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The surprising sales “best practice” that fails in discovery calls

May 4, 2021
Devin Reed

Devin Reed

Sales Engagement Sales Strategies

This article is part of the Gong Labs series, where I publish findings from our data research team. We analyze sales conversations and outcomes using AI, then share the results to help you win more deals. Follow me to read upcoming research.

“Maybe you should know something about our business before you continue.”

I froze. 

I was four slides into my discovery deck, thinking everything was going smoothly.

But the SVP across from me had a different perspective. 

I turned off the screen share and quickly pivoted to asking questions in hopes of sparking a dialogue. 

But it was too late. The damage was done. 

Nothing I said could overcome his frustration, and he hurried off the call.  

My executive meeting just fizzled and died, leaving me wondering, what the hell just happened?

The hidden issue…

There are countless reasons calls turn sour.

In this post, we’ll break down WHY this senior leader stopped me mid-call, so you can prevent it from happening to you. 

Because this wasn’t just a grumpy executive. 

The call died because – according to our new data – selling with slides backfires on discovery calls.

Before you slam your laptop (or me) – hang tight. 

It’ll make sense in a minute.

But first, I’ll explain how we got this insight. 

Our data science team at Gong analyzed 803,402 recorded sales meetings from deals made on web conferencing platforms.

They were transcribed and analyzed using AI to isolate successful and unsuccessful selling behaviors.

And even I was surprised by our recent finding:

Using slides on discovery calls decreases success rates.

We found a strong negative correlation between the use of slides in discovery meetings and the likelihood of earning a follow-up call:

Now, I’m not suggesting you evict PowerPoint from your sales process. 

It’s important to note that it only affects the first call (i.e., the discovery call) in your sales cycle. In fact, the data also showed that success rates increase when sellers present slides in mid- and late-stage meetings. 

So it’s unlikely that slides themselves turn off buyers. 

It’s not that slides are bad for sales — it’s that slides are bad for discovery

Here’s why: When you share slides, you move from a conversation to a presentation.

That’s a problem because presentations are about delivering information, but successful discovery calls are about exchanging information. 

In other words, your buyer wants to be heard.

They also want to know what you do in relation to their business. But, you need to understand them before you can offer that explanation — and you’ll offer it on the fly after you ask some great questions, not as a pre-made presentation.

And that’s a lot less likely to happen if you jump into a screen share. 

So if you insist on using slides in your discovery calls, be aware that they carry unintended consequences.

Sellers ask fewer questions when selling with slides

The goal of discovery calls is to learn about your buyer and confirm that your offering is a good fit. 

That means uncovering their business challenges, the negative impact, and how they’re attempting to solve them today. 

The best way to do that?

Asking questions. 

Lean on proven sales tactics like open-ended questions, mirroring, labeling, etc.

(This isn’t a masterclass on sales questions, though you can find one here.) 

The point is that questions are critical in high-quality discovery calls. 

And “Can you see my screen?” shouldn’t be one of them.

When sellers rely on slides in discovery calls, the number of questions they ask drops by 21%:

That’s a lot of missed opportunities to learn about your buyer. 

And it doesn’t stop there. 

Slides cause sellers to monologue longer

You know when you’re talking to someone who just can’t (oh, please) stop talking?

People who go on and on without taking a break, making it impossible to get a word in?

Those verbal marathons are monologues, and in this case, from the seller. 

 When sellers use slides on discovery calls, their average monologue is 25% longer:

Ouch. You end up talking to the slides instead of to your buyer. 

It’s full-blown ‘Show and Tell Syndrome’.

In other words, you’re in explainer mode and slides keep you there. 

I mean, Whose Slide is it Anyway? It’s yours. It’s made by you. It’s ALL ABOUT YOU. 

That deck can be as polished and concise as you want. But it’s not what you (or your buyer) really need during discovery.

As a seller, you need information that helps you sell to your buyer’s pain points. And your buyer wants their key business problems to be uncovered and solved.

Still unsure? At the risk of monologuing myself, there are even more warning signs…

Slides cause sellers to talk more

… And talking more means listening less

When sellers rely on slides, they talk 15% more in discovery calls: 

We know from our previous research that top sellers talk less and listen more.

We also know from experience that top sellers deeply understand their buyers.

Talking more isn’t how they get there. 

“You’re aren’t learning anything when you’re talking.” – Lyndon B. Johnson

It’s simple: Ask buyers questions. Hear them out. 

Then use what you’ve learned to position your solution as the key to solving their pain points.


If you’re not uncovering new information, your deal is dying. 

Read this before your next discovery call

Before you go and delete PowerPoint (sorry, Bill)…

Slides aren’t the only thing preventing you from nailing your discovery calls.

There are plenty of other discovery mistakes out there that turn off buyers and damage your pipeline. But you can avoid them with these two offers:

Offer #1 Download our free Discovery Call Cheat Sheet.

You’ll learn exactly how many questions to ask buyers (including C-level execs), PLUS there’s a list of deal-making discovery questions you can use immediately.

Get your Discovery Call Cheat Sheet here.

Offer #2 I’ll personally review your discovery call framework if you have one of the top two comments that answer this:

What’s your best advice for delivering deal-making discovery calls? 

See the magic of Gong in action

Thank you for your submission.