When you are trying to sell, it’s natural that you want to talk about what your product or service can do.

But you shouldn’t rush straight in to pitching your solution on a first sales call with a new prospect.

Instead, you should use your first sales call to understand your prospect.

You want to learn about

  • their role
  • their company,
  • their industry and
  • their main challenges.

Once you have that information you can then talk about how you can address their specific needs.

So a good first meeting should include a lot of questions, where you spend more time listening than talking.

Using your Judgement

 

This does not mean you use a predefined set of generic questions and tick them off one by one like a checklist.

You need to respect your prospect’s time. They do not want to spend that time answering basic questions you could have answered yourself with a little online research.

And you need to use your judgement both about what you ask, when you ask it and the overall flow of a conversation. Top salespeople distribute discovery questions evenly across sales calls.

Effective “discovery” calls help you define a tailored solution that connects to the prospect’s specific needs.

Here is our breakdown of the Top 10 questions to use during your initial sales call.

First Things First – The Purpose of Initial Sales Calls

 

The primary goal of your discovery call is to gather information about your prospect, their business, their objectives and their main challenges.

That will help you tailor your approach and present a value proposition that closely aligns with your prospect’s needs.

The secondary goal is to get agreement to a next call – you don’t want this to be the last time you talk to them.

Do Your Pre-Call Research

 

Do your homework before the initial sales call.

Review your prospect’s company website and sources like Crunchbase, to get information on company size, recent funding, news updates, and their target customers.

Check out the prospect’s LinkedIn profile for their current role, their career history, and anything else that might be relevant like their recent posts or where they went to college.

Doing some quick research before the call will lead to a better conversation.

It also avoids stupid mistakes, like not knowing what job the prospect does or the size and location of their company.

Asking the Right Questions: Probing for Insights

 

Asking open-ended questions leads to better insights.

Open-ended questions are ones that require more than a simple “yes” or “no” response.

They encourage people to talk freely about their current situation, and that often produces information that might not surface with closed questions.

For example, instead of asking “Do you have a challenge with Issue X?”, ask “What would you highlight as the top challenges you are facing this year?”

And when you ask an open ended question, pay attention to the answer. Don’t jump quickly to the next question on your list. Whatever you ask next should reflect the answer you just heard.

Examples of Good Investigative Questions

 

Here are the Top 10 questions we recommend using during your initial sales call.

Remember, this is not a checklist – you should not aim to ask all 10 questions on any given call.

The answer to any of these questions may lead you off on a separate path.

And you don’t have to ask them in this order – use your judgement about what to use and when to use them.

But each of these questions will help uncover valuable information

  1. Can I ask why you agreed to take my call?

This gives insight into their motivations. Do they have a specific need for assistance at the moment, or are they just doing some preliminary research?

  1. How do things work today? Is your current solution / process working for you?

This question encourages the prospect to confirm in their own words that there is a problem to be solved. If they do so, this is huge progress in a sales call. It also clarifies where you should focus your follow up questions.

  1. What are the biggest challenges you face with your business this year?

Give the prospect time to answer. Most of us would mention 2 or 3 points, and quite often the third thing we mention turns out to be the most important. So let your prospect talk.

  1. How much time do you spend [Performing a Specific Task]?

This question helps identify where an existing process is wasting staff time, or where the prospect feels their own time is being wasted.

Senior executives will often feel frustrated that their time is being squandered on low value or highly manual tasks – try to find out what those are.

  1. Who else is involved in this decision-making process?

This is a simple but important question.  Who else do you have to convince? In particular who has the leading role in a “go / no-go” decision?

  1. What is your ideal timeline for solving this problem?

Do they have a timeframe in mind?  How urgent is the problem? Are there any other initiatives in the company that have to complete before they could look at your solution? Are they waiting to hire staff or complete some other task before they could move ahead?

  1. What criteria are you using to evaluate potential solutions?

Have they defined any criteria?  Do you need to meet specific requirements?

How important are criteria like cost, methodology, local support, scalability, features, international presence?

You don’t need to capture every detail in a first call, but you should find out about the headline items they will use to pick a solution.

In particular, are there are any “showstopper” criteria that could prevent you from winning a deal?

  1. Who else are you considering?

If you are the first and only company they’ve talked to then that’s great.

But there is a good chance you are competing with someone. Try to find out who the competitors are. It may turn out the prospect is looking at the wrong type of alternative vendors, or you may have a strength over a particular competitor that you can highlight.

But you need to know who you are up against before you can say why you are a better choice.

  1. Do you have a budget for this project?

Use your judgement on the right time to use this question, but it’s an important one and you need to ask it.

Is your typical solution price tag within their price range?

Does the prospect know if there is any money to launch a project?

Have they confirmed that already, or does the prospect need to go and get approval? If so, who provides that approval and decides what the budget is?

  1. What concerns, if any, do you have so far?

What is the prospect worried about?

Do they have any general concerns about finding and implementing a solution?

Or do they have any specific concerns about your solution, or your ability to deliver?

It’s good to get some of these issues out in the open so you can nail them as early as possible.

Active Listening

 

As Aaron Ross, author of Predictable Revenue said, “Great B2B Salespeople listen twice as much as they talk”.

Listen to what your prospect says carefully

Remember that your follow-up questions should be based on what your prospect said. Do not ask questions as if you had a checklist.

Your next question should delve deeper into the issue highlighted by the previous answer, not set off on an entirely different direction.

Agreeing on Next Steps: Moving Forward

 

In B2B sales, the goal of a sales meeting is to secure the next sales meeting – to keep moving forward.

Ensure you end your initial sales call with a clear commitment on next steps.

These can include:

  • Sending the prospect specific information based on the call
  • Scheduling a follow-up call or
  • Scheduling a product demonstration.

You need to agree a specific next step to show commitment to move forward.

Conversely, if they can’t or won’t agree to a next step, that indicates this may not be a good opportunity to pursue.

 Conclusion

 

It takes time and effort to secure a sales call with someone who matches your target profile.

Don’t blow that opportunity through laziness or lack of preparation.

Asking good questions and paying attention to the answers increases the likelihood that your sales conversation will progress to the next stage.

Motarme provides sales prospecting and lead generation services to Business-to-Business (B2B) technology, engineering and services companies.

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