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Discovery: The Most Important Part of the Project

When people don’t get what they want, they get cranky. When expectations are set, we want them to be met—especially when business is on the line. So, if you’re about to embark on a new website project for a customer, you want to make sure you have a plan in place, as well as have a detailed understanding of your customer’s background, current state, and future goals.

Before you can write up a proposal and start working, you need to set aside time with your customer to discover all of this information (and more). Dwayne McDaniel recently shared his tips for leading a successful discovery meeting in a webinar, Discovery! Discovery! Discovery! The Most Important Part of the Project.

Below, we’re sharing what we learned from the discussion. Keep reading for Dwayne's take on how to discover the “why” behind your customers’ goals and use it to inform your project plan.

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Discovering Your Customers’ Stories

How do we get a prospective client or customer to tell us what they need? We ask them to tell us their story. Understanding your customer’s pain points, past successes and failures, future goals and long-term plans are pivotal to creating a website that meets their needs and exceeds their expectations. Your customer has a long history behind them—it’s your job to learn every detail of it, so you can use those details to inform your project moving forward.

In his webinar, Dwayne shares a few ways to uncover your customer’s story during discovery:

Ask the Right Questions

As you might assume, asking yes or no questions isn’t the most effective way to uncover your customers’ motivations and goals. Instead, Dwayne suggests asking open-ended questions to discover your clients’ stories—questions beginning with who, what, when, where, how and why. And, the “why” matters more than anything else.

“If they don’t know why they want to do something, they’ll never do it,” Dwayne says about customers approaching you with a website project. “Asking ‘why’ will reveal the bigger business problem you’re trying to solve. If they don’t have a good answer, it won’t be a good project.” 

Sometimes, customers see a website update as a quick fix to deeper-seated business issues. Talking through the company’s history, current goals, and potential opportunities for improvement will help both of you see what’s going on behind the scenes, as well as brainstorm ways to solve existing problems. To uncover your customers’ “why,” you have to let them talk.

Control the Conversation

Facilitating a successful discovery meeting requires you to take control of the conversation to gain a more detailed story. Dwayne advises that whenever possible, discovery should take place face-to-face—especially because body language impacts our ability to comprehend a story nearly as much as interpreting the actual words.

Remember, at this point in the process, your role is small. Discovery is about uncovering what has or has not been working for your customer up until the point when they contacted you. Discovery is about their story—not yours. Listen 75% of the time and talk only 25% of the time. As Dwayne says, “You have to lead the conversation, but don’t dominate the conversation.”

Set Attainable Expectations

There’s a chance your client has never worked with a developer before, or maybe never even worked on their own website before. Answer their questions and set expectations on timing, potential roadblocks and what you need from them so that they don’t panic when unforeseen hiccups occur later down the line. 

Dwayne compares your role as a developer to that of a tour guide. Walk your customer through every step of the project process the way a tour guide might lead you through a park or museum. Give yourself the freedom to discuss what’s at stake openly and transparently.

In fact, “be transparent” is one of Dwayne’s Discovery Ground Rules. Transparency leads to trust, and remaining transparent throughout the discovery process is the only way to avoid chaos and confusion later on in the project. “If you’ve been transparent since day one, your client will have no reason not to trust you when something goes wrong,” Dwayne says.

Create a Discovery Checklist

Discovery isn’t the end of the process. It’s part of the process. Once you’ve wrapped up discovery session, you can begin writing a proposal and launching your project. But how do you know when discovery’s finished? Dwayne recommends creating a Discovery Checklist that is custom to your business.

He compares a Discovery Checklist to a Flight Checklist. “My favorite part of every plane ride is when the pilot tells the cabin staff to open the doors once we’ve landed, because that’s the last item on the flight checklist,” he says. “You should know when you’re done with the process because you’ve completed every item on your Discovery Checklist.”

Using Discovery Throughout Your Business

When a project fails, it’s usually the result of miscommunication or mismatched expectations. But this can be avoided for most clients when you follow a repeatable, thorough discovery process. Understanding how to ask the right questions up front, control the conversation, set expectations, and complete your own Discovery Checklist can make or break your project’s success.

As Dwayne says in his webinar, “Having a fine-tunable process makes all the difference between super-angry customers who hate you and won’t buy from you again, versus customers who trust you and will happily work with you again.” Watch the full discovery webinar here.

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Topics Agencies, Agency Partners, Digital Agencies

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