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Client discovery tools, techniques and best practices

By: Leanne Armstrong


The client discovery process is essentially a fact-finding mission centered around learning as much as you can about what your customer needs, what their goals look like, and what their challenges and expectations are.

The more you know about your clients as a sales or account manager, the more likely you are to build consistently positive connections with them. Clients who feel heard also tend to feel satisfied. So it’s no surprise that more than two-thirds of companies compete primarily on the basis of customer experience.

When you undertake a new client discovery, you’ll typically need to source and analyze a variety of information – not just about your customer and their business, but about their audience and competition as well.

This discovery work is essential for:

  • Determining what constitutes the best possible sales, marketing, or strategic solution for a particular customer
  • Deftly tying and tailoring that solution or proposal directly to your customer’s needs
  • Creating a long-term, goal-driven sales or account management plan

The client discovery process is your opportunity to establish trust, while setting the stage for a long and fruitful relationship. It’s intended to help you dig into the heart of a new account by really listening to what your customer wants to achieve.

In this guide, we’ll show you how to leverage an assortment of tools, techniques, and best practices to streamline and improve your client discovery, research, and engagement process.

The client discovery process in brief

Discovering everything you need to know about a new client usually means collecting information and data in a few different ways:

  • Speaking directly with your client representative and their team
  • Conducting detailed online research
  • Exploring your client’s business from their customers’ perspective

Objectivity is essential for discovery work.

Instead of proposing a product or solution based on what you imagine your customer needs, for example, you should be gleaning as much information as possible during the client discovery process, so you can provide solid answers to actual challenges.

Although the process you follow is bound to vary based on your customer’s requirements, budget, and schedule, you can simplify client research and engagement in every case by using:

  • A client discovery checklist to ensure you follow best practices
  • A list of client discovery questions to help direct your investigation
  • Tools like a client discovery template to pull all your information together, so you can build, present, and carry out a custom improvement solution

Here are some examples to help you get started.

Your client discovery checklist

Best practices in any client discovery project include following a set of well-defined steps to gather the customer knowledge you need. The actions outlined below should form the core of your client discovery checklist.

1. Help your customer define their goals

Walk your client through the process of setting out what they want or need to accomplish, so you can help convert their objectives into specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals.

2. Dig into what they do

Conduct enough research to familiarize yourself with the industry your client works in, where their business fits into that market – especially in relation to their competitors – and how the competition goes about attracting and hanging onto its audience.

3. Get to know your customer’s customers

It often proves helpful to see your client through the eyes of their buyers – either by speaking with representative customer groups, or by going through the buying process yourself. If, for example, your aim is to redesign and manage your client’s website, you should first explore it thoroughly, then use it to purchase their product or service, noting where the customer experience could be improved.

4. Audit your client’s performance

Knowing what your client’s revenue, sales, and marketing strategies look like today is the only way to determine where they may need to go in the future. Look especially for process gaps or missed opportunities that may not be visible from the inside.

If your client runs an e-commerce business, for example, you might look for strengths or weaknesses in their:

  • Content, email, and social media marketing efforts
  • Website design and visitor traffic flow
  • Overall digital performance (by analyzing data around leads, conversion rates, or subscribers, for example)

You should also make it a point to understand how your client’s business runs in terms of job roles and responsibilities, operational workflow, and resource allocation. Creating an org chart will help you identify decision makers and decision-making chains within the organization.

5. Reach out to key stakeholders

Buy-in at the executive or decision-making level is critical for implementing change of any kind – whether it involves purchasing a new software product or outsourcing an internal process (like accounting, for example). Make a point of interviewing and cultivating relations with stakeholders inside your client’s organization to better understand their perspectives and help sell your solutions.

9 client discovery questions you need to ask

One of the most important investigative techniques you can wield as a sales or account management professional is the right line of questioning during client discovery.

Whether you’re sitting down with your client for the first time – or fleshing out your knowledge by meeting with department heads and other stakeholders – gathering data first-hand (and unlocking valuable human insights along the way) is a critical part of the discovery process.

Asking the right questions won’t just uncover existing problems, challenges, and opportunities, it will help lay the foundation for suggested improvements.

Feel free to tweak these 9 client discovery questions to suit your customer’s situation or business:

  1. What sets your company/product/service apart from the competition?
  2. What are your top priorities this year?
  3. What specifically are you hoping to achieve?
  4. What do you view as hurdles to accomplishing your goals over the next several years?
  5. What growth or improvement changes, strategies, or solutions have you implemented in the past, and what were the outcomes?
  6. Do you have a new vision for growth or improvement moving forward?
  7. Have you allocated a budget to this improvement solution?
  8. What time frame are you targeting for implementing a new product or strategy?
  9. Who else should be part of this conversation (who will the primary users and key decision-makers be, for example, and who will have final say in any purchase or change process)?

Questions like these will also help you determine the type or level of change your customer is open to, and what they can afford.

Creating a client discovery template

Did you know MindManager templates can help you brainstorm and solve client problems, as well as lay out strategic plans and improvement projects?

Before you get to that point, however, you can also use MindManager to create a client discovery template for gathering and organizing the preliminary knowledge needed to start putting your solution together.

By using a knowledge map as your template, for example, you can visually share client information with your account management team in a way that’s:

  • Easy to understand
  • Always up to date
  • Centrally available at any time

And with MindManager’s full-featured 30-day trial, you can get started creating a visual client discovery template in 4 easy steps.

Here’s how:

  1. Identify your knowledge map topic. This will likely be the name of your client, but could also be one of the pivotal steps on your client discovery checklist (like their competitive analysis, for example).
  2. Define your starting point, then branch into various nodes representing people or places that hold information. Consider using these nodes to represent your various client discovery questions, then attach your answers to them. With MindManager, you can link pertinent client information and documents – including org charts, customer workflow diagrams, and budget details – directly into your map.
  3. Branch into more specific nodes if needed. You can quickly combine, structure, add to, and prioritize shared content from different systems. Numerous integrations into common Office applications (like Excel, Outlook, and SharePoint, for example) make it easy to import or export detailed client data as needed.
  4. Add keywords. As you progress, use keywords to explain how each node in your map relates to the other, until you’re left with a single resource for all your client discovery information.

A big, added benefit of using MindManager in your client discovery process is that it makes researching your customer that much simpler. Images, hyperlinks, blocks of text, and other web content can be incorporated into your map, then edited using the embedded browser.

You’ll also find it easier to identify relationships among your various sources of information, and lay out those connections in a visually structured way that facilitates collaboration and decision-making. MindManager maps can even be used as a planning, working, reporting, and client presentation tool – without having to transfer content into a different format.

Remember: the better you’re able to visualize what your client wants and needs, the better positioned you’ll be to provide them with an outstanding customer experience.

Watch the short video below from our friends at Biggerplate for demonstration of how to use MindManager for client discovery.

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