How to Run a Client Discovery Session: 6 Keys to Success

21-Sep 2021

Running a client discovery session looks simple and straightforward, but in reality, a ton of things are happening under the surface.

You are both auditioning your expertise and trying to retain some of the key details that should only be revealed when a contract is signed.

Your potential client is trying to gauge how you'll be to work with, what your skill level is, and whether you can deliver at a level and budget that they accept.

The meeting itself is at heart about fact-finding and analyzing needs. Learning how to run a client discovery session well takes time. You can find excellent projects and long-term client relationships if you're willing to make a strong effort at this stage.

  1. Send questions ahead of time
  2. Know your comfort ranges for budget and timeline ahead of time
  3. Prepare an agenda to avoid chaotic sessions
  4. Acknowledge challenging factors positively and show how you troubleshoot
  5. When possible, offer multiple ways to jump in and help them

Tips for Getting More from Your Discovery Sessions

1. Send questions ahead of time.

The more clarity and information you can share before the first in-person session, the better. Yes, it could make your meeting quite efficient and quick, but the client is also more likely to come in almost ready to sign a contract.

The key is to help the potential client understand what you need from them to create an accurate estimate. Details of their project, expectations of complexity, and how fast they want the deliverables all matter.

If they wait to consider these factors until they are in the room with you, you may get inaccurate information or simply not enough information to put together a strong, prompt estimate and take advantage of their in-the-moment enthusiasm. 

2. Know your comfort ranges for budget and timeline ahead of time.

In reality, few agencies can afford to take all the work coming to them. If a client pushes too hard for a bargain price, a complex project, and a speedy timeline, you could lose money on the project as easily as you could turn a profit.

That's why you have to come in equipped to understand just how much your agency can realistically take on right now, and for what price. Of course, for a large, lucrative retainer that promises to bring long-term stability, many agencies would burn the midnight oil.

But you shouldn't take on projects without understanding just what your team is getting out of it. Being ready for the discovery session helps you keep pursuing only the projects you can viably take on.

With a client work management platform like Accelo, you can run the numbers and better understand your team’s available bandwidth. And though you might not discuss it with the client, this knowledge should always be in your mind during a discovery session.

You can be ready for a client’s questions and able to stick confidently with your pricing and timing structures when you’ve used Accelo’s profitability tools to fully project what is feasible.

3. Prepare an agenda to avoid chaotic sessions.

With complex projects, don't be afraid to put together agendas and create a structured flow for the process. It's easy to let conversations flow and be unconstrained, but if the client is less prepared than you expected, you may simply waste each other's time.

Pushback on an agenda can tell you a lot about how the client will be to work with. Anything they suggest in the process of agenda setting is just more information for you to use in your choice of whether or not to work together.

If, however, they simply want a lot of "let's get to know each other" conversations before you talk about the project at hand, you should expect that chit-chat will be an ongoing part of the project's meeting timeline.

4. Acknowledge challenging factors positively and show how you troubleshoot.

Many projects have an "elephant in the room" during the discovery session. The project could be huge and require you to hire people, or the design request may be out of the box, pushing the boundaries of your team's skills to deliver it.

Sweeping challenges under the rug doesn't actually reassure clients who are trying to find a trustworthy partner. You want to acknowledge any factors that make this project a potential challenge.

This accomplishes two things: it gives you a chance to speak transparently but positively about your own team's capacity, and it ensures that clients get what they were told was available. 

You don't have to be hesitant or shy about the challenges of a project. Your confidence comes from really understanding your team and how it works best, and sharing that with potential clients increases their confidence in you. 

5. When possible, offer multiple ways to jump in and help them. 

In most cases, a successful, well-organized meeting will result in a signed proposal and a new client-agency relationship. Still, anticipate that some clients might not be ready to pull the trigger and fully commit from the beginning. They may be hesitant if they don't have the budget needed to pay for all your services at one time. 

If it makes sense in your field, find a way for them to create a smaller pilot project, possibly a hybrid project using their onsite team and your agency together, or devise other options to lead to an agreement that both parties are comfortable with at the end of the discovery session.

Many clients appreciate getting a couple of tiers of service that they can bring back to management at their own company, indicating that your estimate isn't an all-or-nothing proposal. This can be a great way to get your foot in the door, to show your value, and to lead to larger opportunities with the client.

How to Prepare for a Discovery Session

So much of what makes client discovery meetings powerful is the ability to share information quickly and know your own profitability needs and upcoming schedule. You should prepare all this information and gather your data ahead of meeting with a potential client. 

It’s important that you have a system and tools in place to easily gather the information you need and make sure what you’re looking at is accurate. The easiest and most efficient way to do this is to use a client work management platform. 

Everything from evaluating your current resources and project profitability to generating detailed quotes can be done using a platform like Accelo. Every project, team member, client relationship, and schedule is in one place, allowing for informed decision-making.  

Showing that you are prepared and professional makes clients and prospects more confident in your services. It’s even more impressive to offer your clients a platform to check the status of projects and see progress in real-time. 

Start your free trial of Accelo today to see how your company could bring your best information to every client discovery meeting and impress clients as a result.  

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