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

By Kit Lewis
Content Manager
Sep 21 2021 read

A client-based business can’t exist without good clients. Finding those clients is just as important as the client work your team delivers, so it requires a strategy unique to your business to get it right.

While the concept of a client discovery session is relatively simple — a meeting between a service business and a potential client to understand the client's business, challenges and goals — running a successful session takes time, preparation and a clear understanding of what kind of clients your professional services business wants to work with.

Whether you’re a new business exploring this process for the first time, or an experienced business leader looking for new ways to attract the right clients, we’re here to help. In this article, we’ll cover:

‌What Is a Client Discovery Session?

The client discovery session is an initial meeting, or series of meetings, that help your team better understand a potential client’s business, their goals and the challenges they’re hoping to solve with your services or expertise.

These sessions are an opportunity to learn about the work your team could take on and it gives your prospect the chance to learn more about the specific solutions your business can offer. While it’s a chance for a prospect to evaluate your services, it’s just as much an opportunity for you to assess if the potential client is a good fit for your business. 

Every business will have a unique process for conducting discovery sessions, and those processes will likely need to adjust based on the type of client you’re meeting with or even based on the individuals who attend the session. Even though the process may look a bit different for every service business, there are still some universal strategies you can implement to host a more successful client discovery session. 

Top Tips to Get More from Your Client Discovery Sessions

‌Learning how to run a successful client discovery session takes time, but with the right techniques in place, your service business can lay the groundwork for successful client projects and long-lasting client relationships for years to come.

Below we’ll explore six tips service businesses can adopt to improve their client discovery sessions.

  1. Research. Research. Research.
  2. Ask the right questions (and send them ahead of time).
  3. Stay on track with an agenda. 
  4. Be honest about what your team can offer.
  5. Positively acknowledge challenges and provide solutions.
  6. Document your meeting to keep accurate records.

1. Research. Research. Research.

Being prepared is the first step to a successful client discovery session. You know your business well and you know what you can offer, but standing out and attracting clients means going a step further. Make sure your team is considering some important questions before joining the meeting so you can impress your potential clients with an understanding of their business and their needs.

This step is easier when you know who will be attending the meeting. Depending on the roles and responsibilities of the attendees, you may want to adjust your pitch to better align with their goals. Researching the people in advance will give your team a better chance to build connections with your potential clients from the very first meeting and you can further connect and relate to your attendees by using pitch deck templates and adapting them to meet your prospect's various business needs.

Taking the extra steps to thoroughly research your potential client’s business, their leadership and goals will help you position your business as the best solution to address the challenges they’re looking to solve. 

2. Send questions before your session.

The more clarity and information you can share before the first in-person session, the better. There is a lot of critical information you need from your potential client to create an accurate estimate, including details of their project, expectations of complexity and how fast they want the deliverables.

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. 

Asking the right questions early can also show your clients that you value their time. Getting the details you need before the meeting even starts leads to a quicker, more efficient process, ultimately showing your potential client just how easy and efficient it could be to work with your team.

3. Stay on track with an agenda. 

When you’re trying to bring on new clients — especially those with complex projects — you need to create a structured flow to manage 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 also 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. Be honest about what your team can offer.

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 or 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 prepared for the discovery session helps you stay focused on 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 capacity. You might not want to discuss this information with the client directly, but the knowledge should always be in your mind during a discovery session.

By using smart technology for easy access to your business data you will be ready for a client’s questions and you’ll be able to stay confident about your pricing and timing structures to forecast if new client work is feasible.

5. Positively acknowledge challenges and provide solutions.

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 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 hear the truth so there are no surprises or disappointments after a relationship has been established. 

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

6. Document your meeting to keep accurate records. 

At the conclusion of your discovery session there will be a lot of information your team and your clients will want to review and have to reference — especially if you end up taking on the project.

Here are some of the details you should be sure to document during your discovery session:

  • Details about the client’s business, their industry and their target market
  • Names, positions and responsibilities of all session attendees 
  • Your client’s overall goals and objectives for their business
  • Project deliverables and budgets to help define project scope
  • Any quoted costs or timeline estimates your team provides

Having a complete record of any topics discussed — or promises made — will be an important foundation for any future work you do with this client. And if your quote is accepted, these details will be critical for your team as you set up the project. 

For a service business, you need more than a tool that can keep track of all these important details, you need a system that can connect them to all aspects of your client’s journey. By connecting quotes, project details, billing and more, you save your team time and reduce the risk that you’ll miss something that could negatively impact your client’s project or your relationship with that client in the future.

Keep Track of Every Discovery Session With Accelo

So much of what makes client discovery meetings powerful is the ability to come prepared  and share information quickly. 

In order to do this successfully, it’s important that you have a system in place to easily gather relevant and reliable data about your business. 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 housed in one place, allowing for informed decision-making.  

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

Start your free trial of Accelo to see how access to accurate, reliable data can help your business attract better clients and build better client relationships.



About the Author


Kit Lewis is a Content Manager at Accelo, where she manages content projects, social media and content reporting. With a decade of writing for industries ranging from education to tech, past experience supporting client work and a commitment to building efficient systems, she is passionate about creating valuable content to help professional services teams.

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