Sales professionals might call them “discovery calls.” Leads and prospects might refer to them as “fishing expeditions.” If they’re approached in just the right way, however, that first connection over the phone might best be defined as the beginning of a great vendor-customer partnership.

The right approach begins by making sure reps aren’t going into a call blindly. They need more than the name of the company, the contact’s name and title. Using data about their interests, pain points and preferences based on how they’ve responded to content fed to them via marketing automation, companies can arm their sales teams with everything they need to get off on the right foot. Then, as the relationship takes shape, everything entered in CRM such as Sales Cloud helps make the second, third and fourth conversations even more successful, to the point where deals are actually closing.

Besides good data, reps also need to make sure they handle the personal aspects of discovery calls with the appropriate soft skills. A study recently published by the American Association of Inside Sales Professionals looked at this in detail, and Canadian sales pros should find the stats equally relevant. Let’s look at a handful in more detail to spell out how you should apply them on your next discovery call:

11-14: Number Of Questions Top Performers Ask During Each Call

These are called discovery calls for a reason. Reps should have as much information at their fingertips as possible, but the point of the call is to identify the range of issues a company is going through and position the rep to make a more sophisticated pitch later on. The questions in this case should go well beyond “How are you today?” If it feels like a lot of questions, use the following list as a sort of cheat sheet to get started and adapt them based on what you already know about the lead:

  • What’s the key way you’re learning about your customers’ needs and challenges? Your leads have their own discovery process. Understand how they approach it can you can improve how you do it, too.

  • How do you see your customer’s needs changing over the next 12 months? Keep the initial focus on their target market, rather than their own firm, and they’ll feel less like a prospect and more like someone you’re actually interested in helping.

  • What tends to be the typical length or your customer’s buying cycle, and what gets in the way? Like you, leads and prospects are focused on growth.

  • Are there research sources in your area you tend to trust more than others? If they quote statistics to back up their strategy, find out the source -- and integrate it into the content you offer back.

  • When do you typically reassess your strategy? Don’t assume budget time is when they allocate for new purchases. There could be seasonal tipping points or other markers in the calendar when you’ll have opportunities.

  • Who are your most important internal allies? If you are part of a cohesive team with your marketing, IT and HR departments, discuss it and compare with them. Then see who they need to have in the room to make big decisions.

  • What are the metrics that matter? Hone in on how they evaluate performance -- of the organization as a whole, as a department, or how they are assessed by their boss.

  • What are your competitors up to? Ask this in a subtle way, but get a sense of how they size up their rivals and to what extent it influences their purchasing patterns.

  • Who tend to be the disruptors? The old competitive landscape is changing in almost every industry. Learn who the emerging players are. If they say they’re the disruptor, they might be more likely to be your next early adopter.

  • How do you keep on top of it all? Be empathetic and recognize the kind of stress they may be under. Do in a human way that suggests you’re there to support them.

46:54: Ratio Of Time Sales Pros Spend Listening Vs. Talking

You may not have a lot of time for the discovery process, and inexperienced reps may decide the only way to make use of those precious minutes is to cram as much of their pitch in as possible. Don’t fall into this trap.

Instead, try some of these techniques to tip the ratio in the other direction:

“Mmm-hmm.” Don’t make it a verbal tic, but using some kind of affirmative pause after they’ve finished talking will give them a chance to keep going rather than have you jump in with your own points.

“Tell me more about that.” You may understand their challenges the moment you hear them, but always dig a little deeper. They might offer details that would otherwise go unsaid and they’ll appreciate being able to articulate things in their own words.

“How could a firm like ours help?” The answer may be “You can’t, at least not right now,” but better to have them state an objection upfront rather than as a rebuttal to something you say later.

4: Number Of Problems Top Performers Cover Off On Calls

If you’re focused on selling a specific product or service, you might want to drill down on the typical customer problems for which that product or service was designed. Think more broadly, though, because you never know how interconnected certain issues in a company might be, and how they could lead to a decision to act. Even if you don’t offer anything specific to deal with them, consider discussing what you know about:

  • How other customers are attracting, engaging and retaining talent: People issues are as common as the weather. Everyone can relate.

  • How digital is changing the game: It’s not only different in every sector. It’s different in every business within a sector. Ask about the way mobile, social and other technologies present new opportunities (and maybe some difficulties)

  • Measuring success: Remember that earlier question on metrics that matter? This is one of the most difficult areas in every aspect of business. Share your best practices and solicit theirs.

  • Data-driven decision-making: No matter what the industry, analytics are becoming as important as intuition, if not more. Have a conversation about where they are on that journey.

Discovery calls should teach you something — about your customer, but also about yourself and how you can continue to improve as a sales pro.

Learn more ways to help your sales team succeed with our ebook, “4 Steps to Transforming Your Sales Process.”