The Ultimate Guide to Discovery Calls

June 1, 2020

Sara Howshar

Discovery calls often make or break your sales process. When handled well, they can provide deep insights into closing deals faster and at higher values.

They are especially critical when markets tend to be competitive or emerging, which means more responsibility is placed on reps to make a strong case to buy.

Well-run discovery calls give you the insights you need to drive urgency and prove ROI.

The purpose of this guide is to demystify the art of discovery. It will cover the tips and tools necessary to turn discovery calls into closed-won deals, including checklists, call scripts, demo tips, insights, and more.

This guide will also answer your questions, provide helpful advice, and share the techniques you need to succeed.

Get Started with Discovery Calls #

What is a Discovery Call? #

A discovery call is the centerpiece of your sales process - the conversation in which you establish your relationship with your potential buyer and lay out the road going forward towards an ultimate sale. It can occur at various points along the buyer’s journey (more on that later), but it always follows a cold call or other marketing play that piqued the prospect’s interest in your product.

During a discovery call, a provider and a prospect find out if they’re right for one another - whether the provider can appreciate the customer’s pain points and provide a solution for them.

You’ll have already established the customer’s basic interest prior to the call - if you asked the right questions during the initial cold call, you should have a solid basis from which to begin building a body of research for your discovery call.

The Anatomy of a Perfect Discovery Call #

Typically, reps take multiple discovery calls over a period of ten days. If you consider the fact that the average sales cycle is about 90 days, discovery calls take place on days 34-42 - about a month after you began reaching out to the prospect.

According to our findings in the State of Conversation Intelligence, 32% of cold calls will turn into discovery calls, and 19% of those will eventually become Closed Won deals.

Discovery calls are more likely to take place one-on-one when compared to calls later on in the sales cycle. However, for discovery calls that turned into Closed Won deals, reps invited a colleague, such as a manager or Sales Engineer, early on.

Typically, you should create at least two engaging moments on discovery calls where prospects monologue for thirty seconds or more in response to an open-ended question - but try for four!

How Does Your Discovery Process Compare to Industry Benchmarks? #

Throughout each section we’ve also included data from our recent State of Conversation Intelligence report. To build the report we leveraged data from millions of discovery calls taken across 300+ organizations between January and June of 2019. With this data we can better understand how top-performing teams work their discovery process.

Compare your current discovery process and results to companies of a similar size and Average Contract Value (ACV) to see how you stack up.

6 Steps for the Perfect Discovery Call #

1. Slow down discovery to speed up #

According to our call recording data on conversation intelligence, discovery calls for Closed Won deals are typically 13% longer than average, and reps take up to two calls in this stage.

It’s important to consider discovery as a process, not a single call.

If you spend more time getting to know your prospect’s pain-points, opportunities, how you’ll drive ROI together, and what competitors the prospect is considering upfront, you’ll close more deals.

That’s because if topics like competitors mentions and discounts come up later on, you are more likely to lose the deal.

2. Prepare ahead of time #

Regular practice and research into your accounts is critical for a good discovery call. In fact, top performing reps listen to eight or more of their own recorded calls each month, about 3-4 of which are discovery calls.

Before jumping on a discovery call, dig deeper into these areas: #

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Know your prospect’s history with your company and any competitors they’ve used

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Learn what’s happening with their organization and industry by reading recent news

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Review the articles they’ve shared on social media

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If possible, use a third-party tool, such as Zoom, to understand their fiscal year and how they buy

It may make sense to send your prospect a few questions by email beforehand. Let them know that if they have a few minutes to answer them, it will help you personalize the call with relevant examples. If they’re too busy, at the least prospects will have a better idea of what you’ll cover together on the call.

3. Confirm your agenda #

One great way to start a discovery call is by using the ACE methodology.

  • First, say you appreciate the prospect’s time.
  • Then, check the end-time (“It seems we have 30 minutes together today.”).
  • Finally, confirm your agenda.

Be sure to ask the prospect if there’s anything you missed that they’d like to get out of the conversation. This helps people understand how the time will be used so there are no surprises.

4. Make your discovery call conversational #

According to State of Conversation Intelligence, reps typically call 54% of the time on discovery calls. To get the prospect to open up, consider asking 6-7 questions, including 2-4 engaging questions that solicit a response of 30 seconds or more and can’t be answered with a yes/no.

Here are some of our favorite engaging questions for discovery calls:

  • What prompted you to explore our solution?
  • Tell me about your current process to do X.
  • What are you looking to improve about Y?
  • What would happen if you didn’t do anything and kept X the same?
  • Who is involved in the decision-making process to buy?
  • Are there any important dates or timelines I should be aware of as we continue conversation?
  • What, if anything, piqued your interest on our call today?
  • How would you measure success for this?
  • What types of KPIS would you expect to impact and how?
  • Have you considered any other solutions to solve Y?

You also need to prepare to answer the prospects’ questions. Typically, they’ll ask 8-9 total questions on a discovery call.

Often, their questions will involve pricing. Discounts are mentioned on 50% of discovery calls, and pricing is mentioned, on average, 4-5 times.

Here are some of the top questions your reps should be prepared to answer:

  • How must does it cost?
  • How does your pricing model work?
  • Who are your competitors?
  • How do you compare to X competitor?
  • What kinds of results are your clients seeing?
  • What’s one thing I should NOT use this for?
  • How long does it take to implement and what is the process?
  • Who typically gets involved?
  • How do you handle security and compliance?
  • Do you offer discounts or scaled pricing? How does that work?
  • What services do you offer?

5. Identify & prioritize highly educated prospects #

Highly educated prospects are people who’ve clearly done their homework on your market and are typically evaluating you against competitors. You can spot an educated prospects by the volume of questions they ask - about one question every three minutes.

Prospects typically mention competitors three times on discovery calls. But on discovery calls that turn into Closed Won deals, prospects bring up competitors 5-6 times. Rather than viewing competitor mentions as a bad thing, know that this is a sign your prospect is likely purchase-ready. This may be a good time to bring in another member of your team, such as a manager or Sales Engineer.

When dealing with discovery calls, try to ask five questions, at least two of which are engaging. When you ask more than five questions to more educated prospects on discovery calls they tend to get annoyed. In fact, these deals are 24% more likely to be Closed Lost.

6. Turn on your webcam #

Finally, don’t hesitate to turn your webcam on! Our call recording data report shows that 34% of discovery calls include video sharing. When you turn on your webcam, there’a 24% chance that your prospect will too. This is a great way to build rapport.

Just as the personal touch is important during a discovery call, so is visual presentation when you’re meeting the prospect via a video call.

Not only can you share your screen with your prospective buyer, but you can more easily develop a rapport with your POC. A smile and engaged body language can go a long way.

When it comes to sharing materials from your company, ensure you have the latest slide decks, that you’re familiar with how the demo you’re using works and, of course, that you don’t leave that ESPN tab you were reading at lunchtime open in the background when you begin to screen-share.

Test the camera before the call, noting what’s behind you and ensuring you are well-lit, dressed professionally, and (yes) smiling.

Leading Your Discovery Call #

Preparation complete. Lucky tie on, deep-breath taken, and you’re on the call. Once you’re there, knowing how to lead the conversation is key to finishing off with a sale being closed.

Don’t Front Load #

The least useful thing you can do when leading a discovery call is asking all of your questions up front

If you do that, you’re turning your discovery call into a Q&A followed by a sales pitch - it’s a structure unlikely to leave any room for your customer to make their own case, and also means you cede too much control of the conversation. Top sales reps spread their questions out across the whole call

On the other hand, you may also want to sketch out a rough guide for yourself that reminds you whereabouts in the call certain key questions need to be asked. Refer to this if you feel the conversation is going off-road.

Bring Your Knowledge #

That considerable body of research you built up during the planning phase should be deployed astutely. Your knowledge should primarily manifest itself in the questions you ask - but demonstrating your comfort in and understanding of the client’s area of expertise in general conversation will shore up your credibility

Build up the customer’s sense of context around their issue - who’s had it before, how they solved it etc.

If you’ve already been able to make an assessment of your customer’s pain points - say, for instance, theirs is primarily financial - then demonstrate how your product can also make improvement to other potential pain-point areas in their business (i.e. how it improve their processes and productivity, as well as representing the financially astute choice).

Be Flexible #

Along similar lines, you may find that the conversation is going in a slightly different direction to your plan. If that happens, presuming you’re not going totally outside the lines, roll with it - your degree of preparation should’ve given you the kind of expertise required to handle an off-the-script passage in a discovery call.

Smile for the Camera #

Presentation can be important during a discovery call! Make sure your video camera is switched on - not only is video calling easier from a practical point of view (e.g. when it comes to screen-sharing for demos), but it gives you an added means of developing rapport with your POC. A smile and engaged body language can go a long way.

Practice The Art of Listening #

Most content you’re likely to read on sales enablement, on anything sales related, will be falling over itself trying to tell you what you should do. It’s all too easy to forget that what you don’t do is as important to a successful sale. What you shouldn’t do with a discovery call is treat it as a one-way sales pitch - to close a deal, you need to be an active listener.

Knowing how to listen to your prospective customer is paramount to executing the perfect discovery call. Before you go trying to sell product features to your lead, you first need to understand their personal situation, and why your product can be of use to them

In fact, key to being persuasive in a discovery call is to retain control, while appearing as though you’re actually ceding control to the customer.
Come equipped with questions like “Can you walk me through your objectives when implementing this kind of solution?” that will allow you to listen, by allowing the customer to give you rich, extensive answers

While an airtight knowledge of your product and prospect are vital for discovery calls, what’s good currency in everyday social interaction is good for a discovery call too.
Be charming - mirror your customer’s sentiments to show proof of listening and understanding; build new questions based off of what they were just talking about etc.

Discovery Call Script #

There are many different ways to go about building out the best discovery call script for your team. This is the flow we use.

Use this template to get you started on building or refining your script!

Demoing During Discovery Calls #

72% of Closed Won deals involve a demo during discovery calls. The average demo is 29 minutes long. During the demo, reps talk about 57% of the time, so it’s important to keep demos conversational. Be sure to pause and give the prospect a chance to ask questions throughout, and see how they’re responding to the client.

Try Saying: Is any of this particularly relevant or helpful to your work?

Coaching for Deal-Closing Discovery Calls #

It's a shame that so few discovery calls are reviewed! Reps win more when their managers listen to more early-stage calls. When managers do listen to more discovery calls, reps see a 30% higher win rate. Unfortunately, most managers spend 60% more time listening to late-stage deals, which means coaching on discovery calls can get neglected in favor of coaching deals that are nearer to the finish line.

Avoid this misstep, and consider these four ways to coach reps to success on discovery calls: #

Manager-led Coaching:

  • Have your rep bring a recorded call to a 1 to 1.
  • Pick one theme to focus on, such as asking engaging questions or handling objections.
  • Let the rep dissect the call first, then share two positives and two areas to work on.
  • Keep it focused!

Group Film Review:

  • A different rep submits a call and an evaluation theme with the group each week.
  • Let the rep dissect their call first.
  • Then, let each person score the call against a rubric and share at least one positive and one area to work on.


  • A rep can listen to their own calls as score them against a rubric, as well as listen to calls taken by other top reps.


  • Two reps can pair together and comment on each others’ discovery calls. Or, reps can play the “Questions Game.”
  • Questions Game: One rep role plays as the prospect, and the other as the seller.
  • The seller asks a question back to every question the prospect asks.
  • This helps reps get used to digging deeper rather than immediately responding to everything the prospect says without attempting to gain additional context.

Discovery Call Key Takeaways #

Trying too hard to make your discovery call perfect is the one thing guaranteeing that it won’t be - while it’s tempting, with so many variables at hand and a new business deal at stake, to attempt to exert as much control over proceedings as possible, this will actually hurt your chances of closing a deal when all’s said and done.

Templates are just that: templates. Mastering the art of the discovery call involves great research instincts, precise forward-planning, a clear sense of where your conversation will start and roughly where it will end - but otherwise, it’s jazz. You’ve got to know how to listen, how to respond, and how to improvise.

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