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My 3 Favorite Discovery Questions

By Susan Hall

My 3 Favorite Discovery Questions

As any experienced salesperson or consultant will tell you, Discovery is both an art and a science. Without a plan, it’s easy to miss critical information as well as nuances that can help you shape your value proposition to the client. On the other hand, script your discovery plan too heavily and you’ll come across as a telemarketer taking a survey, and your customer will feel badgered and annoyed. The goal, of course, is to facilitate a professional dialogue with your customer, in which your questions open up and engage a level of shared information and insight that brings value in and of itself.

While Discovery is situational and should be planned according to the customer with whom you’re meeting and business issues they are dealing with, here are three of my favorites:

1. “Can you tell me more about that?”
I love this question because it expands the dialogue. The next time your customer leans in, or frowns, or raises their eyebrows- try asking this question. You’ve obviously hit a point of interest, so it makes sense to learn more. Also, it’s a great “save me” question. When coaching new reps, they sometimes are still too much in their “head” and not listening enough to their customer. They may miss something the customer said, or not have a clear plan about where to go next with their discovery. “Tell me more” is a way for them to catch their breath, buy a little time to collect their thoughts and, most important, listen to what’s important.

2. “How is that important?”, "What’s the impact of that...?” Or “What are the consequences…?"
Whereas ”tell me more” helps you gain a broader, deeper understanding, impact questions get to, well, impact. That is, what’s really important about this and why. For example, if the customer says they want a Blue widget, ask "Why is blue important?" You may learn why, you may also both learn that there may be another way of meeting the need even better with pink, or green, or something totally outside the standard color spectrum.

3. “Is there anything else that you’d like me to know that I haven’t asked you about yet?”
Catch all questions are powerful because they allow you to “catch” critical pieces of information that haven’t been addressed yet. Inevitably, when you ask this, you’ll learn something important. Typically, a client will say “well, no, except…” and then proceed to tell you perhaps the most important thing in the entire conversation! Always ask this question as you are wrapping up the conversation.

For example...

I worked with a rep recently who worked for a distribution company. Before meeting with a key client, we planned our Discovery questions, including these 3 questions. This client required that they pick up early in the morning when they typically had their trucks loaded for deliveries. It was expensive for the supplier to designate several trucks early in the day when they should have been out delivering, then picking up in the afternoon. The rep asked “Why are early morning pickups important?” to which the customer, the Director of Logistics, replied, “We need more time to prepare our shipments.”

“Can you tell us more about that?” he asked. The client explained that they needed extra time to load the trucks because they imported goods that were not on standard sized pallets. “What are the consequences of that?” It turned out that the customer did not have specialized tow motors to handle the non-standard pallets. When this product came in, they needed extra time to take everything off the pallets, load onto standard pallets, and shrink-wrap before they could be loaded for redistribution.

We listened, and then as the Director walked us out to the lobby, the rep asked: “Is there anything else we should know that we didn’t ask about today?” (I almost hugged him!) The customer frowned as he responded, “Our labor costs are sky high handling this product, but it’s for our largest customer so we continue to carry it. If we can’t figure out a better way to process the shipments, I’m not going to stay within my budget and could forfeit my bonus.”

WOW- that’s a pretty important piece of information to have, isn’t it?!

The rep took this information back to his operations manager, and together they came up with a plan to loan the customer 2 of the appropriately sized tow motors. This helped the Director minimize labor costs to stay within his budget, reduced costs for the supplier as they could now deliver in the morning and use those same trucks to pick up in the afternoon, and solidified their business relationship. Win. Win. Win.

Great questions are like gold, so make sure to add and keep them in your Discovery repertoire and remember to always listen.

What are some of your favorite questions?

Published: September 15, 2017


Susan Hall

Vice President - Business Development & Performance Improvement

Susan brings over 20 years of experience working with global markets and organizations, helping them navigate through tough economic challenges while maintaining their margins. Since joining SEG in 1995, she has had the privilege of working with organizations that truly value the development of their employees and recognize the impact their people have on their bottom line results. Susan graduated from Pennsylvania State University with a double major in business management and speech communication. She has also completed course work toward her master's degree at Johns Hopkins University.

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