March 25, 2024

Discovery Calls - Step-by-Step Guide and 20 Questions

Pollen Team
A potential client wants to do a discovery call but... you're not sure what that means? Now you are. Here's what a freelance discovery call looks like.
Discovery Calls - Step-by-Step Guide and 20 Questions

Table of contents

What is a discovery call in freelancing?

A discovery call is the first call you have with a potential client. It usually takes place midway down the sales pipeline — after making contact via email, social media, or in person — and sets the tone for your future professional relationship. The goal is to learn about your potential client’s pain points and to determine whether or not your product or services could help solve them.

While bigger companies tend to have a whole sales team dedicated to making discovery calls, part of building out a freelance company is wearing every hat – including sales. Learning how to conduct successful discovery calls, then, is an essential step in your freelance career.

Why are discovery calls important? 

Discovery calls are important because they set up the entire relationship with your potential client. If you show up to the call unprepared you’re not going to get a follow up call. 

However, if you do your prep work, ask the right questions, are good at selling yourself, and treat these calls like the sales opportunity they are, you’re much more likely to land the client — or at least get a followup call or the opportunity to send over a job proposal.

You also might discover over the course of the call that your product or services aren’t a good fit for what they need. However, that doesn’t mean the call was a waste of a time. As a freelancer, every contact you make — and every contact you leave with a good impression of you — is potentially valuable down the line.

What happens during a discovery call?

The goal of a discovery sales call is twofold: create a relationship with the potential client and convince them that you’re the right person to solve their problems. To do that, you need to be personable, ask the right questions about their business needs, and practice active listening skills. 

The call should be a conversation, with both you and the client speaking and listening. You should be prepared with concise questions about them and be ready to repeat back to them what you’ve learned. 

Run a great discovery call

A great discovery call isn’t terribly complicated — but it does have some essential parts. Here’s how to run a great discovery call. 

1. Research and prepare

Perhaps the most important part of a sales discovery call is the research and preparation you do before the phone even rings. Read every page on their website. Check out their LinkedIn. Run a search on both their name and their company name. Investigate the parts of their site or business that are relevant to your work.

By thoroughly preparing for your discovery call, you’ll not only know the questions to ask that will move the conversation forward quickly, but will likely already know the answers — and be ready with solutions. You want to make it as easy as possible for the potential client to say “yes” after you give them your pitch.

2. Build rapport

A good sales discovery call gets down to business — but not right away. Instead, plan on opening with a question to build rapport. Your prep work for the call can help with this part.

For example, you can ask someone where they’re located and then follow up by telling them about someone you know in their city. Or you could talk about your last visit to the place they live. Or maybe you were connected through a common acquaintance and can talk about that relationship.

Plan on smiling as part of building rapport, even if the call is only voice. It’s true that people can “hear” your smile through the phone, so smiling while you talk will communicate enthusiasm and interest in their project. Be personable. 

3. Set a clear agenda 

Once you’ve built some rapport, it’s time to get down to business. Sometimes the potential client will want to set the agenda for the call, which is totally fine. But you should  be prepared to take the lead if necessary.

Setting a discovery call agenda can be as simple as saying, “I’m hoping to learn more about what you’re looking for and then tell you a bit about myself. So why don’t you start? Tell me about your business.”

Setting a clear and simple agenda like that ensures the call continues toward your ultimate goal of creating a more formal business relationship. You can also write out and send a more formal agenda via email before the call even starts.

4. Ask qualifying questions

This step is less about discovery and more about qualifying the prospect. Qualifying means determining whether or not you’ll be a good fit for what they need. 

Qualifying questions include things like:

  • What’s your current process for X?
  • Do you have a team member assigned to this project?
  • What’s your budget?

Not every discovery call requires qualifying questions, so determine during your prep work whether you have  points of clarification that need to be addressed before you can get to the main part of the call. There’s no point in outlining your plan for solving the problem if it’s not one you’re able to solve in the first place. For example, if their budget is way, way below your price point, it’s unlikely you’re going to take the job.

5. Unearth client pains

This is the part where you’re really getting down to the point. By now you know a good deal about your potential client and their business. But there’s a reason you’re on this call, right? They need something and are hoping you can provide that thing.

It’s possible the potential client has already stated their perceived pain point. If so, it’s time to ask some clarifying questions. These can include things like:

  • What’s currently standing in the way of this project being successful?
  • Tell me more about why this project is a priority. 
  • What are your biggest concerns about the trajectory of this project? 
  • What do you need the most help with? 

Sometimes a client doesn’t  know what they need and that’s where it’s up to you to bring your pre-call research into play. If you’re a writer, for example, you can say something like “I noticed that your blog only has a couple of articles on it. Is that something you’d like to prioritize moving forward?” If they say yes, that’s your opportunity to pitch your services.

6. Propose a vision

Once the potential client has laid out all of their issues, it’s time to show them how you can help. This is where your active listening skills come into hand. 

For example, if they’ve communicated that none of their current freelancers are meeting their deadlines, try saying something like “Based on what we’ve talked about today, it sounds like you’re having trouble with your current freelancers and would like help managing them. Is that accurate?” This shows the client that you’re attentive, quick thinking, and able to help them solve their problems. (Of course, you don’t need to say that exact phrase to every single potential client. Tailor your response to what their actual problem is.)

You can also bring up past projects as relevant case studies. For example, you could say, “I had another client who couldn’t  get their  freelancers to submit their work on time. I helped her unearth the things that were getting in the way and create a streamlined process that not only ensured her contractors were meeting their deadlines, but also they were paid on time.” Clients love to hear about stories that are similar to theirs. Plus, it provides evidence that you know what you’re doing. 

7. Establish next steps 

The final part of your discovery call is setting up your next steps. You do this  by summing what you’ve discussed and then saying something like, “I’ll send you XYZ and we can take it from there” or, if you think you need another conversation, “Let’s set up a time right now for our next chat.”

Regardless of what the next step is, make sure you’ve both agreed on how and when you’ll be moving forward. 

8. Follow up after the call 

Follow up can happen immediately after the call and can be as simple as an email that says “I wanted to follow up with a quick email about what we discussed today.” Include bullet points that summarize what you talked about, as well as agreed upon next steps. Make sure that any tasks are clear and  spell out exactly what you each need to do in order to move forward.

Questions to ask during discovery calls

While listening and responding is the best move when you’re on a discovery call, here are some general questions to get you started: 

  • Tell me about your company.
  • Tell me about your team. Who do you have on board right now?
  • What’s your current process for X?
  • Do you have a team member assigned to this project?
  • What’s your budget?
  • What are you looking for?
  • Why do you think this problem hasn’t been solved yet?
  • What’s your biggest obstacle right now?
  • How can I help?
  • What’s your budget?
  • Who is the ultimate decision maker for this project?
  • How much money do you think you’re losing because of this problem?
  • What’s currently standing in the way of this project being successful?
  • Tell me more about why this project is a priority. 
  • What are your biggest concerns about the trajectory of this project? 
  • What do you need the most help with?


A discovery call is an essential part of the sales process. It’s where you convince a potential client that they’d be a fool not to hire you. By doing your research, asking open-ended but pointed clarifying questions, and presenting a clear and effective vision for how you can help, it’s very likely you’re going to move forward with a business deal.

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