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Great discovery calls are one of the essential parts of being a successful freelancer. It is the first opportunity to impress prospective clients and leave them with a positive impression that will make them desperate to work with you.

This guide explains what a discovery call is and how freelancers can master it.

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What is a discovery call?

Discovery calls are the first conversation you'll have with a prospect after they show interest in your services. It's an opportunity to get to know the client to see if they'd be a good fit for your business and for you to sell your services to them.

As the first step in the sales process, the first sales discovery call can be a daunting prospect. However, they are crucial in building trust and relationships with prospective clients. You can get to know your prospect's pain points and understand how your service might be able to help them.

Finding out as much as possible during the call is an excellent way to begin the sales discovery process. Start by listening rather than offering solutions straight away. Find out about your prospect's business challenges. What are their needs, and what are they trying to achieve?

This information will help you as the sales process progresses and you begin to think about how to pitch your solutions to them.

A great discovery call sets a positive tone for the relationship between you, as a freelancer, and them as your client.

Discovery call frameworks

Many professional freelancers use a framework whereby they ask their lead a series of discovery call questions. This allows them to qualify their lead generation efforts into a qualitative status.

The BANT guide and the SPIN model are the most widely used frameworks by top-performing freelancers to qualify a sales opportunity and build a sales pipeline. Each framework provides the freelancer with a discovery call template they can use repeatedly.

BANT

The BANT framework gathers information about the lead's requirements and whether or not they'll be an ideal customer for your business. Using this as a template for your first call will help you assess whether or not the lead is worth pursuing with a follow-up call or whether to decline politely.

BANT is an acronym that stands for:

  • Budget - Does the prospect have the required funding to afford your services?
  • Authority - Does the person you speak to have power in the decision-making process? If not, how much influence do they have on the decision-makers?
  • Needs - Can you offer a solution to the prospect's pain points and needs?
  • Timeline - What is the prospect's timeline for implementing the solution? Will you be able to meet their deadlines?

SPIN

The SPIN model differs slightly because the idea of the discovery call is to create a conversation with new leads. This conversation is based on a series of open questions that allow the client to recognize whether or not your solution will work for them.

SPIN stands for:

  • Situation - Asking questions about the prospect company's background will help uncover the next step.
  • Problem - Asking open questions that unearth the prospect's pain points or issues they need solutions for.
  • Implication - By asking targeted questions, you can make a potential customer understand the size of the problem without explicitly leading them to the answer.
  • Need Payoff - Once the lead understands the scope of their pain point, these questions help them understand your product's benefits in helping find a resolution.
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How to hold a successful discovery call

Several steps are involved in holding a discovery call and delivering a successful outcome.

This is an example of a step-by-step process for setting up and holding a discovery call.

Schedule the discovery call

Properly plan your discovery call, so it's worth your time and your prospects' time. Remember, you're taking time out of their day, so it should be well-prepared.

A few steps to follow before the call include:

  • Explain the call - Offer your lead a draft plan for the call, so they know what to expect and can plan accordingly. Tell them how long you expect the conversation to last and make it clear that you're happy to take questions on the call.
  • Schedule the call in calendars - Most people use online calendars these days, which makes adding them to your prospect's calendar relatively easy. Create a calendar invite and send it to your lead with all the meeting information. Indy’s Calendar is a free tool that makes it easy to schedule events and meetings with clients. It even integrates with Google Calendar.
  • Follow-up with a reminder - Create a reminder for yourself the day before the call to drop your prospect a note to let them know that you're looking forward to speaking to them the following day.

These simple steps will ensure that your discovery call remains on your prospect's mind and make them more likely to answer. Manage expectations about how long the call will last, and making yourself open to questions will help them feel comfortable.

Do your homework on your lead

Every step of the sales discovery process should be tailored and personalized to your prospective client. Doing your homework on a lead will result in a more productive conversation and make them feel welcome.

You can research your prospect and their company in several ways. LinkedIn is an excellent tool as it gives you an idea of their individual employment history and any interactions or recommendations they've received from other businesses.

Alternatively, checking out their company's "About Us" page will give you an understanding of the business' values. There may be team profiles that would give you further information about your prospect.

Information you should find out about before the call includes:

  • Their job role - Look at their company website and personal LinkedIn page to learn about your prospect's job title and responsibilities. You can determine whether they're likely to be a decision maker, how many employees they manage, and their individual goals and targets.
  • Interests and hobbies - See if they have a presence on social media platforms and see whether there's any common ground you can use to launch the call.
  • Company details - Look at the company's home webpage and determine its size, the industry they work in, who its clients are and what its mission statement is. This will help you tailor your discovery call script according to their needs.
  • Google search - There's no harm in undertaking a quick Google search of your lead's name and seeing if any valuable insights arise. Perhaps they've had a recent promotion or won an industry award. This is another excellent way to begin your call.

Another benefit of this pre-call research is being able to reassure yourself that the lead is valid and won't be a waste of your time. It's always easier to pull the plug on a lead before the discovery call than afterward.

Create your discovery call script

Freelancers often use a written flowchart that scopes out their ideal conversation. It's often called the discovery call script. However, this title is a bit misleading. Maintaining flexibility and space within your call to adapt to the unforeseen while maintaining your lead's initial interest is essential.

Remember, this is the start of your lead's buyer's journey, and that you can take control of how the conversation flows, hopefully to a positive outcome.

The main components of your discovery call script should include:

  • Building rapport - Any thriving business relationship relies on a solid rapport. Try and establish this rapport early on in the conversation. This is where your homework comes in. Mention a common interest you found during your research, or offer congratulations on a successful piece of work or promotion. This will immediately put them at their ease.
  • Introducing yourself and setting the agenda - You'll have spent time learning about your prospects. However, there's no guarantee they have gone to the same levels to know about you. Beginning your sales calls with an introduction about you, your company, the services you offer, and other businesses you've helped in the past sets the tone for the rest of the conversation.
  • Asking your discovery call questions - This section is where you uncover pain points. In addition, find out how much budget they have and whether you can offer a suitable solution with your product or service.
  • Close the call - Have a couple of different closes ready, depending on how the call goes. Have one prepared to schedule a follow-up call if you feel there is potential to turn the lead into a sale. Have another prepared if you don't think the information will provide value.

Remember, the script acts as a guide for the conversation. If your prospect mentions something in passing that you want to dig into as you think you can help, then do what any professional freelancer would do and ask questions. It could lead to additional sales.

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Qualify the lead

The answers to your discovery call questions will determine whether or not your lead is qualified. If the answers fulfill a category of your chosen sales framework (BANT, SPIN, or another), check that letter off as met.

For example, if you're following the BANT framework and your lead confirms their budget would cover your solution, tick off the "B" for budget. Once each letter is ticked off, the lead is qualified.

Sometimes, the call will lead to three of the four letters being ticked off. Use your judgment to determine whether the lead is suitable to add to your sales pipeline.

For instance, if you're satisfied that your prospect has the budget, need, and timeline that suits you but not the decision-making authority, consider how much influence they have on the budget holder and use that as your deciding point.

Close the call positively

When the call winds down, you'll know whether or not you've gained a potential client. Regardless of whether the lead is qualified, you can lay the seeds for a burgeoning relationship in the future.

For example, suppose the lead is unqualified. In that case, there are ways in which you can leave the door open to future business opportunities. You can ask them if they know of anyone that might benefit from your product or service.

To try and increase the likelihood of them helping you, if you know of another freelancer that might be a better fit for your prospect, offer to make an introduction.

If you have managed to qualify the lead, let them know that you're confident that you and your services will resolve their need.

Restate the problem you've identified and tell them your solution and your product's benefits. Then, begin the next stage of the sales process by setting up the next steps.

This could be another call to get more in-depth information about their requirements. It could be setting up a meeting to demonstrate your proposed solution and see if it meets their needs.

Getting a commitment and follow-up in the diary before you end the call is essential. You want to retain your prospect's interest, and there's no guarantee you'll be able to do that once the initial call has ended. This is why getting a firm commitment to a follow-up is so important.

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Excellent discovery questions to include

Every discovery call relies on the questions you ask your potential customer. You're using them as a way of finding out as much as you can about their needs, goals, and problems.

Always ask open-ended questions that they will answer with in-depth answers rather than a simple yes / no answer.

These questions can be split into four sections:

  • Setting the stage
  • Qualifying the lead
  • Disqualifying the lead
  • Establishing the next steps

Setting the stage

This is where you underpin what you learned while researching your prospect and their company. It's where you learn more about their situation and what problems they have. This gives you the insight to move the lead forward.

Some examples of discovery questions you can ask to set the scene are:

  • Tell me more about your company

This allows your prospective client to tell you about their company. Be careful to frame the question in a way that shows you've done your homework on them in advance. Let them know what you're aware of, and let them build on that themselves.

  • What does your role involve?

This is another opportunity to show off your homework and let your lead know you've been busy preparing. In addition, they may begin to give you valuable intelligence that will help you build a picture of whether or not they're the right person to speak to.

  • Which metrics are you accountable for?

Using the word "metrics" does a lot of lifting for you here. If you ask someone what they're accountable or responsible for, often you'll get a slightly generic answer that doesn't deliver any real insight. By asking them about metrics, they get into specifics, and you can begin understanding a successful outcome for them. Better than that, you can start recognizing how your products and services can help them.

Qualifying the lead

Once you've learned the basics about your lead, you need to keep the conversation moving by understanding more about their goals, needs, and any issues. Problems provide opportunities, and opportunities can quickly become sales.

Here are some excellent examples of discovery call questions to help qualify your lead.

  • What are your goals, and when do you need to achieve them?

Find out about your prospect's goals, whether financial, operational, or to increase productivity and associated timelines. This begins to give you insight into whether or not you'll be in a position to help them. Finding out that they need a solution to help them increase revenue by 20% by the end of the year in October doesn't leave you a lot of time to implement a usable solution.

  • What are the problems you're looking to resolve?

While vague, this question is designed to try and get the lead to volunteer areas they could use your expertise. This allows you to understand their challenges strategically and potentially identify quick tactical wins that will resolve a problem and align with their goals.

  • Do you have any problems with [the area that relates to your expertise]? What's driving that issue?

The reason for the discovery call is to find out ways in which you can help your prospect. If the previous question didn't uncover any ways in which you might be able to help, don't be afraid to ask some more direct questions. Once you've discovered their issues, find out the driving force behind them, as this is where you can provide the solution they seek.

  • Why is this a priority now? Why hasn't it been addressed before?

Previous answers may have identified the problem as long-standing, so finding out why it's a priority now will help you understand the urgency of finding a solution. It could be an issue that has worsened over time, budgetary issues holding up progress, and it could be shifting business goals.

  • What does success look like?

Finding out their idea of a successful solution is essential. Does it sound realistic? Is it something you can help them achieve? Don't pass judgment; just listen and note their expectations to help you qualify their requirements.

  • Do you have a plan in place to resolve the problem?

This question helps you find out what plans they're currently considering to resolve the issue. If your solution is one of many your prospect is considering, it may not be a lead to continue. In contrast, if there is no plan or they can't work out a solution, this places you in a strong position.


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Disqualifying the lead

Asking questions that might disqualify the lead is essential. This is where you determine whether the prospect has the required budget, need, and realistic timelines for implementing the solution.

  • What are your primary roadblocks?

You may already have received a hint of potential roadblocks, such as budgets. It's crucial to obtain a straight answer to know whether or not to disqualify the lead.

  • What is your timeline and budget for implementation?

The answers to these questions will explicitly answer two crucial points for knowing whether or not this lead will go anywhere. If their timeline is unrealistic, or if you feel their budget is inadequate, the likelihood is that the lead won't go into your sales funnel.

Establishing the next steps

Finally, once you've begun to get an idea of whether or not the lead can be qualified, find out more about the decision-making process and establish the next steps.

  • Who is involved in the decision-making process?

Suppose you haven't already gained the information. In that case, this question will discover how involved in the decision-making process your prospect is. Your prospect may be the executive sponsor and hold the budget strings themselves. Alternatively, they may be an influencer who the decision maker relies on to help them make the go / no go decision.

  • Is this a competitive tender?

Understanding whether you're a sole bidder for the solution or a competitive tender will help you decide your next steps.

  • How will this solution make your life better?

Take the time to talk to your prospects about your potential solution and ask for their thoughts. Can they see how your idea may make their company's life easier? If so, this will make their life much easier when presenting your solution to the decision-makers.

  • Can we schedule a follow-up meeting?

Don't leave the call without asking this question. Ideally, you'll be able to put a time and date in the diary then and there. If not, tell them you'll send a follow-up email a couple of days later and reach out to schedule another call or face-to-face meeting.

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In summary

Working hard to create an excellent discovery call with your prospects will help you understand whether or not they're a good fit for you as a client. This is important as it means you won't be wasting time on leads that are likely to go cold. Instead, your freelance business will grow by concentrating on valuable leads that will turn into sales.