The Effective Sales Discovery Process: Questions that Uncover Customer Needs

The discovery phase of the sales process is considered crucial by many top sales professionals. The importance of this phase should not be underestimated; in discovery, you gather information for the purpose of closing the sale and set the tone for your entire relationship with your customer.

Many sales representatives miss the opportunity to learn valuable information about their customers, glossing over the discovery process by asking basic questions before hastily launching into a sales pitch. These representatives fail to consider that each customer is unique – and often, the customer can sense that the representative is treating them as a number, rather than taking the time to form an understanding of their needs. These representatives see the discovery process as a waste of time and often want to rush through it and close the deal. However, a thorough discovery phase can actually accelerate the sales process by making it less likely that you will encounter miscommunication, objections, and misjudgments down the road.

Mastering the discovery process can be broken down into two major skill sets: asking the right questions, and actively listening to the answers. In this first of two articles on the discovery process, we’ll focus on building your questioning skills.

Top sales representatives focus on these six areas during the questioning process:

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1. What is the customer’s current situation and how well is it working?
Find out what the customer is using, and what they like and dislike about it. This information will give you valuable insight into creating a custom solution that works for them.

Ask questions such as:

  • Can you tell me more about your current product or service?
  • What aspects of your current product are working well for you?

2. What are the customer’s needs and challenges?
Find out where your customers want to improve. Learn about their problems and the factors that contribute to those problems. This is another opportunity to gather data that will help you customize a solution that addresses your customers’ needs and priorities.

Ask questions such as:

  • What are you hoping to achieve?
  • What led you to explore options?
  • Will you give me a sense of why this is important to you?

3. Who will be involved in the decision-making process?
Find out everything you can about the people and relationships involved in the buying decision. Be sure to include decision-makers and influencers during the sales process, since many companies make purchasing decisions by consensus.

Ask questions such as:

  • Who is the strongest advocate for a new and improved solution?
  • Who has the most influence on the buying decision?
  • Who do you anticipate needing more time or information to support the buying decision?

4. What is the customer’s preferred buying process?
Find out what you can about your customer’s buying and decision-making processes. Relevant information includes their budget, timeline, and schedule. Focus on the entire process from their point of view.

Ask question such as:

  • Do you have a budget allocated for this purchase?
  • What is the ideal timeline for implementation of a new solution?
  • When will your procurement department get involved in this process?
  • What steps do you need to take before a decision is made?

5. What other options is the customer considering?
Find out about your competition. You can count on the fact that every customer looks at alternatives. Acknowledging this can give you an advantage in how you position yourself against your competition.

Ask questions such as:

  • What other options have you explored?
  • Which solution that you’ve learned about seems most attractive at this point?
  • What about the alternatives do you find most compelling?
  • How do you feel about we compare to other solutions you’ve explored?

6. What is the impact of the solution?
Find out about the customer’s desired results. Top sales professionals ask questions about the impact of change and the consequences of inactivity. They discuss efficiency, savings, and the ROI of the solution that they want to sell.

Ask questions such as:

  • If you were to lose your position as market leader, what impact might that have on your goals?
  • What will the impact on gross margins be if the product’s fail rate is reduced by x%?
  • If you don’t solve this challenge, what types of difficulties will you face in the future?
  • What is your organization’s goal with the time savings and increased revenue after successful implementation?

Asking strategic questions during the discovery process will reveal your customers’ needs and allow you to build strong relationships and customize solutions that will ultimately help you close deals. In our next post, we will focus on an equally important part of the discovery process: active listening.