Step 1: Stage Setting for a Stellar Sales Process: Client Discovery

Updated: Mar 20, 2020

Girl in forest at split in the trail

Remember what it felt like being a kid? (Trust me, this does have to do with sales ;-) ).

Before we get into the logic of step 1 in the sales process, pause for a moment.

Imagine yourself as a child, meandering down a forest trail, brimming with curiosity and excitement at the thought of discovering treasures in the trees… or playing with your favorite set of building blocks… eager to discover what creations could be made.

Kids love the concept of discovery. They are excellent models of what it means to have curiosity.

That is what this step 1 is all about. But instead of throwing a slew of persistent “why, why, why!” questions at our prospects, (could you imagine?!), we can harness the power of that insatiable, child-like wonder into pointed, intentional questions.

Rather than searching for treasures in trees or engineering new inventions, we are looking to discover the heart of what makes our potential clients tick… and why they need our help. This is super fun. It is a form of pointed discovery aimed at problem solving. We want to discover treasures like:

What truly motivates them, and what blocks are getting in their way (that we can help them overcome)?
What do they most need and desire (and how does it align with the value we can offer them)?
What is it costing them to not have the help they need?

So, instead of asking a million random questions (which can feel off-putting and even intimidating to potential clients), it is important to strategically navigate the customer discovery; kind of like following a map through that forest as a kid.

This map leads us to the goal.

And the goal of the customer discovery is to get CLEAR on what your potential client needs and wants. Not what you think they need or want… see the difference?

Through the customer discovery, we set the stage for a successful sales process. The discovery process helps us build:

  • Rapport.

  • Clarity.

  • Confidence.

  • Connection.

A successful customer discovery will ideally clarify 1 to 2 key things your prospect struggles with (pain points). These will guide the following steps in the sales process.

Let’s talk about some key questions that can act as our road map during the customer discovery step of the sales process.

Key Questions to Ask During Your Customer Discovery

These questions will of course be tailored to your prospect’s industry or focus, but they are a great place to start. And remember, questions should be tailored in a way that will eventually help clarify your prospect’s pain point(s), and what it is costing them to not address those pain points (that’s where your value will come in later).

An easy way to remember this and design your questions around clarifying these pain points is to make sure your questions address these three things:


What does your prospect need help with or want to achieve? (Uncover their pain point.)


Why do they want to achieve this? (Be sure to dig beyond the surface why.)

Why now?

Why do they want it now? (Or, if not now, what’s their timeline? This will help you later in the conversation to close a sale)

Each of these questions informs the what, why and why now:

  • “Tell me about your goals. What is it you want to achieve?” (The what.)

  • “Why is it that this is important to you?” (The why.)

  • When is it that you want to achieve this?” (The why now.)

  • “What have you tried before and what was your experience with that?” (The what.)

  • “What do you hope to gain in working with someone?” (The what.)

Asking these questions not only helps clarify the what, why and why now for you and your potential client, but also, research shows that the longer you can stay in an engaging sales conversation, the stronger the impact of psychological persuasion. In other words, by asking these questions, your prospect’s answers are working to subconsciously (or consciously) clarify to them why and how they will benefit from working with you.

Just like the entire sales process serves as our road map, these discovery questions will also act like a road map for your potential client. How? by showing them how our services will be the bridge to what they want and need. By walking through a thorough customer discovery, we are keeping the sales call on track, and we are also helping our potential client get clear on what they want!

One practical way we can be a map for our prospect during a sales call is by asking them what they have tried before, and what they did or did not like about it. For example, if you are a marketing expert, you might ask your prospect if they have ever worked with a marketer before.

Then dig deeper, and ask them what their experience was like.

When we ask about past experiences it serves as a map in two ways:

It helps us get clear about our prospect’s preferences, so that we don’t inadvertently condescend something they actually like (i.e. if your client worked with a marketer to develop their website, and you as a web expert, recommend they change everything about it without knowing their backstory, this could offend them and derail the sales call. Instead, try asking them how they developed their existing website.)

It reinforces to the client what they are truly looking for. (And this helps you present your value and overcome objections later).

Here are some additional tips for making this step in the sales process smooth and authentic.

Tips for a Smooth Customer Discovery Process

Be conversational. Don’t be afraid to show your vulnerability and humanity. Tie in humor, when appropriate. This will help you and your prospect feel more open and comfortable.

Be curious. Stay engaged, and show genuine interest. Ask follow up questions.

Don’t sell, but plant seeds. It is important we don’t sell or present our value during the discovery. But, since the information we are uncovering during this step will be used later in the sales process when we present our value, we can make connecting statements that act like seeds to grow our value presentation. For instance, if a prospect asks a question about your service, a connecting statement might sound like, ”Yes, I’ve helped lots of people____. We’ll definitely come back to that!”


The customer discovery is the first step in the sales process. In review, here are some keys to remember:

  • The point of the customer discovery step is to build rapport, clarity, confidence and connection.

  • Ask pointed, intentional questions that address the what, why, and why now of your prospect’s needs and wants.

  • Be curious and conversational.

  • Don’t sell, but plant seeds.

  • Stay transparent and authentic!

The customer discovery is one of the simplest steps in the sales process that can sometimes go relatively quickly or can take a long time. The good thing is that it is super easy to practice with anyone—even friends. The key is to show a genuine interest in others.

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