Throw out the models; forget the BANT, SPIN, and CCCV. Here are the only questions you’ll need to gain the information you need from your discovery calls. 

Sales get a bad name. And let's face it, there are so many bad sales mercenaries around, that practically everyone we know has had at least one experience where they've been swindled into buying something that didn't work for them, or paid for something they didn't completely understand, or been befuddled by the fine print. The result? Smooth talking-charming-confidence doesn't cut it anymore (Thank God!). 

In SaaS, good salespeople swear by discovery. It makes sense, right? We take the time to learn what bothers the prospect, and what they're struggling with, and then come back strong with a solution that is just right for them. 

Is the prospect actually struggling with a problem that you can solve? Do their needs align with what you can provide? Can you deliver your product within the buyer's constraints of timeline and budget? What's the best way to pitch your product? 

Discovery calls are meant for sourcing all of this information and more. It's the first step towards a new customer relationship, and the questions you ask on this call need to be thought through to get the best in-depth response possible. What you want is to quickly and seamlessly get to the heart of what your prospect needs. What you don't want is to waste your prospects' time. 

Great sales discovery questions: 

  • Are open-ended: You need to get the prospect talking. Don't ask questions that can be answered with a monosyllabic response! 

  • Are well informed: Do your research before you call the prospect. Novice-level questions are going to torpedo your credibility in an instant. Well-informed discovery questions prove that you're a professional and you're worthy of their trust. 

  • Move the needle: Each question that you ask should always take you one step close to qualifying or disqualifying the prospect. These questions allow you to dig deeper and move the entire sales process forward. 

  • Have scope for follow-up questions: It’s a conversation, not an interrogation. Your questions should have flow - with one leading to another, in a string of follow-up questions that organically let you uncover pain points

Also, good questions help us build rapport, which makes them open up and gives us more detailed, nuanced answers. While there isn't a set of 'best discovery questions ever!' I do have some…

Questions that I rely on more heavily than others. 

Tell me about your company and your role

Once you've broken the ice, this question lets both you and the prospect ease into the conversation. It's an obvious question and depending on how you frame it, it allows the prospect to really talk about themselves. Keep your ears peeled: do they have decision-making power in this deal, what areas of the business do they oversee and what difficulties have they been battling against recently. 

Follow-up question: What specific metrics are you responsible for? This is perfect for aligning your pitch to what is particularly essential to this specific prospect’s job.

Tell me about your upcoming goals

This question is an excellent lead-in to get more information related to the prospect's business. It can tell you if they are looking to save on costs, streamline their processes or boost their customer satisfaction. Plus it’s so open-ended that it keeps the conversation moving forward without needing much of a push from you. 

Follow-up question: What are your timelines for achieving those specific goals? The answer to this question is going to help you determine whether the implementation time for your product matches up with how long you want to spend with this customer and if it's worth investing with them. If they hope to achieve results in the next month, and your implementation timeline is 2 weeks, it's probably not a good fit. Conversely, if the prospect aims to achieve steady, incremental progress in a year, and also mentions other goals that your solution can help them with, you know you've got a keeper. 

What’s keeping you from achieving these goals?

This might seem like a vague question but it has a solid purpose. The clearer the challenges are in the prospect's mind and the clearer we are in how we can solve these issues, the easier it is for a deal to happen. 

Follow-up question: Why are you having these problems in the first place? The answer to this question is going to help identify to what extent their current solution is working, and where it breaks down. It will also give you significant insight into how much internal investigation has already occurred, and into how people at this company approach problems.  

What happens if these problems go unresolved?

Setting up a 'what if' scenario brings out all the risks involved, and it lets you gauge the urgency. Once you have this backdrop of risks and urgencies, you get to set up your solution in sharp contrast and let the prospect imagine a better future with you. In fact, if your product is a good fit, you won't need to add any pressure, because they've told you themselves about how urgent the fix needs to be. 

Follow-up question: If you solved this problem, what would success look like exactly? This helps you determine if the prospect’s expectations are realistic and it helps you create evaluation criteria for success (which can even be a part of your SLAs). 

Who else is involved in choosing a solution?

One of the essential aspects of any qualification framework is determining whether the person you're speaking to is the right authority or not. Do they have decision-making power or are they just a gatekeeper? Rather than asking who’s really in charge, this question allows you to uncover that information without eroding your rapport. 

Follow-up question: Do you already have specific criteria crafted for choosing a solution? This is the holy grail of qualifying or disqualifying information. Some buyers won't give up this criterion willingly but if at this point in the conversation you've built up some good rapport, you might be able to get access to that information.  Once you know what the criteria are to get your solution into that organization, it's a box-ticking exercise. 

If we can find the right solution to your problem, what will it take to implement the solution?

This question is threefold. First off, it gives you a clearer idea of the implementation process, what steps you need to go through to get a deal approved, what departments

It needs to pass through and so on. Secondly, it helps you narrow down the timeline as well as the decision-making authority. Thirdly, it ties your product to the solution to the prospect's needs. When you use the ‘we’ language, it puts you and the prospect on the same team going after the same problem. This makes it way easier for the prospect to say yes to you. 

Follow-up question: What are the main hurdles you foresee that are going to keep us from having a smooth implementation? This gives you an idea of the objections and challenges that you are likely to face - technical and otherwise. You can also dig into your options for solving these problems. This question also reveals your competitors, be they internal or external. 

What is your implementation timeline and approximate budget?

Now, you get to go into the nitty gritty. If their timelines or their budget do not match what you can deliver, then it’s best to part ways amicably. 

Follow-up question: Is the budget owner an executive sponsor? What we're after with this question is, are there any other senior-level employees directly involved (and whom we need to impress)? Even if they don't make the end decision, a senior VP from Operations, a CTO, might at least need to go through the deal or see the demo. If you know this, you get to customize your demo to the audience, for maximum effect.  

An important follow-up question to ask at this point is: Are you ready to begin solving this today? The prospect might say, “Yes, let's do it!” or they might say, “No, I’m not ready.” Either response is fine. They might also just hesitate and give you a non-answer. That tells you, that despite all information to the contrary, someone else might be taking the final call here. 

How will this make your life better?

It's essential to wrap up the conversation by helping your prospect envision what your product is going to do for them. How are you going to make their life easier, specifically? Are they going to have more time on their hands? Are they going to be less stressed? Are they going to be able to finally attract the ideal potential customer? Will their department be more efficient and better able to meet their stretch goals? 

Get the prospect to think about those benefits. Doing so cements your solution in their minds, and makes it much more appealing, turning them into your champions at the water cooler. 

When can I schedule the demo? 

Always, always, establish the next steps. There should be no question about what the prospect (or you) should do to move the deal forward. Be sure to ask when the next call or demo should be set up and who they would like to involve from their end. 

Conclusion

The best questions to ask in Discovery and why

The best questions usually come from the answer you've just heard. So the best advice I can give you on discovery is to listen - not with the intention of grabbing words to frame your response, and not with the idea of just waiting for your turn, but really listen. People can always tell when you're really listening. You can always tell when someone is really listening to you, versus when they're just waiting for you to stop talking so they can make their points. What feels better? What feels more comforting, more validating? 

Sales are about creating new relationships. Especially in the world of SaaS where we work shoulder-to-shoulder with our customers for (hopefully!) years to come. What better way to start a relationship than giving the person in front of you, your undivided attention?