Discovery Process – The Questions

Using the tools of UX design to navigate and master the sales process

This batch of questions and any others you may ask during this phase should all be open ended questions. You want them to talk and elaborate. You are gathering information. You don’t want a simple Yes or No answer. This shuts down any conversation you might have and at this point in the process you want as much useful information as possible. 

Like user interviews, you want to start your questions with the words Who, What, When, Why, and How or prompt with Tell Me to get them to open up.

There are 4 categories of smart sales questions that we work our way through.

Background questions, challenge questions, impact questions and value questions.

Each set of these questions lead into the next and as you ask them, they allow you to get to the clients true needs. We usually ask these questions in order but as the client is telling you about their needs, their company, their goals, they often move seamlessly from one section to the next and bounce around. That’s ok, that’s what makes a good conversation.

As you are taking notes though, you are putting information against each of the questions and rounding out the picture of what this person needs from you and from an engagement. 

The Background Questions

Here is a list of several questions that you ask to get background on the company and person you are speaking with. You should do your own research ahead of time if possible and already know some of this information, but even if you have this data, it’s good to hear it straight from the client and get their perspective.

Tell me about your company?

What is your role?

What can you tell me about your growth plans?

Who is your primary customer base?

There may be others specific to general background but these are the few that we ask every time in various manners.

The Challenge Questions

These questions allow you to get into the meat of the challenges that the client may be facing with their ux design and research. You are interested in really understanding what they are doing, what’s working and what isn’t. This will give you cues into how you may be poised to help them.

What are you doing now in terms of design and research?

How is that working?

What do you know about your users?

What do you not know or wish you knew?

What makes you nervous about your understanding or lack of information about your customers?

What are you looking to do?

What kind of problems does this present? (i.e. provided we hear about an issue)

How does this affect your roadmap – growth plans etc.

We don’t always end up asking all these questions. In practice once we ask the question about what they are doing in terms of design and research and what they know about users, the rest of the questions get answered in the dialog that happens.

The Impact Questions

This set of questions gives you the information about how the project the client is discussing will impact the company and their team. 

What outcomes are you looking for?

How do you see these challenges effecting your bandwidth?

What are the financial implications if you do this or if you don’t?

The Value Questions

The value questions are the most important questions to get to and are key to getting the client to articulate the value of this project to them and their company. Once they articulate this you are now starting to have insight into what they need and how it affect them personally. 

If this project is done, who would care about it most?

Who would be affected by this most?

How would it affect your team?

How are you going to measure the results?

How will it affect the product/site?

How will this affect your companies revenue?

During this conversation you are looking to uncover your client’s key needs. You need to look for these key phrases:

What we need is…

We are looking for…

We are interested in…

What we want…

I wish…

We would like…

Need, Interested in, Want, Wish, Would like.

Whenever you hear one of these phrases, they are expressing a need. You want to highlight this in your notes because you will need to refer to it it will be important to come back to later.

After you work your way through the value questions, you will need to quickly summarize what you heard. You want to get confirmation for each need you heard and adjust as needed. This confirmation will help you sift through the needs and understand the priorities of these. Some will bubble up higher while others will get pushed down the list as you talk about them.

One of the most difficult parts of this process is thinking on your feet and being able to go through your notes quickly and make a summary of these needs that you heard. This takes practice and does get easier over time. 

Once you have gone through the value questions you want to say to the client,

So if I understand you correctly, your top 3 needs are…

This process has helped you surface deeper and more personal needs from your client. If we had been doing this the old way, all we would have gotten would be a list of requirements and no insight into what will make them successful in their job.

It’s at this point in the sales process that we see the resistance window opening up. We can see this happen time and time again, even over the phone. The language of the conversation changes and the prospective client begins to allow us to start selling to them. They now BELIEVE that we truly understand their needs.

Some tips:

  1. Create a spreadsheet. (Here’s a starter)
  2. Put the sales questions in and take notes in the spreadsheet. This helps you easily scan for needs. 
  3. Mix up the questions as the conversation happens. The order should depend on how they are answering. 
  4. Silence is golden. They are thinking. They need time to work through their answer. Let the space breathe and they will end up filling it, often with valuable information.
  5. Do not linger on the background questions. 
  6. With executives, skip as many of these as possible. They don’t have time. Do your homework. Get to the challenge and value questions as fast as possible.
  7. Take notes. If possible tag team so that one person can take notes and the other can just have a conversation and build face time.
  8. Build a relationship.

Questions about Budget

Ultimately you need to know what kind of money the client is willing to spend. 

Talking about money is hard. Everyone hates the budget dance. But understanding the budget a client has, is critical to begin able to fully and effectively offer the right services. It’s also one of the hardest things to get out of your client. (I highly recommend reading both of Mike Monteiro’s books – Design is a Job and You’re My Favorite Client, both published by A Book Apart.)

Let’s not be ashamed to talk about money. So that we can propose something that is feasible for you, what is the budget you have set aside for this project?

Getting this information, allows you to right size according to what they can afford. And if they don’t have enough, you can refer them over to someone else. Sometimes a client can’t afford an agency and they just need a single freelancer. Sometimes what they really need is someone in-house. And sometimes what they need is more than money amount they are proposing. 

In that case we ask,

Given the value of the project to your company (department) (group), how does that match up with the budget set aside?

Then we shut up and let them talk about it.

If we have done our job right and clearly articulated and reiterated our understanding of their needs, then the value of the project is really becoming clear to them. They will see for themselves whether or not the budget they have is appropriate. Often we have seen when there is a mismatch, that through this understanding, they will commit more money or rally to their boss to get more money now that they are able to better articulate the value themselves. This clarity is often surprising but we have seen it happen more than once.

That’s the discovery portion in our sales process. The sales call is contextual inquiry where we ask background, challenge, impact and value questions. Through this process we are able to articulate our clients top 3 needs and with them articulate the value of the work to them and their company. We are not afraid of asking about money and through the articulation of the project’s value, can often get a low budget adjusted to be more appropriate to the value.