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June 13, 2016 // 9:00 AM

The Guide to Running a Client Discovery Process

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The client discovery process is a key phase in the beginning of a new relationship. It helps to build trust and sets the stage for any successful project. 

The goal is to assist the client in discovering what they really want from their marketing efforts and to shape their perception of the best way to reach their goals. During the discovery phase, your agency uncovers the client's needs, challenges, and desired results, which you'll use to create an insightful, goal-oriented marketing plan. 

While the discovery process usually occurs after a contract is signed, some agencies are proposing it as a paid project prior to a formal proposal or retainer relationship. It's a smaller commitment for clients who may be hesitant to sign a year-long contract, and it's a good way to begin to build trust and share knowledge. The deliverables for a discovery process could include defined buyer personas, keyword research, and a competitive analysis. 

How to Run a Client Discovery Process

The client discovery meeting should be run or led by someone in the company who is responsible for defining the strategy and goals of client campaigns. This person can’t be a junior account manager -- she needs to have a high level understanding of the business to be able to have these type of in-depth conversations with clients, and she should be able to translate this session into a strategic document outlining the direction of future campaigns and projects. This could be in the form of a proposal, a creative brief, or a marketing project plan. 

Step 1: Define Goals

You first need to determine what the client’s goals are. This should be a guided process, where the client can express what she wants to achieve and your team helps to refine and adjust those goals to be SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timebound).

Oftentimes, clients may say they want to achieve one thing, while in reality they actually want something else. For example: The client says she wants more leads. When you dig in, you realize that the real issue is the quality of the leads and the sales conversion rates. That’s a completely different problem with a completely different solution.

It’s your job to ask the right questions and uncover the real problems, and then align these to what your team can accomplish through their marketing and advertising efforts.

Try asking these questions to better understand what the client really wants to achieve:

  • How much revenue do you need to generate from marketing efforts by end of year?
  • What is the average sale?
  • What is your close rate?
  • How many MQLs and SQLs do you need to generate?
  • How much revenue from existing customers do you need to generate?

Step 2: Do a Competitive Analysis

Determining the future strategy for your client’s campaigns requires that you have an expert grasp of the client’s industry, its competitors, the companies that could become competitors, and the marketing and sales tactics used by them.

Once you’ve made a list of the client’s competitors, ask these questions:

  • Why would a customer buy from you over your competition? Why would you lose a deal to a competitor?
  • What objections during the sales process do prospects have? What objections do they voice about the competition?
  • How is your pricing different from the competition?
  • What marketing tactics do competitors use? How successful are they?
  • What does the customer service experience of competitors look like?
  • Who advocates for your competition?
  • What are the top pieces of content created by your competitors?

Step 3: Dive Into the Data

Understanding the current state of the client’s marketing programs is a necessary step in defining the weaknesses and strengths of the client’s marketing, brand opportunities, and what’s next.

Start by auditing the client's content and website structure and design, email marketing, analytics data, and social media profiles. Then look at the brand's digital performance, including visits, leads, subscribers, top sources of leads, conversion rates, email open and click rates, keyword rankings, backlinks, site performance, etc.

Step 4: Audit the Client’s Marketing Assets

During the discovery process, you should uncover what content assets -- which could be anything from blog posts and email campaigns to brochures, sales enablement tools, and videos -- exist so that you can begin to organize and align content pieces with the buyer’s journey and identify gaps and lost opportunities in using content to drive people further down the funnel. You can also look for content assets that could be transformed into a quick-win campaign for the client, helping you to build trust through an early success.

Step 5: Do an SEO Analysis

This isn’t the time to do a full-blown SEO analysis (though you could depending on if and how much you are charging), but you can do a few small things to better understand your client’s online visibility, competitors, and target audience.

Start by identifying up to 10 keywords that are considered high value by the client. Determine if the client is ranking for these terms, the difficulty level, and what position they have secured.

Use a tool such as SEMrush’s Domain vs. Domain tool to find out what keywords the client’s competitors are targeting but the client isn’t to create a list of keyword opportunities. Use Moz’s Open Site Explorer to see which sites are linking to the client’s competitors. Then try out Social Crawlytics to discover who is sharing the competition’s content.

This is an easy way to better understand the competitive landscape and provide your client with some insight into the opportunities that exist.

Step 6: Interview Stakeholders

Getting buy-in from every part of the organization is important, but this is especially true for the executive level. When things get tough, the first thing the leadership team will cut will be the clear losers and the things they don’t understand or don’t believe in.

Scheduling interviews with stakeholders is a great way to better understand the brand’s challenges from the perspective of your client’s boss. It’s essential that you develop relationships with multiple people in multiple departments on the client side, and these interviews give you a chance to highlight what your agency’s goal is, your track record of success, and your commitment to the brand.

But most importantly, it’s a time to get a better grasp on the business situation of the company so that you can align the marketing goals with those of the company.

  • What keeps you up at night?
  • Which company is not a competitor now but you are worried will be?
  • What attributes do you want people to associate with your brand?
  • What will your customers look like in 5 years?
  • What’s your biggest challenge?
  • What will your company look like in one or 5 years?
  • What negative results occur if our team fails?

Step 7: Experience the Brand

Marketers are increasingly turning to the customer experience as a way to differentiate their brands. Steve Cannon, the president and CEO of Mercedes-Benz said in a webinar that “customer experience is the new marketing.” And Gartner predicts that by 2017, 50% of consumer product investments will be redirected to customer experience innovations.

To truly understand the brand you are working with, you need to see the company through the eyes of the customer. Become “the consumer” by buying the company’s product. Follow your typical buying process, whether that is asking for friends’ opinions, reading online reviews, or calling a sales person. If the company’s product is sold in brick-and-mortar locations, go to the store and ask the sales associate about the item, their opinion, and what other customers have said about the item.

Bring this qualitative information back to the client and discuss your experience -- what’s good and what’s not so great. 

Your agency is being hired not only for it's track record of success and quality of work but also for its outsider perspective. Provide the client with your view of how the experience of buying its products could be improved. 

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Topics: Services & Structure

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