5 Tips for Asking Better Discovery Questions

The discovery process can make or break you as a sales engineer. If you feel like you aren’t getting the results you want, or your discovery isn’t as effective as you’d like it to be – it’s worth the investment to learn how to improve.

There are numerous articles, books, posts, blogs about how to improve your discovery process. Read them ALL!  Always be learning. If you can pick up even one new tip, it’s worth spending time to read.

I won’t bore you with the basics of discovery. But I will take this as an opportunity to share what I believe to be the real secret of effective discovery: Listening. All too often, the difference between a really great discovery call and a very boring one is how effectively the SE listened throughout the process. In this post, I’ll share my favorite tips for improving your listening throughout the discovery process – from scheduling to follow-up.

Tip #1: Set Expectations

What can you do to increase the chances of getting a DDC scheduled? Remember the best practice of always making it about your prospect? It holds true in every interaction with your prospect. So start off with setting expectations – let your prospect know what value they’ll derive from participating in this call. Explain what you’ll achieve during the demo and how it will help them. This can be as basic as saying:  “We value your time and aim at making the best use of your time during a demo. We will use the time during discovery call to confirm and delve further into your stated goals. The demo will then be focused and tailored to what is most valuable to you.”

Then LISTEN closely for any valuable insights they might give you. Maybe they still aren’t convinced that they have a problem. Maybe they’ve used your solution before, so you don’t have to run through your entire demo. Maybe they aren’t the person who will actually be using the solution.

Setting expectations is the first step – and that involves actively listening to make sure that you’re setting expectations in the way that they expected. No one wants to meet for the sake of meeting. Setting expectations will help your prospect understand the value of your time together.

Tip #2: Get Your AE On Board

If you’re getting pressured by your AE to skip DDCs for the sake of speed or efficiency, you might need to have a conversation to align your interests. The AE wants to close the sale, so they want you to be focused on activities that drive the sale forward. This is another opportunity to listen. What is your AE trying to do by moving the process along? If you can demonstrate how discovery calls add value to your sales process (by allowing you to give more targeted demos, you’ll probably get better buy-in from your AE.

Of course, this means that you have to make sure your discovery calls are, in fact, adding value to the sales process – so make them count. Make a habit of using your discovery call to shape your demos. Don’t have DDCs just to check them off your to-do list. Listening intently and asking the right questions during DDCs will not only help you get your AE on board, but it will also encourage you to provide a more personalized demo, every time.

Tip #3: Determine Roles

Before you get on the call, know the roles of everyone who will be on the call. This will give you an idea of what they would might value, and can help you tailor your language to their specific goals.

However, don’t stop at the assumptions you can make based on title. Ask questions about their specific functions, and how they might interact with your solution. Then move onto confirming their goals.

Tip #4: Confirm Their Goals

You may think an executive wants to see reporting and analytics and in most cases, you would be correct. However, there are times when an executive is actually interested in how the team will make best use of this tool – so don’t rely on your assumptions. Use job titles to make educated guesses – but verbally confirm each participant’s interests before proceeding with your demo.

Ask pointed questions like, “Mary, am I correct in assuming that you’d be interested in learning more about our analytics dashboard? Or would you be more interested in how the team would be using the tool?” and listen intently to their answers.

Tip #5: Practice Level II Listening.

If you feel you have heard all you need to know about listening skills, then you are what is known in the coaching world as Level I listening. You stopped “listening” to me because you think you know it all. You believe you know what is coming next. You are making assumptions. If you are thinking, “..these are simply sales skills. I’ve already been through the training. Nothing new here….”, then you are in Level I listening mode.

What does that mean? When you are in Level I, you…

  • Are focused on what YOU want
  • Believe you know the answer before letting the other person finish
  • Consider yourself the expert
  • Interrupt and talk about your experiences and steal the mic

Sound familiar? In sales discovery, it is common to jump to what they need instead of hearing them out. If you do the latter, you may learn something even they did not know existed and that your product/service can solve. Intentional listening and thoughtful questions will allow you to uncover a need they did not know they had.

So how do you practice Level II listening? You:

  • Focus and really tune into the speaker.
  • Channel curiosity
  • Ask thoughtful questions
  • Come into the conversation excited to learn.
  • Look for non-verbal clues to get to the bottom of the problem: Do they sound frustrated, angry, delighted, excited?

As Steven Covey puts it, you, “Listen with the intent to understand, not with intent to reply.” When you practice Level II listening, you provide your prospects the feeling of being heard and understood – which can differentiate you from the sea of Level I listeners most of us are used to interacting with.

Practice Makes Perfect

You’ll never improve your discovery process if you don’t actively practice – so prioritize DDCs and make the most of them. Focus on learning, listening, listening some more, and providing value to both your prospect and your AE. This will lead to better discovery and a more focused demo, which will help advance your prospect in the sales process.

Email me [email protected] to let me know how these tips work for you!