10 Tips for Successful Discovery Calls In Sales

April 2, 2019

Discovery Calls

Editor's Note: As we start the second half of 2019, we're looking back at some of the year's most popular posts on the LinkedIn Sales Blog. This guest post, which was contributed by Chris Orlob, Senior Director-Product Marketing at Gong.io, ranked No. 5.

Discovery calls set the trajectory for your deal.

They dictate what you show during your product demo, what objections your customer raises, and even how much negotiation leverage you’re left with at the end of the sales process.

The tips below will help you WIN your discovery calls, and they’re all easily put in place.

PS: Check out our full list of 55 sales tips and techniques.

1. Flip your webcam on

This may seem like an odd discovery call tip, but there’s a reason we’re saying it here.

Having your webcam on matters more during a discovery call than on any other type of call.

Other calls are full of visuals: demo calls have a product demo, presentations have a visual slide deck, etc.

Discovery calls are the exception. It’s just you and the buyer, face to face.

If your webcam is off, there’s nothing to hold the buyer’s visual interest. That makes buyers far more likely to grow fatigued by your questions.

Our data shows that won deals involve 41% more webcam usage than lost deals:

When you’re face to face, your call stops feeling like an interrogation to your buyer. It turns into a real conversation.

It lets your buyer see the genuine interest in your face, which helps build rapport.

They can see that you’re not just ticking boxes off a checklist — you’re there for a real chat.

2. Phrase your questions to get long answers

Your sole purpose on a discovery call is to learn everything you can about your buyer’s needs.

That information will shape your entire sales process and inform your approach.

One-word answers aren’t going to give you the information you need. You need your buyer to ante up and spill the tea.

There’s evidence that the length of your buyer’s responses directly correlates to your deal’s chances of success:


Get those buyers talking.

When you get a longer customer story, you increase your odds of:

  • Moving the deal to the next stage
  • Closing the deal

Here’s what you want your conversation to look like:

Do we have tips on how to get long responses to discovery questions? Of course.

Here’s the best one:

Ask questions that encourage a long response.

Move up from the standard who, what, when, where, why, and how.

Get into richer territory with this type of phrasing:

  • Can you help me understand …
  • Can you walk me through …
  • Can you talk to me about …
  • Can you tell me about …

Drop “What’s your biggest challenge?”

Turn it into “Can you help me understand your biggest challenge?”

It’s a small shift, but it tells your buyer that you want an in-depth answer.

We promise, you’ll get richer answers if you use this tip, and they’ll help you craft a more tailored sales process.

3. What would an expert ask?

“There are no dumb questions!” WRONG.

There are, and you don’t want to be the one asking them. Asking just one or two bad questions destroys your credibility at turbo speed.

Get your expert question-asking groove on. Make your buyer think.  

You don’t want them to recite their problems by rote. You want them to trust you and reveal something at every turn.

You can help buyers get there by asking questions that demonstrate your competence.

I used to work at InsideSales.com, and I’d ask this within the first few minutes of my sales calls:

“Can you walk me through your sales process, from when you first generate a new lead, all the way to a closed deal?”

That phrasing was noticeably more effective than, “What’s your sales process?”

It told the buyer I was serious, competent, and looking to earnestly dig into a topic with them.

“What’s your sales process?” Pleeease. Step it up.

I guarantee that you have more intelligent phrasing in you. If you use it, you’ll see an uptick in your sales numbers.

When buyers know they’re in an expert’s hands, their guard drops and they reveal more information.

4. Don’t ask too few or too many questions

Want to know exactly how many questions to ask during a sales call? Cause there’s absolutely a sweet spot.

Here’s your freebie :

On introductory discovery calls, ask between 11 and 14 questions:

Ask more than that and you risk making your buyer feel interrogated. Fewer than that and you won’t get you enough information to plan your remaining sales process.

Now that you have the right number of questions, what type of questions are you going to ask?

You could decide based on looking at dozens of sales methodologies, but we recommend taking the shortcut of reading the next sentence.

What those methods all have in common is that they uncover business problems or opportunities. That’s what your questions should target:

(Our discovery calls post dishes out more data on this topic.)

There’s one group you have to watch out for though: the C-suite.

Selling to a C-suite executive is a more dangerous undertaking as they won’t tolerate most questions well.

Check out how steeply win rates drop after asking C-suite execs just a few questions:

You want to stick to an average of four questions when you sell to the C-suite. Go to eight questions and you’re almost guaranteed to be unsuccessful:

Why is this phenomenon crystal clear?

Senior executives are so tired of discovery. They’re done with it.

You’re not the first discovery call this round, and they’re sick of answering the same old questions. Over and over.

5. Base your questions on what your buyer just said

Prepare some questions in advance so you hit your main points. But don’t be afraid to craft most of your questions on the fly.

You can’t do this well unless you LISTEN to what your buyer says.

The top sales reps know that’s the right way to have a conversation.

Average reps ignore what their buyers say in favor of scripted questions. They rely on a checklist to get them through the conversation, and it shows.

They hit buyers with a pepper spray of questions at the beginning of the call:

Look at the top performers. See how they have a steady number of questions throughout the call? That’s because they’re asking questions based on the actual conversation.

There’s a real back and forth to the discussion.

That’s how you have great discovery calls, like the ones our sales team rocks here at Gong.io:

Your questions should follow up on what your buyer says, so the conversation sounds something like this:

  • Sales rep: Can you help me understand when exactly deals go dark during your sales process?
  • Buyer: Yeah … we’ve noticed that it’s typically right after our product demos. Buyers get excited about the demo, which is great. But the next step of getting their VP scheduled on a call is a nightmare. They always say it’ll be easy, but it rarely is. Sometimes we follow up week after week, and still never get a reply.
  • Sales rep: Got it. Could you do anything differently to stop that from happening as often?

Yes, real life conversations are more complex, but you get the point. A good sales rep doesn’t change topics. They dive deeper into issues the buyer raises.

6. Check your talk-to-listen ratio

The top salespeople habitually listen more than they talk.

Their average talk-to-listen ratio during discovery calls is 46:54 (so they’re talking for 46% of the time and listening for 54%):

While this seems obvious, let’s be clear: They’re chatting less because they’ve done everything else right.

It’s not as if talking for 46% of the time is the major secret to closing deals. It’s not causal.

It’s the result of doing everything else correctly. Doing all the other things we’ve talked about naturally coaxes your talk-to-listen ratio into this range.

We have a few other tricks up our sleeves to keep buyers chatting. Keep reading.

7. Repeat 1-3 important words

Want to know how to keep those buyers talking? Do this:

  • Repeat 1-3 of the most important words in their last statement.
  • Say them like you’re asking a question.

Here’s what that might sound like:

  • Buyer: It’s tough to differentiate ourselves from the competition. Our reps back peddle whenever customers ask about differentiators, even though our reps know the product is strong.
  • Sales rep: Back peddle?
  • Buyer: Yep. They totally fumble the ball. I wish they’d say something crisp and strong, but they ramble and stumble. Their answers are totally inconsistent.
  • Sales rep: Inconsistent?
  • Buyer: Totally. It’s such a big problem for us. Even bigger than differentiating ourselves. Give me 70 sales reps and I’ll show you 70 different approaches to sales calls. They all have their own narrative, and their processes are all over the map.

I love this sales technique because buyers consistently expand on their point. You won’t get one-word replies if you use it.

By using their own words, you guarantee that you’re speaking their language and asking questions that resonate.

Sure, the questions are super short, but they’re effective. More effective than saying, “Can you expand on that?”

Nothing feels as good to your buyer as their own words. They experience 0% internal friction when you ask questions that way.

This tip belongs to Chris Voss, and I highly recommend reading his book (and be sure to check out our full list of recommended sales books).

8. Label your buyer’s emotions with this phrase

Chris Voss calls this one labeling, but you can think of it as empathy squared.

At some point, you’ll hear your buyer express an emotion. Use one of these sentences to label it on the spot:

For this to work, you have to get the emotion right. So be clear about what you’ve heard.

Here’s how it might sound:

  • Buyer: Onboarding new sales reps is completely taxing. It brings the enablement department to its knees every time we have to create training material.
  • Sales rep: It sounds like you feel overwhelmed with every new onboarding class.

If you hit the nail on the head and name the emotion correctly, the response will be brilliant.

Now zip it and listen to their response. That’s the trick!

Sit back and let the buyer prattle on, uninterrupted.

9. Pause (Even if it’s awkward)

If I gave you a dollar every time you heard a rep interrupt a buyer’s response, you’d level up your life in no time. Flush with cash.

It’s an awful mistake reps make constantly. No seriously. Like, ALL THE TIME.

Let’s put a stop to that.

It sounds impossible, but you should pause for three long seconds when your buyer stops speaking.

Do it after any of the sales techniques in this article, and it will amplify them.

Most people want to fill the void of silence. If you can pause for just a few seconds longer than feels natural, your buyer will take the bait and keep speaking (i.e., deliver info that helps you close deals).

10. Get to “That’s right!” with a summary

Prepare yourself for a sad stat.

For 95% of their lives, people feel misunderstood.

The good news is that you can blow people’s minds if you make them feel understood.

Do that by listening on every call for your buyer’s underlying fears and their (possibly not-so-secret) frustrations.

At the end of the call, summarize their experience in their own words.

Wait for them to lean in with amazement.

And reap the rewards.

Ever heard of Solution Selling? This step is so critical to that methodology that a third of its nine types of discovery questions are about summarizing confirmations:

Imagine. You have the chance to make someone feel understood for the first time ever.

It’s a shocking prospect.

Here’s how you put it into play.

Say this toward the end of your call:

“Let me summarize what I’ve heard from you so far …”

Spend 30 seconds telling their story in their own words and close it off with this question:

“Did I get that right?”

If you listened accurately and did it right, you’ll practically hear them sigh with relief.

For more advice that can help you achieve your ideal sales scenarios, be sure to subscribe to the LinkedIn Sales blog.