Sales Discovery Questions: Best Practices of Successful Sales Teams

Sales discovery questions

A powerful lever to improve your team’s sales performance could be hiding in plain sight: sales discovery questions. Asking effective sales questions correlates with success, according to new research:

  • 51% of successful sales teams are effective at sales discovery and questioning.
  • Only 41% of underperforming teams are effective at sales discovery and questioning.

Asking questions is good. Asking the right questions is better. It turns out, most sales organizations are not using the most effective sales questioning techniques. That means sales organizations are leaving a ton of potential on the table when it comes to questioning.

Only 23% of successful teams (vs. 14% of underperforming teams) use the most effective strategy (needs/wants-based approach).

By continuously improving your team’s discovery questioning skills, your sales professionals will be better equipped to uncover valuable insights, build stronger rapport with prospects, position your solutions more effectively, and close more deals.

This post dives into the best sales discovery questions, how to assess your team’s questioning skills, and how to improve them for more effective discovery calls.

4 Types of Sales Discovery Questions

There are four main types of discovery call questions sales professionals can use to understand prospective buyers. But some are better than others. The best sales discovery questions focus on needs and wants.

1. Needs & Wants = Most Effective

This approach focuses on understanding the prospective buyer’s specific needs, goals, challenges, and desired outcomes. The sales professional asks questions to uncover the buyer’s pain points, priorities, and what they hope to achieve by purchasing a product or service. This helps the sales professional tailor their pitch and solutions to align with the buyer’s needs and wants.

2. Needs & Buying Process = 2nd Most Effective

In addition to understanding the buyer’s needs, this approach explores their buying process, decision-making criteria, and potential roadblocks or objections. The sales professional may ask questions about the buyer’s budget, decision-making timeline, key stakeholders involved, and any specific requirements or constraints they need to consider.

3. Product-Based Questions = 3rd Most Effective

This technique involves asking questions specifically related to the product or service being offered. The sales professional may inquire about the buyer’s familiarity with the product, their experience with similar solutions, and their expectations or concerns regarding features, functionality, and performance.

4. Intro Questions & Product Pitch = Least Effective

This approach begins with introductory discovery call questions to build rapport and gather basic information about the prospective buyer, such as their role, company, and industry. Once a foundation is established, the sales professional transitions into delivering a product pitch, highlighting the key benefits and features of their offering, tailored to the buyer’s context.

By employing a combination of these questioning approaches, sales professionals can gain a comprehensive understanding of the prospective buyer’s situation, needs, and decision-making process, allowing them to present a compelling and relevant sales pitch. But the most successful teams use the best approach: needs and wants.

Successful Sales Teams Use More Effective Sales Questioning Techniques

Research shows that high-performing sales teams use more effective sales discovery and questioning approaches than underperforming teams.

The Brooks Group commissioned independent research firm Qualtrics to survey 155 B2B North American sales leaders across multiple industries at organizations with revenue greater than $50M.

59% of respondents said their teams met or exceeded their previous year’s revenue goals (successful teams), while 41% fell short (underperforming teams).

According to the Best Practices of High-Performing Sales Teams research report, 54% of successful teams (vs. 33% of underperforming teams) use one of the top two questioning strategies.

Two-thirds of underperforming teams use the least effective questioning strategies. Because they aren’t doing discovery well, most organizations are leaving significant potential revenue on the table.

66% of underperforming teams use the two least effective questioning strategies: focusing on product-based questions (44%) and asking a few introductory questions before rolling into a product pitch (22%).

How to Ask Needs/Wants Sales Discovery Questions

Using the most effective questioning techniques during the sales discovery phase is critical. The needs/wants-based approach is a powerful strategy that is underutilized, especially among underperforming sales teams.

Here’s why this approach is so effective and how you can leverage it.

Understanding Customer Needs and Wants

The needs/wants-based approach focuses on uncovering the customer’s underlying needs, pain points, goals, and desired outcomes. By truly understanding what the customer values and what problems they are trying to solve, sales professionals can tailor their solutions and messaging to resonate more effectively.

Building Rapport and Trust

When sales professionals actively listen and ask thoughtful questions to understand the customer’s situation, it helps build rapport and trust. Customers are more likely to open up and share valuable insights when they feel the sales professional genuinely cares about their needs rather than pushing a product.

Differentiating and Selling Value

By uncovering the customer’s unique needs and wants, sales professionals can better differentiate their offerings and highlight specific value propositions that matter most to that particular customer. This personalized approach can set them apart from competitors who may rely on more generic pitches.

Qualifying Opportunities

The needs/wants-based discovery process also allows sales professionals to better qualify opportunities. By understanding the customer’s situation in-depth, they can determine whether their product or service is truly a good fit and whether the opportunity is worth pursuing further.

Essential Sales Discovery Questioning Skills

Your team’s ability to use the most effective questions approach depends on sales training. Your team will need to be proficient in active listening, questioning techniques, and uncovering customer needs.

Training should emphasize the importance of genuine curiosity and empathy in the sales process. Providing tools and frameworks for capturing and analyzing customer insights can help your team leverage the information gathered during the discovery phase.

Your team needs to become proficient in these eight steps to have more effective discovery sales calls:

1. Prepare Open-Ended Questions

Instead of asking closed-ended questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no,” focus on crafting open-ended questions that encourage the prospect to elaborate. These questions often start with “what,” “how,” “why,” or phrases like “tell me about…” or “describe for me…”

2. Use Active Listening

Active listening is crucial for effective discovery. Pay close attention to the prospect’s responses, pick up on cues and keywords, and follow up with relevant probing questions to dive deeper into their specific needs, challenges, and goals.

3. Ask Follow-Up Questions

Don’t be satisfied with surface-level responses. When a prospect shares something interesting or potentially important, follow up with additional questions to uncover more details and context. Phrases like, “Can you tell me more about that?” or, “What makes that particular issue challenging?” can help you gather richer insights.

4. Avoid Leading Questions

Steer clear of sales discovery call questions that suggest a desired answer or impose your assumptions on the prospect. Keep your questions neutral and open-ended to allow for genuine, unbiased responses.

5. Embrace Silence

Don’t be afraid of pauses or moments of silence during the conversation. Sometimes, prospects need time to gather their thoughts or may provide additional information after a brief pause.

6. Practice Active Curiosity

Approach each conversation with a genuine sense of curiosity and a desire to learn about the prospect’s business, challenges, and goals. This mindset will help you ask more insightful and relevant questions.

7. Use Questioning Frameworks

Consider using structured questioning frameworks or models such as the IMPACT Selling® sales process to guide your discovery process and ensure you cover all essential areas.

8. Role-Play and Practice

Regularly role-play discovery scenarios with colleagues or managers, allowing you to practice your questioning skills, receive feedback, and refine your approach.

By continuously improving your team’s discovery questioning abilities, they’ll be better equipped to uncover valuable insights, build stronger rapport with prospects, and ultimately position your solutions more effectively.

How to Assess and Improve Your Team’s Questioning Skills

Selling skills assessments reveal whether your sales professionals have the acumen to know the best thing to do across a host of situations and sales process steps. Our research found that using sales assessments correlates with sales success:

  • 53% of organizations that use selling skills assessments consistently met or exceeded the previous year’s revenue goal.
  • 60% of organizations that DON’T use these assessments were below the previous year’s goal.
  • 63% of respondents whose company uses selling skills assessments are confident in their team’s ability to achieve 2024 sales objectives.

Sales leaders can leverage selling skills assessments to improve their team’s questioning skills. Here are seven ways you can find out whether your team has the selling skills it needs:

1. Baseline Assessment

Conduct a comprehensive selling skills assessment to establish a baseline understanding of each sales professional’s strengths and weaknesses in discovery questioning. This will help identify areas that require improvement and tailor training efforts accordingly.

2. Scenario-based Evaluations

Many selling skills assessments include scenario-based questions or simulations that specifically test a sales professional’s ability to ask effective discovery questions. These scenarios can mimic real-life customer interactions and evaluate how well the sales professional can uncover needs, probe for more information, and gather insights through their questioning approach.

3. Feedback and Coaching

After the assessment, provide detailed feedback to each sales professional—highlighting their performance in the questioning section. Use the assessment results to identify sales coaching opportunities and develop personalized coaching plans to address any gaps or areas for improvement in their questioning techniques.

4. Targeted Sales Training

Based on the assessment results, design and implement targeted training programs focused on improving discovery questioning skills. This could include workshops, role-playing exercises, or online training modules that cover topics such as open-ended questioning, active listening, probing techniques, and questioning frameworks.

5. Continuous Reinforcement

Integrate questioning skills development into ongoing sales coaching and sales training reinforcement efforts. During regular coaching sessions, review recorded sales calls or role-play scenarios to provide feedback and guidance on how sales professionals can improve their questioning approaches in real-life situations.

6. Periodic Reassessment

Conduct periodic reassessments to measure progress and determine the effectiveness of the training and coaching efforts. This will help identify sales professionals who have successfully improved their questioning skills and those who may need additional support or reinforcement.

7. Incentives and Recognition

Consider incorporating questioning skills as part of the performance evaluation criteria and reward system. Recognize and celebrate sales professionals who consistently demonstrate exceptional questioning abilities during customer interactions or sales simulations.

By leveraging selling skills assessments effectively, sales leaders can gain valuable insights into their team’s questioning proficiency, identify areas for improvement, and implement targeted training and coaching programs to enhance your team’s ability to uncover customer needs and drive more effective sales conversations.

Learn More

Get more info about how IMPACT Selling® can improve your team’s sales discovery questions and drive better sales performance.

2024 Sales Leader Trend Report - Best Practices High Performing Teams
2024 Sales Leader Trend Report

Best Practices of High-Performing Sales Teams

We surveyed B2B sales leaders across multiple industries at organizations to discover the answer.

In this research report, Best Practices of High-Performing Sales Teams, we share what the best sales teams do differently.

Written By

Dan Markin

As Vice President of Sales Strategy and Consulting for The Brooks Group, Dan is committed to using innovative and practical motivational techniques and strategies that allow people and organizations to enjoy breakthrough results – often beyond what they ever imagined possible.
Written By

Dan Markin

As Vice President of Sales Strategy and Consulting for The Brooks Group, Dan is committed to using innovative and practical motivational techniques and strategies that allow people and organizations to enjoy breakthrough results – often beyond what they ever imagined possible.

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