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10 best sales discovery call questions — and why you should use them

READ TIME: 7 MINUTES

Rachel Williams, February 23, 2022

For salespeople, a common tendency once you move beyond the first call and successfully schedule a meeting with a prospect is to demo your current solution or start selling your service right away.

When new members join our team, I always caution them against rushing into a sales pitch. Sales reps who try to short-circuit the buying process this way often lose prospects. Why? It’s because they don’t spend time learning who the prospects are, what challenges they face, and how the prospects’ needs could be met. Identify their pain points, goals, and emotional drivers at the start of the sales process. It’s the best way to close more deals — and avoid losing winnable ones.

The ultimate question I’m trying to identify (and have coached my sales reps to discover) is “How can I solve this very core problem for my customer?" This starts with a consultative discovery call.

The discovery process should be the foundation of the entire sales cycle. As a sales professional, the most important thing you can do is run an effective discovery call at the outset of the buyer’s journey. If you try to cut corners by forgoing the sales discovery call or only conducting a cursory one, your close rate will go down. The customer needs to know you understand their challenges before they can see the value your product or service may provide.

It helps to have a template or framework for conducting great discovery calls. To help you get started, I’m sharing 10 discovery call questions that help you uncover prospect needs and motivations, as well as six tips for getting better responses from decision makers and stakeholders

Before that, let’s explore why consultative discovery calls are so important for the sales process.

Why should you conduct a consultative discovery call?

Without a truly consultative approach, you’re just checking boxes on the discovery call. Maybe you’ll find out your prospect’s use case and consider the discovery done, but that’s just a small piece of the puzzle. You need to continue until you unearth the biggest challenge your customer is facing. You also must understand how that challenge impacts their business, their team’s goals, and their life on a personal level. 

Once you dig deeper and discover a prospect’s true, personal motivations, you can more effectively move them through the sales cycle more efficiently, while building trust along the way.

How do you start the consultative discovery process?

The secret is to guide the decision maker in a consultative way until they reveal their own personal motivations and challenges. To do that, you’ll need to ask probing questions that push your prospect to think beyond the obvious “what” of their problem and share more about the “why.”

Imagine your prospect thinking about why they are driven to spend less time on administrative tasks. It may seem clear, but everyone’s answer is unique. They likely won’t even realize what their pain point is until you get them there. Once it’s their own thought — not yours — you both achieve that “aha moment.” Once you hit that moment, you've established trust with a potential customer as a trusted advisor. The natural next step is to present your tool as a solution to their challenges.

The most successful B2B sales professionals  focus a discovery call on the hopes, fears, and jobs of the buyer, not just a use case takeaway call. These questions are designed to get you and the customer to mutually understand their core needs and goals.

10 best questions to guide a great discovery call

These questions will help you better understand your prospect’s needs, buying process, and purchase decision in three ways:

  • Uncovering challenges and goals (Questions 1–4)

  • Understanding needs and core motivations (Questions 5–6)

  • Learning the decision making process (Questions 7–10)

  1. What prompted you to explore our solution? This isn’t about whether they responded to a cold call or LinkedIn message, or looked up your company website. Keep the focus on what the prospect needs from your solution.

  2. Tell me about your current process. What stakeholders are involved? What are their roles and responsibilities? 

  3. What are you looking to improve? What sorts of roadblocks exist in the prospect’s current process? 

  4. What would happen if you didn’t do anything and kept the process the same? 

  5. If you could wave a magic wand and have what you’d want most from a solution, what would it be? What is the biggest challenge they need to solve?

  6. How does picking the right solution impact you? Use this question to see if the right solution will make your prospect’s job easier or give them more stability. Remember: If the tool fails, the decision maker will be seen as the failure, not the tool.

  7. Which components matter most when figuring out which potential solution is right for you? Is it functionality? Scalability? Price?

  8. How do you make a decision? What does the purchasing process look like?

  9. Who is involved in the decision-making process?

  10. What are your timeline goals for making a purchase decision?

6 tips for collecting better responses during your sales discovery call

A great discovery call requires more than asking the right questions. Before the call, it pays to research whom you’re meeting with and what their role is. The key is never assuming you understand their challenges based on this information alone. That’s the whole point of the discovery. 

Skipping the discovery call or doing it poorly makes you think you understand your customer’s problem — when you really don’t. Use these tips to make sure you’re getting the most valuable information from your prospect. Doing so helps you solve their real problem by proposing the most appropriate potential solution. 

1. Set the meeting’s tone and purpose up front. 

Share the agenda, letting the customer know you’ll be asking questions and your intent behind them. At the same time, assure them it’s a conversational meeting and they’ll have time to ask their own questions.

2. Ask probing questions instead of yes/no questions. 

Binary questions lead you to talking more than the customer. You’ll get much more information by asking open-ended questions. Instead of “Is your team made up of SDRs and AEs?”, ask: “Can you tell me about your team’s structure?”

That said, sometimes customers aren’t sure how to answer an open-ended question like this. That’s the time to behave like a consultant. Make suggestions such as, "A lot of sales teams I've worked with have SDRs supporting AEs and also Sales Engineers. Is that similar to your team? Tell me more about that."

3. Don’t ask multiple questions at once. 

Asking too many questions confuses your prospect and you won’t get all the answers you need to position a potential solution and have a successful call. Take them one at a time to keep your prospect focused.

Pro tip: Make a list of concise questions into a template in case you need a bit of guidance. This helps you articulate exactly what you need to ask, and will lead to even more productive conversations.

4. Build rapport and reassure your customer amidst the questions. 

Share why you’re poised to help them and make sure they feel you’re listening to them and their needs.

5. Don’t begin a product demo in the middle of the discovery call. 

Otherwise, you’ll miss the opportunity to collect all the information you need. You can’t be consultative during the rest of the sales process without the proper context first.

6. Take notes as you get the discovery information. 

As the potential customer progresses along the buyer’s journey, you should always go back to your notes and refer to their pains. 

Pro tip: After the call, follow up with a recap email with your notes. It helps establish yourself as a true consultant, not just a salesperson.

Enjoyed this post? Our blog offers proven strategies and free takeaways to help sales teams implement true consultative selling practices to meet their quotas while building better relationships with potential customers:

Do you practice consultative selling? What’s worked for you? Do you have any productivity apps or calendar apps you’d recommend? Any best practices and templates you can share? We’d love to hear them — tweet us at @Calendly using #consultativeselling.


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Rachel Williams biography
Rachel Williams

Rachel is our Director of Sales at Calendly. She loves her kids, her cat, and software sales in January.

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