has the most influence related to your solution. If that is your focus, questions are just one of the tools to uncover that information. 

If you recognize this as a gap, here’s my recommendation for better sales discovery questions:

Create a reference tool that has two sections. Label the left side of the table “discovery objective” (i.e., information desired to uncover). Here you will create a list of one or two-word labels that represent the information you need to uncover (i.e., decision drivers, current system) – regardless of the questions you ask. Label the right side of the table, “questions.” In this section, create a list of items that will ensure the best opportunity to uncover the information desired with the FEWEST number of questions.

Once both of your lists are complete, test this approach on a few prospects, but prep a bit differently. Before the meeting, pick a few questions to initiate the conversation, but during the meeting keep your eye on the left side of the column. This is achievable and will keep you on track. I believe you will find that the amount of information uncovered will dramatically improve, along with your conversion rate.

Have more questions about sales discovery meeting questions? We’d love to help. Tune in to our podcast, sALES with ASLAN®, for our episode about how to get a prospect off email and into a conversation.  Or check out our ebook, 7 Barriers to Sales Prospecting, which uncovers the immediate challenges of selling over the phone. Until next time, subscribe to our newsletter to stay up to date with the latest from ASLAN.

As Co-founder and CEO, Tom’s primary role is to create content that helps people live, sell, and serve more effectively. Find him on LinkedIn

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