It wasn't all that long ago that selling was almost 100% face-to-face, or over the phone. For most salespeople, the meat of the selling process took place during live, in-person discussions—even if some meetings took place via screen-share and in-between communications were largely via email.

In 2020, the limitations on travel and face-to-face meetings have brought about the switch to virtual-only selling.

But the change hasn't altered the fundamentals of needs discovery. In some ways, needs discovery has become more difficult, but the shift to virtual selling actually gives organized sellers a greater advantage.

The Advantage for Sellers in a Virtual World

In our recent study on virtual selling, 71% of buyers said a seller's ability to lead a thorough discovery of concerns, wants, and needs in their virtual interactions has a high level of influence on purchase decisions. But only 26% think that sellers do so effectively. That points to a great opportunity for nearly three-quarters of sellers. The shift to virtual can differentiate those who are prepared, skilled, and thorough.

Virtual selling does not mean merely adding video to meetings, because virtual selling significantly alters the dynamics of how buyers want, and are willing, to interact with sellers.

One buyer recently said, "One of the things I can't stand is when I get on a meeting with a seller, after we had their initial qualification meeting, which I had to tolerate, and they ask me a bunch of questions that I could have answered more accurately, more thoroughly, and more quickly via email or a standard survey."

If you know you need answers to background questions, and you know you need to identify preferences, wants, and needs, consider sending an email in advance. Here's what happens when you do:

  • You get more answers than you could gather in a call, so when you actually have the call, you can use live meeting time more fruitfully.
  • The sales cycle can be shortened because you reduce the need for more follow-up meetings. You will have gotten your answers before meetings.
  • Buyers answer via survey or email, and if it's their preference, sometimes engage in discussions via email—which will speed up the process even more.
  • Buyers say, "I don't have time to answer these questions right now, but thanks for sending them along. Let's cover them in the meeting." But they often still read the questions and think about them, which makes the actual meeting more productive.

In other words, you can move the sales process along more quickly, get more and better information, and impress buyers.

Also, to the extent that you can customize your questions for that specific buyer, you build trust and help other buyers see that you're a cut above the rest. So prep the buyer and send questions only when rapport and trust have been established.

Sample Needs-Discovery Email

As soon as you know your buyer and initial discovery has taken place, consider the following example as an email you might send.


Looking forward to our meeting on the 17th. I know you're keen to figure out what to do here. To help the process along, I wanted to send some background questions that we'll need to answer as we figure out the right solution for you and, when the time is right, craft a proposal. If you or someone on your team can take a crack at these, that would be great.

  1. In the last six months, I've spoken to a number of people who said that competitor X is about twice as fast in {{area}} as you are. What's your take on needing to speed up to catch them, and how do you think you might do that?
  2. In our experience, three factors make a difference in driving operational efficiencies that make a huge difference in X: factors A, B, and C. Do you think you need work in these areas? If so, what and how?
  3. I've heard that you've tried to make strides in {{area}} in the past, but that the efforts stalled. Why would you say they stalled?
  4. Let's say in three months you successfully accomplish {{goal}}. How do you think it will affect the business?
  5. If there were three issues that were top of mind in {{this area}} to tackle, what would they be, and why?

Of course, there's more we can and will cover, but to the degree that we can get through this list, I think we'll have a sense of whether we can help, what the best way forward would be, and how to make sure we get the outcome you're looking for.

If you can, please answer these questions by email. Of course, we can always discuss your answers at the meeting, if you'd prefer. But these questions will give you a sense of what I'm hoping to cover.

Did I hit the mark? Anything you'd suggest for changes?

Looking forward to your thoughts and the call.


You could also send a shorter email and link the buyer to a survey with questions.

By using email to support your needs-discovery process, you will have more productive sales meetings, move sales along faster, and impress buyers.

Use the virtual world to your advantage, and try out this approach for an upcoming sales discussion.

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How to Use Email to Support the Needs-Discovery Process

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image of Dave Shaby

Dave Shaby is the chief operating officer of RAIN Group, a Top 20 Sales Training Company that provides in-person and virtual sales training, coaching, and reinforcement. He is the bestselling author of Virtual Selling: How to Build Relationships, Differentiate, and Win Sales Remotely. Contact him at

LinkedIn: Dave Shaby