5 Steps To A Better Discovery Call

by Peter Meyers, President and Founder 14 Min.

January 8th, 2024

The discovery call is where the magic starts.

We begin to turn possibilities into realities.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Discovery is the foundation of effective selling and can be the difference between a sale won or lost. That’s why nailing the discovery call is crucial. It’s a delicate art that balances strategic selling with genuine connections. I’m here to guide you through five pivotal steps that can dramatically transform your discovery call dialogues.

Drawing from our rich experiences and industry-leading insights at Portage, I’ll show you how to elevate your discovery calls from mere formalities to powerful, rapport-building conversations. These steps aren’t just methods; they’re the key to unlocking deeper, more productive, and successful interactions. Together, we’ll ensure that every discovery call you make opens new opportunities and cements your confidence and success.

What Makes A Good Discovery Call?

While you often come away from a discovery call with a gut feeling as to how it went, focusing on these leading indicators of discovery call success will help make the process less abstract and more measurable.

Nine Leading Indicators of Discovery Call Success

1.

Client engagement level

Metric

Were they actively participating, asking questions, and showing interest?

Meaning

High engagement typically indicates a successful discovery call.

2.

Talk time balance

Metric

Was there a good balance, or did one party dominate the conversation?

Meaning

Successful discovery calls usually involve active participation from both sides.

3.

Quality of information gathered

Metric

Did you uncover deep insights about the client’s needs, challenges, and goals?

Meaning

The depth and relevance of the information uncovered indicate effective questioning and listening.

4.

Conversation flow

Metric

Was the conversation smooth and natural, or was it forced and one-sided?

Meaning

A good flow suggests comfort and rapport, important for successful relationships.

5.

Client’s understanding and response

Metric

Did the client clearly understand how your offerings can benefit them?

Meaning

Their grasp and interest in your solutions are vital.

6.

Tone and enthusiasm

Metric

Was the tone positive, and was there enthusiasm from both sides?

Meaning

‘How they say it’ is often more telling of buyer engagement and buy-in than ‘what they say.’

7.

Tailoring of message

Metric

Did you adjust your solution and value pitch based on the client’s responses and needs?

Meaning

Adaptability is key in addressing the specific needs of the client.

8.

Trust and credibility indicators

Metric

Did the client express trust or acknowledgment of your expertise?

Meaning

Building trust is a cornerstone of successful sales relationships.

9.

Mutual agreement on next steps

Metric

Did you and your client agree upon a clear plan for moving forward?

Meaning

This indicates a mutual interest in continuing the conversation.

From this guide, you’ll come away with…

  • Call planning discovery call template to ensure you start every discovery call with a clear strategy and objectives
  • A guide to asking insightful discovery call questions to help you enhance the quality of your conversations and ultimately gain a better understanding of each customer’s needs during a discovery call.
  • A discovery call checklist for scoring your discovery calls to help you become more self-aware and identify areas for improvement in your discovery call approach.

Let’s start unpacking the five steps to discovery call success.

Step 1: Prepare a Call Plan.

Let’s kick off our journey to discovery call mastery with the first and foundational step – preparing a discovery call plan. You might think, “Peter, I’ve done dozens of these discovery calls; do I need a plan?” Absolutely, and here’s why. A well-prepared plan for a discovery call is like a roadmap for your call; it keeps you focused, ensures you cover all critical areas, and, most importantly, shows your prospective client that you value and respect their time during the discovery call.

Accurate, Thoughtful Preparation

Picture this: You walk into a discovery call, and instead of the usual winging it, you’ve got a plan. It’s like having a roadmap in an unfamiliar city. This isn’t about filling in a template; it’s about showing your client that you’ve done your homework and that their business matters to you. Look them up on their website and LinkedIn, maybe even Crunchbase. Finding something common, like a shared interest or background, is key to building early trust​​. This is your chance to make a real connection.

Earning Their Trust

Here’s what happens when you’re prepared: you gain trust. Imagine the difference between a salesperson who stumbles through a discovery call and one who knows their stuff. Who would you trust more? Exactly. A prepared salesperson comes off as credible, reliable, and genuinely interested in finding the right solution for the client.

Elevating the Conversation

Now, when you’ve got that plan in your back pocket, the game changes. You’re not just selling; you’re consulting. You understand their challenges, have insights, and are ready to tailor your pitch to their needs. Top sales reps spend about half the time listening. Steer clear of yes-or-no questions and encourage your client to share more. When they mention a challenge, acknowledge it to demonstrate your understanding. And if you find yourself talking too much, it’s a sign to take a breath and let your client share their thoughts​​.

When time is tight, here’s what to focus on to ensure you are prepared and can quickly complete a call plan:

The Five-Minute Discovery Call Plan: Efficient and Effective

  1. Know Their Business: A brief look at their website and social media can reveal much.
  2. Find Common Ground: Discover something you both share- a hobby or a business connection.
  3. Build on Previous Interactions: Use your earlier conversations as a reference and a foundation to deepen the relationship.

A discovery call plan isn’t just a formality; it’s your secret weapon. It’s about showing up as more than a salesperson. You’re a problem-solver, an ally in their industry. With a solid plan, you can navigate the discovery call with confidence, ask the right questions, and connect with your client. Trust me, it makes all the difference.

Step 2: Build Rapport

Building Rapport in your discovery calls is foundational. This is where you make your mark, transforming a simple discovery call into a bridge for lasting relationships. Remember, folks, it’s about connecting on a human level in every discovery call because, at the end of the day, people need to buy you before they buy into your solution. 

The Art of Connection in Virtual Discovery Calls

Imagine you’re on a discovery call, trying to connect, but it’s like talking to a screen. In today’s virtual world, establishing rapport is tougher but more crucial than ever. Miss this step; you’re just another voice in the digital void.

Now, let’s face it: failing to build rapport isn’t just a missed opportunity; it’s a potential deal-breaker. Without that connection, you’re not building trust, and without trust, you’re not building much of anything. It’s the difference between a memorable conversation and one forgotten as soon as it ends.

Breakthrough Moments – – Sam’s Turning Point

Let me tell you about Sam. He is a brilliant salesperson, but his discovery calls? All facts, features, and talk times above 70-80%. I see it all the time in our Portage call coaching sessions. It wasn’t until he started weaving personal conversations and actively listening to his clients that his sales went from flatline to skyrocket. For Sam, it was about making each discovery call a two-way street, not a one-way broadcast.

Sam isn’t alone in this journey of transformation. Once you start focusing on building genuine connections, you shift from just pushing your product and you start understanding people and their challenges. That’s the power of rapport.

Rapport Game Plan

Here’s the game plan: Start with something personal. Leverage your discovery call plan insights by asking about their day, their city, and their professional journey. This isn’t idle chit-chat; it’s the cornerstone of a real relationship. Then, listen – not just their words but their story. Use mirroring techniques to create a subconscious bond – keep it natural, no mimicking. Share stories that resonate with their experience and show that you get them. Empathy is your friend here; it’s about showing you’re there to find a solution.

Try These Rapport Tips:

  • Use Their Name: Regularly use the client’s name during the conversation to personalize and show attentiveness.
  • Acknowledge Achievements: Recognize and celebrate the client’s recent successes or milestones to demonstrate your genuine interest in their progress.
  • Remember Personal Details: Note and reference personal details shared by clients (like hobbies and family) in future interactions to show genuine interest in their lives.
  • Ask Open-Ended Questions: Use open-ended questions to encourage clients to talk about themselves and their needs, showing your willingness to listen.
  • Non-Verbal Cues: Be attentive to the client’s non-verbal communication, adjusting your approach based on their facial expressions and body language.
  • Mirroring: Subtly mirror the client’s body language and speech patterns to create a subconscious bond and sense of familiarity.
  • Provide Value in Every Interaction: Offer insights, helpful information, or solutions in each interaction, establishing credibility and trust in your expertise.
  • Personalized Follow-Up: Send a tailored follow-up after meetings, summarizing discussions or providing additional value, to maintain engagement.

Try out some of these tips, and most importantly, be your authentic self.

Put It into Practice On Your Next Discovery Call

I challenge you, on your next discovery call, to put these tips into action. Start with empathy, add a dash of storytelling, mix in some active listening, and voila! You’re building rapport, and laying the groundwork for a relationship beyond business. It’s about communicating that they’re not just buying a product but starting a partnership.

Step 3: Ask Insightful Questions

Let’s discuss the core of any great discovery call – leveling up with the right questions. The goal here is to uncover as much valuable information as possible, in a way that feels natural and engaging for your client.

Level 1 - Open-Ended Questions

Start with open-ended questions. These are your golden tickets to valuable insights. Questions like, “What challenges are you currently facing?” or “What does success look like for your team?” encourage detailed responses and open the conversation for deeper exploration.

Level 2 - Leverage Purpose, Insights, and Experience for Insightful Questions

The formula for asking insightful questions can include any and all of these three ingredients. It’s my ‘Purpose, Insight, Experience’ formula. Let me break this down for you.

  • Purpose. Before you start your call, ask yourself, “What do I want to achieve with this conversation?” This isn’t about your sales targets; it’s about understanding your client’s needs and why. It’s about getting to the core of their challenges. 
  • Insight. This is where your homework pays off. Use what you know about their situation and needs to inform your discovery call questions, for example, by tapping into how these needs impact their business.
  • Experience. This is where your expertise shines. You’ve been in this field, and you’ve seen similar scenarios. Use these experiences to create discovery call questions that resonate more deeply. 


Using this formula you’ll lead with questions sharpened by prior research and understanding
like, “Given your company’s recent foray into renewable energy, what challenges are you grappling with?” or “Considering your impressive customer retention rates, how do you plan to leverage this strength for future growth?” Such tailored questions show you’re connecting dots from your research to their situation, building credibility and steering the conversation toward deeper insights and engagement.

Level 3 - Follow-up Questions

After grabbing their attention with targeted questions, stoke the fires of interest with further exploration. Dig deeper with follow-up questions. If a client mentions a challenge, ask them to elaborate. What has caused this challenge? How has it impacted their business? This shows you’re listening and genuinely interested in understanding their situation. This demonstrates your keen listening skills and commitment to engaging them in a conversation that delves beneath the surface. More importantly, their answers can help accelerate the deal to the next step.

You’ll use the insights you’ve gathered to kindle a desire for solutions in Step 4 below … artfully connecting their needs to the benefits of your solutions, illustrating how your services can solve their current challenges and propel them toward success.

Step 4: Tailor Your Solution to Client Needs

The Challenge of Tailoring Without Insight

Think about those times you’re in a discovery call, and it feels like you’re shooting in the dark. You’re pitching solutions that, while great on paper, just don’t seem to click with your client. It’s a frustrating dance of guesswork and mismatches. 

Now, imagine a scenario where you’ve mastered the discovery call. You’ve applied our techniques brilliantly. The result? You deeply understand your client’s specific needs. The game changes. You’re no longer pitching a one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, you’re presenting a bespoke solution, finely tuned to address their unique challenges and aspirations. The engagement is palpable; your client is actively involved because your solution is a mirror reflecting their specific situation.

Unlocking Tailored Solutions Through Insightful Discovery

How do you bridge the gap between understanding and solution? It’s all in how you use the gold that you’ve mined from your discovery calls:

  • Clarify what’s truly critical need: Buyers take action when you’ve tapped into critical problems and needs. Picture yourself in a discovery call. It’s not just a question-and-answer session; it’s an exploration of problems and potential solutions. You’re there to unearth their most pressing challenges to understand the implications these issues have on their business. This isn’t about ticking boxes in a needs assessment; it’s about delving into the heart of their problems. As you pinpoint the critical needs, you’re not just selling a solution; you’re offering a lifeline that addresses these challenges head-on.
  • Adapt solutions in real-time: It’s here that your expertise takes center stage. You’re not unpacking a standard solution; you’re crafting it as you go, tailored to the client’s needs. It’s a dance of ideas, where your wit and adaptability build trust and partnership. Your role is to navigate them towards a solution that feels self-discovered subtly. It’s a delicate but potent strategy – the client moves from seeing your solution as an external suggestion to something that resonates as their own, tailor-made for their specific situation.
  • Qualifying buyer readiness through exploration: Throughout this conversation, there’s an underlying theme – qualifying the buyer’s readiness. By exploring their needs and potential solutions, you’re gauging how prepared they are to invest in a solution like yours. Are they just window-shopping, or are they ready to take the plunge? It’s about ensuring that when they commit, they do so with a full understanding of how your solution aligns with their needs. It’s about making the sale a natural next step in a journey you’ve taken together.

 

This part of the discovery call is a tapestry of conversation, understanding, and co-creation. It’s where you clarify, solve, and qualify – all in real-time. By focusing on these crucial themes, you’re forging a relationship built on understanding, trust, and mutual commitment to finding the right solution.

Step 5: Establish Clear Next Steps

We’ve arrived at the final, yet pivotal, step of the discovery call – establishing clear next steps. This stage is all about clarity and commitment. It’s where you ensure that the momentum built during the discovery call translates into actionable steps, moving the relationship forward in a positive and structured manner.

Too often, I cringe at the end of listening to recorded sales discovery calls because the salesperson has short-changed themselves. Allow at least 5-10 minutes at the end of the discovery call to fully address what was covered and to align on what will happen next. When you leave too little time for the next steps, you add significant risk to the deal’s momentum. Too little time for the next steps can kill deals.

Summarize

Start by summarizing the key points discussed during the discovery call. This includes the client’s main challenges, how your solution aligns with their needs, and any specific concerns or objections they raised. A concise summary demonstrates that you’ve been attentive and are focused on their specific situation.

Propose a Plan

Based on the conversation, propose a follow-up plan. This could be a more detailed discussion, a demonstration of your product, or a meeting with other key decision-makers in their organization. Ensure this plan is tailored to the client’s interest in or concern during the discovery call.

Set Dates and Deadlines

Avoid vague commitments like “I’ll get back to you next week.” Instead, set specific dates and deadlines. For instance, “I’ll send you a detailed proposal by Tuesday afternoon” or “Let’s schedule a demo for Thursday morning.” This specificity shows professionalism and respect for their time.

Confirm

Before ending the discovery call, confirm that the client is on the same page regarding the next steps. Ask if they have any other questions or need further clarification on any points discussed. This is also a great time to reiterate your excitement about possibly working together.

End on a Positive Note

Finally, end the discovery call on a positive and upbeat note. Express your appreciation for their time and the opportunity to discuss their needs. A friendly, optimistic close sets a positive tone for future interactions.

Establishing clear next steps is essential to keeping the sales process moving. It turns a good conversation into a pathway for action, ensuring that you and the client know exactly what comes next and are excited about the possibilities ahead.

Conclusion: Charting Your Course for Discovery Call Mastery

And that’s a wrap! – our five critical steps to turn your discovery calls into potent conversations that balance strategic selling with a genuine connection. From crafting a thoughtful discovery call plan to setting clear next steps, each phase is a vital part of a larger strategy that, when combined, crafts an impactful discovery call approach.

Download our free Portage Discovery Call Checklist

This isn’t just a list we threw together overnight. It’s the result of years of experience, countless calls, and a whole lot of trial and error. We’ve refined this discovery call checklist to ensure it covers all the bases in this guide, making your discovery calls as effective and impactful as possible.

After each discovery call you complete, take a few minutes to use the checklist to review and score your success. Pay careful attention to the one area you hit out of the park, and the one area that could use some improvement. Avoid taking on too much at once. This way you will make far more progress.

The essence of a successful discovery call lies in your ability to listen, understand, and connect. It’s about demonstrating to your clients that you’re more than a salesperson; you’re a trusted advisor deeply invested in their success. By embracing these steps, you’re not just gearing up for productive discovery calls; you’re laying the foundation for long-standing, mutually rewarding relationships.

At Portage Sales, we’ve witnessed the remarkable impact of these steps – higher engagement, stronger client relationships, and more closed deals. The beauty of this approach? It not only refines your sales process but also enriches both your experience and your clients.

So, embrace these steps, make them your own, and watch as your discovery calls transform into one of your strongest moments with prospects and customers. My team at Portage is here to guide you on this journey. Let’s turn your discovery calls into not just successful interactions, but memorable experiences that build lasting connections.

 PETER MEYERS

PETER MEYERS

Peter is an executive advisor, consultant, and facilitator who happily lives and breathes sales strategy and customer experience. With a razor-sharp focus on making sales teams more effective, he combines his creativity, collaborative style, and relentless drive for results. Before Portage, he held VP roles in sales, marketing, and product innovation at LoyaltyOne, Epsilon, The Toronto Region Board of Trade, and Engage People. When he’s not exploring new sales strategies, he’s taking in the great outdoors.

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