The next time you fire up GoToMeeting or Zoom to do a discovery call, remember the data points you’re about to learn in this article. They will serve you well.

An AI analysis of a large pool of sales call recordings we did here at highlights how the most effective discovery calls look and sound.

As you read, mentally compare how your discovery calls stack up.

You may just have an epiphany that sends you to whatever tropical island your company chooses for President’s Club this year.

Let’s take a look at the x-ray of a winning sales discovery call

The anatomy of a deal closing discovery call

Most successful discovery sales calls break into three sections:

successful discovery calls break into three sections

The algorithms that analyzed the calls in this study are able to detect what topics are being discussed at each point of the call.


The most successful salespeople tend to talk about rapport-related topics at the beginning of their calls, dive deeply into 3-4 customer problems, and then wrap up logistics and next steps at the end.

Why “3-4 customers problems”? Why not more? Why not less? That brings us to the next data point…

Diving into 3 – 4 customer problems correlates with the highest likelihood of advancing the deal to a firm next step.

 Number of problem oriented topics discussed

Once you go beyond four problems, the deal starts to slip through your fingers and you’re more likely to chalk it up as CL-Lost.

In hindsight, this may be because you’re spreading the customers’ focus too thin (That one big, nasty problem seems less urgent in the customer’s eyes when you’ve talked about four other problems).

Let’s unpack how you should address  “customer problems” even further.

When it comes to customer problems, the more questions you ask, the better.

Questions about business issue

Translation: when you’re discussing customer problems, there is a tight relationship between the sheer number of questions you ask, and success.

Top salespeople ask 10.1 “problem questions” per hour. Average performers only ask 6.3.

(For more data about asking questions on sales calls, check out the article I wrote two weeks ago – it goes hand-in-hand with this one).

Make your discovery calls feel like a tennis match

The more times you “take turns” talking with your customer, the higher your likelihood of success.

A high number of “speaker switches” per minute and your odds of getting a second meeting have a strong connection.

success rate vs speaker switches per minute

The takeaway is that discovery calls should feel similar to a casual chat over coffee with a friend – not a “light-in-the-eyes” interrogation.

The messier this looks the better

Make your sales conversations feel like a ping pong or tennis match, not a football game – where the longer you have possession of the ball, the better.

To further illustrate that top salespeople have more balanced sales conversations, check out how they spread their questions throughout the sales call compared to their peers:

 question flow - top sales people vs average performers

You don’t have to know the exact numbers to see the trend: Top sellers evenly spread their questions throughout the entire conversation in a balanced, natural way. Average reps “frontload” their questions at the beginning as if they’re going through a sales call checklist.

When you find yourself having a natural, balanced, two-way conversation with your customer (rather than an interrogation), you’ll find that the “talk-to-listen ratio” of the conversation ends up somewhere in this neighborhood:

Ideal talk to listen ratio on a discovery call

Remember that this is the ratio of “top performing reps.”

This number becomes more meaningful when we compare it with the talk/listen ratios of “average,” and “low performing” salespeople:

Discovery call : talk to listen ratio

There’s a sharp contrast between the talk/listen habits of top reps, and their peers (the difference between average and bottom reps is a bit less stark, interestingly).

While you probably “get this” intellectually, I challenge you to question whether you’re anywhere close to the ideal ratio.

Most salespeople – without measuring their own talk/listen ratio – underestimate just how much-uninterrupted speaking they do on their sales calls. Before I measured my own, I figured I was doing 50:50. It (embarrassingly) turned out to be 72:28 (Ugh…)

you are talking more than you think


That’s all for now. 

To get the rest of the data on effective discovery calls, check out these resources:


Chris Orlob

Chris Orlob is Senior Director of Product Marketing at

  • Pete

    Chris, this is powerful stuff. Is there any chance you will publish these findings in a peer reviewed journal. As you know selling is so short of reputable research, you would be doing a great service to our profession. These guys for example jpssm It would raise your credibility way above your competitors.

    • Hi @disqus_er1pIjbftY:disqus, I’d love to look into that. Are you the guy to talk to?

      • Pete

        Hi Chris, not really, just on a mission to get good research in selling out there.

        What I will do is speak to a colleague who is professor of marketing at a large and reputable business school here in the UK, his title is marketing but his research is in the sales area. He is commercially savvy and obviously knows the ‘journal world’ I will encourage him to contact you directly.

        Also if you have any Ph.D. scientists or social scientists in your organization they should be able to advise.

        Finally just reach out to the relevant journals. For example, If you contact JPSSM (link in previous message) and ask them how you can submit, they will send you editorial guidelines. They are pretty highbrow (different journals have different standards.) If you engage with them they may advise of other journals if you are not right for them.

        You have a very appealing proposition as most researchers cant get any scale.

      • Nick

        Hi Chris.

        Apologies that this thread has died down – I am the Prof that Pete refers to below. I haven’t had a chance to follow this up until now – entirely my fault. I’d love to connect with you about this, I’ve actually been ‘lurking’ around the gong site for a while now marvelling at the stuff you are doing. What Pete says below is 100% correct regarding scale etc.

        Would love to have a chat and see if we could find some common ground. Feel free to drop me a line on if you want!

        Thanks, Nick

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