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How To Uncover Customer Needs On A B2B Cold Call

B2B Cold Calling Discovery
Forrest Marketing Group Blog blog

How To Uncover Customer Needs On A B2B Cold Call

In this series of blogs we talk about how to structure a cold lead generation phone call.  The other stages are how to introduce yourself on a B2B cold call, how to build rapport on the phone and how to wrap up your calls.

In how to introduce yourself, we talked about the best way to introduce yourself to a cold prospect and how to communicate your elevator pitch in no more than three sentences. We also looked at how to seamlessly segue into wrapping up your introduction, ready to start the next part of the call: Discovery. If you’ve nailed your introduction, you should have the prospect’s permission to take the conversation forward to the discovery section of the call, so here’s how to structure this.

Focus on the customer

When you’re kicking off discovery it’s best to refrain from making assumptions. Instead, focus on asking broad questions that yield as much information about the prospect’s current situation as possible, before narrowing in on specific problems. What you’re looking to do is to uncover the pain points that they are living with on a day-to-day basis; these may be small or large frustrations, but if you can shape a solution that makes their life easier and their business run more smoothly, the journey to an appointment is far more straightforward.

What’s important here is not to let them know how good your customer service is or how you have a great deal on a specific product or license. Don’t take up your prospect’s time talking about the virtues of your business. It’s a better use of time to find out more about their current provider or solution and the challenges they’re experiencing, so you can show them how you can fix those issues.

And the more pain points that you can uncover, the easier it will be to tailor your offer to their needs. While not everybody’s going to have the same problems, your customers will all face similar challenges that you can fix for them. So start by building a list of questions that help you to uncover the different pain points that your prospects typically experience.

Skip the interrogation

One of the questions that I’m often is asked is ‘should we use a word-for-word verbatim script?’. In my opinion, you simply don’t need it and it can be very limiting. What you’re trying to do is provide a framework for your sales team to work from so that they know what questions they should ask – when they do so depends on each individual conversation. Your salesperson shouldn’t feel that they must find a way to ask every question on your list, which could make the prospect feel like they’re undergoing an interrogation. Instead, they should select the right question from your list at the right time, based on the prospect’s responses to that point. This builds a thoughtful conversation.

It’s best to start with questions that are easy to answer and not too direct – avoid commercially sensitive questions too early in the call, so, if you need to know about a company’s turnover, don’t ask that question at the start of the discovery process, but ask it when you’ve talked about their challenges and you’ve built rapport with them.

Questions that invite consultation

Imagine you are a company that provides outsourced payroll. In this example, you would think about the pain points associated with the most common scenarios associated with processing payroll in any business, and asking searching questions that drill into these pain points. Here’s what I mean:

First pain point: processing payroll is time and people-intensive.

So questions you could ask around these areas are:

  • How much time do you or your team spend processing payroll each month?
  • And how many people are involved in this right now?
  • What happens as you grow – how many more staff will you have to add to manage the payroll?
  • How often does the time spent processing payroll prevent you/your staff from completing other important tasks?
  • What would it be like if you could get that time back?

Second pain point: maintaining compliance with penalty rates and overtime.

Questions you could ask:

  • Do you have staff who work overtime? Or who are entitled to penalty rates?
  • How often do incorrect rates get applied by mistake?
  • So how long does that take to fix up each time? And how do staff feel when they don’t get paid correctly?
  • How much time do your staff spend ensuring that the business remains current with all payroll and superannuation legislation?
  • How would it be if you didn’t need to worry about this again?

Third pain point: payroll errors cause staff to be underpaid or overpaid.

Questions you could ask:

  • How often do you have staff who are either underpaid or overpaid because of payroll calculation mistakes?
  • How much time does it take to fix each time?
  • And how do your employees feel when they aren’t paid correctly?
  • Does it make you and your team look bad?

Clearly, if you asked all of these questions one after the other verbatim, the prospect would feel you were working from a script – there’s a fair bit of repetition in the wording. But that’s not how it’s meant to be used. If a prospect doesn’t have an issue in one area, move to the next and so on. Once you find a pain point ask more in-depth probing questions. If there’s enough pain in one area, there’s often no need to go any further, but if you do, don’t keep asking the same final question (“how would it be if…”), but use an alternative. Let your salespeople know that the questions are there to be used as prompts for a good discovery conversation (with the emphasis on “conversation”).

Change the conversation but don’t lose their interest

The reason for having questions for multiple pain points is that if you’re not getting traction in one area, it’s easy to move to another and to ask about that. Your salesperson can keep the conversation moving, rather than coming to a halt.

In the example above, there are three different areas a salesperson could explore with a prospect. Some prospects may have experienced issues in all areas. Some might have one or two, but in any case, the salesperson has a full bank of relevant questions to ask that can help keep the conversation on the right path.

Act dumb and dig deep

A saying that I like to use is to ‘act dumb and dig deep’. So, go ahead and ask the questions that may seem like dumb ones. Ask the prospect ‘how is that affecting you?’ and ‘how does that make you feel?’. Those sorts of questions may seem to lack finesse, but in a conversation, they can really elicit people’s true feelings and frustrations with their current situation.

After you have completed the discovery section of the call, there will be prospects who are interested and keen to know more. You’ll know who they are because they will have clearly expressed frustration with their existing situation and they’ll be ready to take the next step.

Closing the call

If you do this well, you don’t need to apply pressure to “close”. All you need to do is to let them know you have heard and understood their frustrations and that you are able to help.

For example, you could say:

‘From what you’ve said, it really sounds like we could help you with this. What I’d like to do now is to set up an appointment with our [resident expert], who’ll come out and see you or meet you online. When would be a good time for him/her to do that? Do you have time this week or would you prefer next week?’.

Having now scheduled your meeting you can neatly bring your call to a close.

If you’d like to have a chat about your sales approach, please get in touch by calling 1300 396 888 or drop us an email to

For more information about anything covered in this blog, please download my book: The Ultimate Guide to B2B Sales Prospecting.

Watch this video to see more on How To Uncover Customer Needs On A B2B Cold Call.

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