When the sales team has the right product knowledge, they will be much more successful. Which means they sell a lot more of your product.

This starts from the first call with the prospect. If a sales person asks the wrong questions during that first call…

… then even a good prospect can turn into total loss.

But, ask the right questions …

… and the chances of closing them go way up!

When the sales team has the right product knowledge they can sell a lot more of your product. Click To Tweet

Product Knowledge Drives Successful Discovery Calls

For a good sales person, the goal of the first call, often called the “discovery call,” is understanding the prospect’s pain, in detail. The more they understand about the prospect the more likely they are to close the deal.

In this article I show you how to take what you know about the problems your product solves and turn it into tools that enable sales to blow out their numbers. (This is the fourth installment in my ongoing series about better go-to-market and the leverage that product managers have on sales success. Read the previous articles here: Sales Team Missing Quota? It’s Not Their Fault, What Successful Companies Do To Get Better Leads, and A Better Approach To Demoing Can Turn Sales Around.)

What Does The Prospect Want?

Starting in the discovery call and continuing through the rest of the sales process, the prospect wants to hear certain things:

  • Validation that we understand their problem.
  • An offer of a solution to their problem.
  • Some level of risk reduction that our solution actually works and can be implemented effectively.
  • To minimize the cost of change for them, to the extent possible.
  • To understand why our solution is better than other alternative solutions (including doing nothing).

Those are the prospect’s goals. How do we help them achieve those goals?

Perhaps counter-intuitively, the best way to reassure the prospect that we understand their problem is to ask good questions. We need to surface the specific challenges and concerns the prospect faces:

  • What is the problem they are trying to solve? And what are the specifics of their situation?
  • How have they tried to solve this problem in the past? What were the results?
  • What systems do they have to connect to?
  • How did they find out about us, and why are they looking at us for a solution? (This helps us understand the position we have in their brain.)
  • The competitors are they looking at.
  • If they have budget?

Then the sales person can talk about how we address those challenges, and schedule a demo to show how we address them.


Perhaps your product is a project management tool that’s particularly strong in resource management. The sales person might ask “How do you manage resources on your projects? Do the project managers have the authority to assign resources?”

Why use this question? Since we have product strengths in that area, we know in advance that a prospect with that problem will get a lot of value from our solution.

That means it’s not just a discovery question, it’s also a qualifying question. If the prospect does not have resource management problems, then maybe they aren’t a good fit for our product.

On the other hand, if the prospect is a good fit, then we’ve shown that we understand one important part of her problem.

Developing Good Discovery Questions

How do you come up with this list of good questions for sales people to ask?

As the product manager, you understand the types of problems your solution solves. You can use this knowledge to give sales good questions to get at those details. For example, if the sales person just knows that you have a project management solution, then they are only going to be able to ask about projects at a generic level. (For example, “How many projects do you have?”)

But with better sales enablement from product management, the sales person can know how to ask about “resource management in the context of projects.”

Using The Power Of Existing Customers

There’s one more piece of power information that you can provide for the sales people to use during a discovery call. This is examples of customers who have solved similar problems with your solution.

Let’s put this all together in a sample conversation.

Continuing the Project Management Example

We’ll take a look at the portion of the call related to resource management:

Sales person: “How are you managing the assignment of resources to projects? Do project managers have the authority to do that, or does that need to go through the resource’s managers?”

Prospect: “Oh, that’s definitely one of our big challenges right now. We have a weekly meeting with all the project managers and all the resource managers to get agreement on who is assigned to what project. We keep the data in a spreadsheet. The fact is the spreadsheet doesn’t always get updated, and sometimes there are multiple copies, so there’s lots of ‘I thought Jim was assigned to my project, it says so right here, but he thinks he’s working on something else!’ and that kind of thing. And of course those meetings just take a lot of time, which contributes to everyone’s frustration.”

Sales person: “You know, we hear that a lot. Our customers have found that our resource management capabilities have really helped them out in this area. Would you like my team to show you how we address resource management in a demo next week?”

Prospect: “Yes, that would be great. I’d love to get out from under these stupid meeting and have all that happening in a system of record. It would make my life much better!”

The sales person has established a lot in this interchange:

  • We understand her problem
  • We have customers who have solved that problem with our solution.
  • We can show how we solve this resource management challenge during a demo.
  • And the sales person has done a presumptive close on the next step of the sales process – the demo.

All in all, a lot of power in one little bit of discussion. And this can be done for several different key challenges during the discovery call. (For example, you might provide some questions to explore if the prospect has challenges presenting project status information to the executives.)

Three things you can do today

How do you make use of these ideas?

  1. Develop a list of criteria that make a prospect a good candidate for your solution: the types of problems they have, the scale of the problem, and so on. This list will be quite different for different types of products. For example, in project management one criterion might be: “They have a challenge with managing resource allocations to all the projects in the portfolio.”
  2. Turn the list of criteria into open-ended questions that are appropriate for a non-technical sales person to ask. For example, “How do you allocate resources to projects? Is that done by project managers or by resource managers?” Ideally, provide several followup questions as well. “Tell me about the meetings you have for resource allocations. How many people attend? How often? How are the decisions captured? What other resource management solutions have you tried?” Provide commentary responses about how existing customers have addressed these challenges with our solution. (Call this set of questions and responses a “scriptlet.”)
  3. Work regularly with the sales team to help them learn and use these questions in their discovery and qualification calls. Simply having three or four of these discovery question scriptlets will help them become significantly more effective. Work regularly with the sales engineering team (the people who demo) to make sure they can demonstrate how your solution solves these challenges.

Next Steps

Asking better discovery questions can make a big difference in sales effectiveness. But there’s one more step that will accelerate things even more. Using this information to present a killer demo that’s totally focused on the prospect’s problems can make a giant difference to your sales success. That’s the topic of the next post in this series on how product managers can help the sales organization beat quota on their products.


For more on the structure of good discovery calls, I highly recommend Dan Smith’s article on The Anatomy Of A Perfect Sales Call.

About the author

Your host and author, Nils Davis, is a long-time product manager, consultant, trainer, and coach. He is the author of The Secret Product Manager Handbook, many blog posts, a series of video trainings on product management, and the occasional grilled pizza.

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