As I write this, the world is dealing with the COVID-19 crisis. Chances are, your customers are facing their own share of uncertainty and perhaps, a vastly reduced workload. This presents an opportunity to get them on the phone and have a conversation that may be more difficult in more normal times.
Most of us want to make the best of the current business climate and perhaps the best way is to finally get serious about customer discovery. Really understanding what is going on with your customers can leave you better prepared for when the business spigots open up fully. And this starts with identifying objectives for what you can learn in the customer discovery process, including:
- Know about their business and personal environment.
- Capture their goals and objectives for the coming months/year.
- Understand their pain points and challenges, from their perspective.
- Discover emerging issues (trigger points) that are purchase drivers.
- Identify the intersection of their pain points/challenges and your solutions.
- Learn about their preferred buying process (buyer journey).
- Validate a new product or service concept.
Tonya Bjurstrom of Dirby Solutions has built a practice (and great reputation) around customer discovery. She suggests that there is often a substantial amount of untapped customer revenue to be gained through effective customer discovery outreach. However, keep in mind that your success in generating revenue opportunities will be based not on how much you sell, but rather, how much you learn. This is why we call it a discovery call, not a sales call.
Generating Interest and Making Calls
Perhaps the most difficult part of the customer discovery process is getting customers on the phone in the first place. If you have their phone number, you can just call directly, but I recommend that the first contact come via email, followed by a phone call, or multiple calls as necessary. By all means, be persistent, but do so in a friendly manner.
If your customer email list is a bit stale, you might find more success in reaching out to your customers via LinkedIn. Send a brief note either through LinkedIn messaging (if they are connected to you) or through LinkedIn InMail (if they are not a connection). Either way, keep the message short and sweet.
Here’s an example, taking the current COVID-19 crisis into account:
Dear Customer Name,
I hope you and family are doing well in these challenging times. Thank you so much for being an important part of our customer family and know that we are here for you.
Would you mind sharing 15 minutes to share your thoughts on your current situation and how we can best serve you? Your input is valued and as a small gesture of thanks, the coffee is on me. After the call I will send you a $xx Starbucks gift card. Simply click on the link below and it will take you to my calendar. No advance preparation is required on your part.
Thank you so much,
Name and contact info
Note that in this case, I included a coffee gift card as an incentive. Whether you provide an incentive is optional. Some consider it a bribe but I prefer to think of it as a nice gesture and it will almost always increase your response rate. Either way, every customer who participates should come away from the call feeling that they are valued and appreciated.
Conducting the Discovery Call
I recommend that you record the call after getting permission from your customer. This may slightly suppress candid thoughts at first but most people soon forget the recording and will open up deeper into the call.
That’s also why you should start with easier and less controversial questions, such as:
How did you first learn about our company/products?
You can then build up to the more difficult ones over time. For example:
Do you feel that you received a good return on your investment in our product/service? If not, why not?
What’s the Value?
Most discovery calls will generate two types of information. The first is quantifiable data like the number and job functions of people that are using your product or service, or what product features they utilize most often. You will likely also gain some qualitative data that can be even more valuable. Hopefully, this type of data is also actionable in areas like product design, service delivery, messaging, sales process, and so forth.
Customer discovery calls are also a great way to help the sales organization. You can help map the account by gathering data on the various users, influencers and decision-makers.
Even more important, such calls can help you generate referrals — 91% of companies are willing to give but only 11% are asked. You need to be part of the 11% that ask but do so in a casual manner. You don’t want the customer feeling as if that was the primary purpose of the call.
Keeping it Real
Be aware that customers will sometimes hide the truth since they don’t want it used against them in selling situations. For example, if they tell you how dependent they are on your products and/or services, the fear is that you will take advantage by giving them higher prices or less favorable terms.
Likewise, customers have been known to give false information. They may do this to gain a procurement advantage or to make themselves look better in some way.
Occasionally, customers will tell you what they think you want to hear. For various reasons, the customer may be overly optimistic or overly pessimistic about a new product or service idea, creating false positives or negatives. I often saw this when dealing with paid focus groups when the reality of paid marketplace acceptance of a product did not match the enthusiasm of the focus group panel.
This last point is why you should structure your calls to talk less and listen more. If possible, keep the details of your new product, service or future company plans to a minimum. Your goal is not to impress or educate your customer, but rather to listen, capture valuable information, and let them impress you. Just as with any conversation, you will get more kudos for being a good listener. As mentioned earlier, your objective is to learn, not to sell.
Finally, customer discovery calls are not the one-fix solution, but they are a key part of building the type of relationship that noted customer service keynote speaker Chip Bell, describes: “Loyal customers, they don’t just come back, they don’t simply recommend you, they insist that their friends do business with you.”