What is a discovery call? 15 questions to ask your prospective client


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As a freelancer and the owner of a graphic design agency that manages dozens of clients and hundreds of projects every year, it’s safe to say that I’ve participated in more than my fair share of discovery calls.

Discovery calls have become a normal part of the vetting process for service and sales-based professionals. Especially in this new age of remote work.

And regardless of whether or not these calls are taking place over the phone or via Zoom, it’s crucial for professionals to learn how to master the art of conducting a great discovery call and closing the sale.

But I also know this can be an intimidating topic for some.

This is why I wanted to offer my two cents on the subject. It is my hope that you not only find the advice in this article to be informative but that it also gives you the confidence to go out and conduct a successful discovery call of your own.

woman smiles during a discovery call
(photo by Kateryna Onyshchuk/shutterstock.com)

What is a discovery call?

But first, let’s answer the big question – what is a discovery call?

A discovery call is the first call or first conversation between you (the salesperson, service professional, freelancer or business owner) and a prospective client. It’s the first step in a buyer’s journey.

It’s a chance for you and the client to get to know one another. It should be used to build rapport, gain insight into each other’s businesses, and gather information about the project.

The end result, is hopefully, gaining the client’s trust, offering a solution and making a sale.

Discovery calls should also be used to determine whether or not you and the client are a good fit for one another.

I use discovery calls to vet new clients, just as much as they vet me.

Read Also: Red flags for bad clients: 10 tell-tale signs from a six-figure freelancer

The typical discovery call usually runs between 10-30 minutes. Anything longer should be considered more of a consult.

woman leads a zoom call
(photo by Kateryna Onyshchuk/shutterstock.com)

What happens during a discovery call?

My discovery call template is compromised of four phases:

  • Learning about the client
  • Gathering project requirements
  • Offering solutions
  • Closing the sale

If this is a highly formal discovery call you may want to consider creating an agenda for the meeting. If applicable to your industry, preparing some sort of presentation or product demo may also be a good idea.

Since most of my discovery calls are informal one-on-ones, I normally skip these steps.

Learning about the client

I like to begin every discovery call the same way. I invite my potential client to tell me about themselves, their business and their professional goals.

To me, this is a non-negotiable step on the discovery call checklist.

If there are multiple people on the call, use these introductions to learn about the stakeholders involved and identity the decision-maker in the group.

Ask a short series of follow-up questions, and reiterate the prospect’s pain points, if any.

Sales professionals know that open-ended questions – or questions that cannot be answered by a simple yes or no – are a great way to keep the client talking. The more the client talks, the more at ease they will typically feel. The more at ease they feel, the more likely they are to make a purchase.

I also like to repeat some of the client’s own words back to them. I find that this helps convey that I was actively listening, and comprehending the disseminated information.

Gathering project requirements

Then, I get a bit more micro.

I ask about the task at hand and gather a list of requirements. I use this phase to take a closer look at the prospect’s needs.

The sort of questions you might ask during the requirements phase will vary by industry. But just to give you an idea, as a graphic designer, I usually ask questions about style preferences, target demographics, preferred medium (web, print, broadcast, etc), size, format, timeline and ballpark budget.

Offering solutions

Next, if I feel I have enough information and think I am a good fit for the project, I will offer some sort of solution or action plan.

Again, for me, this usually means I’m assuring the client that the project is well within my skillset and something that I can easily handle. I let them know how long I think the project will take and how much the project will cost (rough ballpark only).

Additionally, I walk them through a high-level overview of my process, and what to expect during the project engagement.

I am usually comfortable offering those immediate solutions because graphic design projects are rarely overly complicated. And I have a great deal of experience in the field.

If you don’t feel comfortable offering solutions immediately, or the project is more complex, just let the client know that you will take the information you’ve received on the call and use it to put together a proposal.

I also give the client an opportunity to ask follow-up questions. Creating a safe space for your client during this call is key. You don’t want them to leave the call feeling confused or misunderstood.

Giving the client an opportunity to ask questions is also a great way to identify potential roadblocks and objections.

Closing the sale

Armed with my newly found criteria, once the client seems appeased, I move on to the call to action or the close.

Again, I feel comfortable doing this all during a single call. Depending on your industry, additional time, or a follow-up may be required.

When it’s time to ask for the sale, I usually use my favorite closing technique – the assumptive close.

The assumptive close is a tactic that involves acting as if you’ve already made the sale or won the contract. This means, I don’t ask the client for the sale, I give the client instructions on what to do next, which usually means signing the contract or initiating an offer.

For example, I usually end discovery calls with a line like this: “I’ll have a contract sent to your inbox by this afternoon so we can get started – I am looking forward to working with you!” Or, if I’m on Upwork, I’ll say something like: “Great, go ahead and send over the offer and we can get started.”

Read Also: Can you make good money on Upwork? How I made $600,000 in 5 years

Contrary to popular belief, studies have shown that people actually feel more at ease when faced with fewer options rather than many when it comes to the decision-making process. This is why I don’t want my client to interview dozens of other candidates and competitors. Nor do I want my client to have too much time to think about their decision. I know they will feel more confident if I make them feel like I am the best, and only logical solution.

young woman speaks to a man on a zoom call
(photo by Kateryna Onyshchuk/shutterstock.com)

Are discovery calls necessary?

No, discovery calls are not necessary.

But you will need to engage in some sort of similar onboarding or sales process if you and your client decide to skip the call. E-mail, for instance, can also be an effective medium for client discovery – especially if your client keeps a busy schedule.

woman concentrates and types on a computer
(photo by Kateryna Onyshchuk/shutterstock.com)

Discovery call questions to ask your client

Learning how to ask the right questions is key to an effective discovery call. And no two calls will ever be exactly alike. At the end of the day, it will be up to you to refine your own sales pipeline.

With that said, if you’re still not sure what to ask, here’s a list of questions to help spark a bit of inspiration:

  1. Tell me a bit about yourself and your company
  2. What is your target audience and demographic?
  3. Tell me about your goals
  4. What are your biggest challenges?
  5. Tell me a bit about the project/your needs
  6. How/where will this solution/project be used?
  7. Have you worked on/hired out for similar projects in the past?
  8. What did you like/dislike about that solution/design (etc)
  9. Is there anything that could have been done better?
  10. Do you already have a solution (style preferences, etc) in mind for this project?
  11. Are there any other criteria I should know about?
  12. What is your timeline for project completion?
  13. Do you have a budget in mind?
  14. Do you have any questions for me?
  15. When would you like to begin?

And of course, after the call, don’t forget to thank the client for their time with a follow-up email.

Don’t be too hard on yourself if you fumble around on the first few discovery calls. These sorts of things usually require a bit of practice. The best way to learn is by doing. And the only qualification needed to become a sales discovery call expert is a willingness to learn.

If you found this blog post helpful, be sure to let me know in the comments below, and don’t forget to connect with me on social media.

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