Qualifying vs Discovery

In my early days of running an agency, I thought I had it all figured out – I’d do some qualifying and then jump straight into discovery. Yet, the results were sometimes better than I’d hoped, and I soon realized why. Qualifying and discovery aren’t just two steps in the sales process; they’re two entirely different mindsets. Allow me to explain.

Qualifying is about asking the hard, straightforward questions: Can this prospect afford our solution? Do they have the authority to buy? Is there a real need for what we’re selling? It’s more like a checkbox exercise to ensure we’re not wasting time on prospects that will never close.

On the other hand, discovery is a deep dive into understanding the prospect’s world. It’s where you unpack their challenges, goals, fears, and dreams. It’s not just about the ‘what’ but the ‘why.’

The common mistake many of us make is confusing these two. As a result, we may ask qualifying questions during the discovery phase or vice versa, thereby losing the plot. Or even worse, we see discovery as a task to rush through, aiming to present our solutions as quickly as possible.

Remember, as Rory Sutherland once said, “People are more influenced by the direction they are moving in than the position they find themselves in.” If we rush the discovery phase, we fail to understand that direction.

In the words of Alan Weiss, “The only way to grow a business is to become better known, better thought of, and more often thought of.” This applies beautifully to the sales discovery process too.

By taking the time to understand your prospect’s world, you become ‘better known’ to them, you’re ‘better thought of’ as you show empathy and understanding, and you’re ‘more often thought of’ as a trusted advisor rather than a salesperson.

So, how should one approach qualifying and discovery? During the qualifying phase, focus on the tangible details. Ask questions like:

“Who is involved in the decision-making process?”
“What’s your budget for this kind of solution?”
“When are you planning to implement this?”

Then, once they’re qualified, shift your mindset for the discovery phase. This is about more than rushing to present your solution. It’s about understanding their world, their challenges, their goals. You might ask:

“Help me understand the challenges you’re facing in more detail.”
“What does success look like for you in this project?”
“How does this challenge affect your day-to-day operations?”

Avoid the mistake of rushing discovery or misplacing your qualifying questions. Remember, your role in discovery is to be a helpful guide, not a salesperson. Lead with curiosity and empathy, and you’ll find your conversations become richer and your relationships deeper. That’s where true sales success lies.


By Paul Syng

Paul Syng is a multi-disciplinary designer based in Toronto. He focuses on a problem-seeking, systems thinking approach that can take any form or function.