How on Earth is it possible that you don't already know what problems your clients have? How could you not already know what problems you spend every day helping clients solve? Why would the most important question you could ask your client be some derivation of "So, what's your problem?" Believe me when I tell you your contacts already know they have a problem, and they are going to tell you all bout it (they've been well trained over the last 34 years that the problem is what you are looking for).
It's not that the question is terrible. It's just one that ensures you look and sound different in the very same way your competitors are different, which means, not different at all. Call this the perfect commoditization of the discovery call.
1) Test the Client's Existing Assumptions:
A question that tests the client's assumptions is one that allows you to begin a conversation about change instead of one where you ask your prospective client a question designed to elicit their existing problems.
A single question like, "What factors matter the most in the results you need?" Or, "What assumptions do you factor into your plans and operations?"
2) Elicit or Validate Their Current State:
Presuming you are using a modern sales approach and starting with insights you share, you can validate the client's current state by asking a question.
You might say, "We tend to see the result being between x and y. Can you share with me what your results are like now?
3) Connect the Environment and their Current State:
One way to move towards "why change" instead of "why us" is to help your contacts recognize the connection between their current state and the forces that are or will impact their future results.
The question, "How are these forces impacting your business now, if at all?" can help connect your insights to your client's problems (something we haven't asked about directly).
4) Expose the Conflict Between Their Current State and a New Reality:
Any question that causes the client to recognize the conflict between what they are doing now and what the new reality requires of them to improve their results.
The question might sound like, "Have you started to think about making changes that would allow you to improve your results, and if you haven't yet begun, can I share a couple of observations"
5) Replace the Client's Existing Assumptions:
There are not a lot of things more difficult than replacing another human being's beliefs, especially if those assumptions served them well for a very long time. When you can replace the assumptions, you are breaking their anchor and replacing it.
The question might include some version close to this: "If there was new data that would provide you with the ability to improve your results and increase your overall profitability, what would we need to do to change some of your team's assumptions that have served you well for a long time?"
6) Elicit Their Values and Preferences:
Most salespeople are good at asking questions designed to help them elicit their contact's values and preferences. Regardless of whether or not you are using a modern sales approach or a legacy approach, you need to uncover these things.
The questions might include some version of, "What is most important to you as you think about change and better results?"
7) Help them Assess their Readiness to Change:
We underestimate the need to help the client with change, starting with the sales conversation and ending with execution. If you want to control the process, you are going to want to know what your client believes they need to do to move forward.
One question might be, "How would you assess your team's readiness to adopt a new set of assumptions and the change they'll need to make?" Followed by, "Who are the people we will need to include in any conversation about change?"
8) Help them Recognize What's Possible:
Change brings with it new potential and new possibilities. When something is broken, many companies solve it by creating workarounds instead of making a significant change.
The question, "Would you be willing to eliminate the workarounds you've had to use in the past if you could have an easier and faster way to fix it if it worked?"
9) Help Identify Obstacles:
One mark of an expert is that they are unafraid of the issues, problems, and obstacles they are going to face. When you are more concerned with execution than "the problem," uncovering the obstacles allows you to address them directly.
Question: "What obstacles or challenges are we going to run into as we work towards improving your results?" You might also ask, "How and when should we address these things?"
10) The Certainty to Move Forward:
Most salespeople like to try to provide certainty around their company and their solution. You can ask questions to help your client feel the certainty they need to move forward.
Question: "Are you 100% certain about moving forward or are there any concerns you believe we need to move forward?"
If you want to ask questions, ask questions designed to accomplish something other than “So, what’s your problem?”