Customer Discovery Questions

Cheri Stevenson
Cheri Stevenson Member Posts: 2 Navigator
First Anniversary
Hi All, 

It's my first post in the community and was hoping for a little insight around client discovery questions. 

What discovery questions do you ask your customers in a kick off call? Specifically if a champion has left the business and you are introducing yourself to a new stakeholder and want to understand their new goals and objectives?

Secondly is there a certain structure you try to follow when handling these types of meetings?

Look forward to hearing people's thoughts and insights :)



  • Andrew Harris
    Andrew Harris Member Posts: 3 Seeker
    Photogenic First Anniversary
    edited February 2021

    Hey Cheri -- super great question

    Okay so full disclosure, I feel that discovery is the MOST important part of CS work.  Opportunities to build rapport, gain trust, and get pertinent intel are just sitting right there, and if we're doing it correctly, our clients should give us literally everything that we need to not only make them successful, but prove out our value as an org.  

    It's the Third rail -- it's where all the power is, but it can also kill you quickly. 

    Why/how does it go poorly?

    A discovery process based solely on questions will always feel like an interrogation -- even if you call it out ("hey forgive me but I need to interrogate you for a second, is that okay?) it's something clients tolerate vs enjoy.  

    So what to do? 

    I come from a mental health background, and once upon a time I was trained in a therapeutic approach called Motivational Interviewing, which is commonly used in CD treatment and a few other settings, I've found that the tenets that MI holds are effective in communicating with literally everyone, but has proven to be super effective in our CS org when it comes to Success Planning and Discovery. 

    "Andrew, how the heck does a drug rehab tactic work in CS?"

    DISCLAIMER -- I'm super passionate about this particular piece of CSMgmt, so forgive me if this is stuff you already know. Not trying to be condescending, promise

    Glad you asked, no one -- turns out rapport comes down to one basic filter: "is this person hearing me or are they simply listening to me talk, awaiting an opportunity to ask another question?  Humans are very good at determining one from another, because trust is the hardest thing to gain and the easiest thing to lose.  I suspect I'm preaching to the choir on that one, but still...

    MI is based off the OARS protocol: Open ended questions, Affirming response, Reflection, and Summary.  Is this basic active listening? Yep, but there's a wrinkle. 

    I lose the Open ended questions nearly altogether and really only ask questions as part of my summary: (ex. .....Do I have that right?)

    Instead, I do what I used to do with my Clients in the hospital: (New guy, old guy was fully bought in and saw the potential value of Sonovate for [ORG] -- talk to me about where you're seeing gaps." 

    Removing the question altogether removes the interrogative feel of the convo, and allows for you to preserve a downward tone that the end that portrays confidence (sounds silly, 100% works).  

    also super effective: 

    "Help me understand....."

    "Tell me about your....."

    "I'm curious what happened when you....."

    "I imagine you....."

    "Tell me the story of how....."

    There are some good questions that need to/should be asked, but they should be transitional and rare

    Note: "Talk to me about what success with Sonovate looks like for [org] -- what numbers/metrics/change are you looking for to signify that we're adding the right type/amount of value for you." Or some variation is super penetrative. They'll tell you what they want you to do and what needles need to move -- makes a ABR super easy and sets the stage for renewal and upsell.


    Affirmations: Next, you must pay them for the info they just gave you, and these are the Affirmations. Not going to dig into them in depth, but they're mostly just wrapping up their statement with something that empathizes with their concern/struggle/gaps.  "Not surprised that you didn't know about [feature] it's not commonly used, but the value for [org] is tangible, and that's something [old guy] and I were working on. 


    • "I appreciate your willingness to break this down for me."
    • "That's really important information for me to know, thanks for that."
    • "I have so many clients that don't use the full capability of Sonovate -- you're definitely not alone"
    • "That's a really great way to address this -- I wish I saw more client's with that approach."
    • "You're thinking about things in the right way."


    • Repeating/Rephrasing: Stay close to what was said, substitute key words with synonyms
    • Paraphrasing: a restatement where the client's meaning is inferred
    • Reflection of feeling: Emphasizing the emotional aspects of what's being communicated through feeling statements
      • "That sounds like it was pretty frustrating."
    • ex. "So you're trying to…." -->"It sounds like you'd like to…." --> "You're wondering if you can…"

    Summary:  Summarizing statements are a great way to transition from topic to topic while:

    1. Letting your client know that you were intently listening and
    2. Confirming any hanging questions or clarification

            It's important to let the client know you're summarizing:

    "Let me see if I understand so far……"

    "Here is what I have so far, let me know if I'm missing anything..."

    The 5th piece is getting good -- there is no set pattern of how this has to go (OARS, SOAR, ROSA, OAOAOARSAORS, etc)  don't limit yourself. The best tip I can give you is after you Make inquisitive statement (Help me understand...) don't say anything after.  People feel compelled to fill a gap, and they'll start talking 9 times out of ten.  Promise.

    Again, forgive me if I'm preaching to the converted, and I apologize for the incredibly long post

  • Anita Toth
    Anita Toth Member Posts: 246 Expert
    Photogenic 5 Insightfuls First Anniversary
    edited February 2021

    @Andrew Harris That was INSANELY well written and explained. As someone with years of experience with feedback interviews, it's the SAME process --

    build trust

    make it feel like a conversation and not an interrogation

    give feedback (you're not alone, other people are challenged with this too etc)

    The enemies of this process are:

    • a short term focus (getting questions answered vs laying the foundation of strong relationship)
    • being process driven (have to get through the checklist vs realizing some questions can and should be answered later)
    • lack of experience 

    The great thing is that these can be overcome and developed. 

    Again, thanks for your amazing answer. ?

  • Cheri Stevenson
    Cheri Stevenson Member Posts: 2 Navigator
    First Anniversary
    edited February 2021
    Hi Andrew, 

    Please do not apologise for the long post this advice is so valuable! Thank you so much ?
  • Kevin Mitchell Leonor
    Kevin Mitchell Leonor Member Posts: 248 Expert
    First Comment Name Dropper First Anniversary
    edited February 2021
    I typically begin by confirming what I know about the customer with the customer so they dont feel like they are repeating themselves because they were likely asked the same questions by sales and implementation.

    1) what led to the need to look into a new solution?
    2) what are their biggest business challenges including those unrelated to the product?
    3) what tools do you use that would benefit from integrating with our solution?
    4) what areas do you want to focus on first?
    5) what changes do you see coming in your org that we should be prepared for from a system standpoint?
    6) who is important to the decision to buy?
    7) what is your decision making process in your org in case we mutually agree on a project that requires internal approval?
    8) who will be working closely with customer success
    9) who will represent your users voice
  • Andreas Knoefel
    Andreas Knoefel Member Posts: 73 Expert
    First Comment
    edited February 2021
    Amen to that, @Kevin Mitchell Leonor.

    Whether it's at kick-off or after a champion change, you need to show that you are prepared and have a plan aka customer journey. If any goals change, the journey or destination changes as well. As such, the CSM needs to engaged already at the closing stage and introduce implementation as the first milestone and program manage the customers journey to maximum business value.
  • Amanda Wachendorf
    Amanda Wachendorf Member Posts: 2 Navigator
    edited February 2021
    Hi Cheri, 
    This is a great question! Like Andrew, I come from a similar background in Social Work, helping with crisis management and counseling, so I too get really passionate about ensuring this conversation is not only enjoyable but very, very productive. I also fully agree: this conversation is one of the most crucial to developing a relationship with the client as well as the right goals and strategies to move forward. 

    For our team we take a similar approach to what others have shared, focusing on open ended questions and working toward simply getting to know the client better. We spend a good amount of time in this first conversation on two core concepts: learning about their organizational structure, and identifying key pain points we should be centering our goals around. We focus on the organizational structure first and foremost because so many times the person we are working with immediately post sale does not have the ability to be the sponsor we need to endorse the implementation/change, secondly this helps us understand where the pockets of users are located and who the key personas are that oversee those pockets of users - those are crucial key points of contact later in roll out. To do this, we have to first set the stage and help the client understand why this is important and then walk through a few brief questions around how they are organized at a high level - things like business units, where users are located, who oversees them. We sometimes spend the entire call here if clients are able and willing to share!

    Moving into key pain points/challenges, this is how we begin to establish our goals with clients. We subscribe to the SMART goal framework and here again we are working on asking open ended questions and getting to know the client further. At a very basic level we're asking things like: can you tell me about one thing you are hoping to accomplish in the next X NUMBER of days? What is one large challenge your teams are facing today? Can you tell me about any upcoming changes your team are facing? What are some of the goals your leadership team are working toward? 

    With this type of conversation, our CSM team is working on creating alignment between the platform and larger over all organizational goals. We believe by creating this alignment, we generate deeper utilization and drive toward sustainable adoption. We have lists of questions for our CSMs that are tied directly to our playbooks/success plans. I would be happy to share more them if that would be helpful but they are pretty specific to our industry. :) 

    Although I didn't list a lot of questions, I hope that was helpful! Best of luck to you!
  • Srikrishnan Ganesan
    Srikrishnan Ganesan Member Posts: 26 Expert
    edited February 2021

    Lovely answers @Andrew Harris and @Kevin Mitchell Leonor!

    Agree that the more you invest upfront on kick-off and discovery to understand, set expectations, set rules of engagement, the better off everyone is :)

  • Andrew Harris
    Andrew Harris Member Posts: 3 Seeker
    Photogenic First Anniversary
    edited February 2021
    Couldn't agree more, Srikrishnan, but with one teensy caveat -- Discovery isn't stapled to the kickoff process.  I think the best plan is to always be willing to do a little discovery during every convo with clients.  IMO CSMs should always be listening for changes in their customers situation and chasing down any loose ends the second they're revealed.  Can't tell you how many times I was able to add additional/unexpected/bonus value because I was truly listening to understand and not simply to respond or check a box
  • Srikrishnan Ganesan
    Srikrishnan Ganesan Member Posts: 26 Expert
    edited February 2021
    We're on the same page! I just meant spending more energy on these two items yields great benefits.
    I agree discover needn't start or end at the early stage. There's always more we uncover!
    I remember overseeing a case study related interview of an SVP and Director from a Fortune 100 customer. They opened up about why they bought our solution, and that gave us so much insight on their mindset and direction - something that never came out in prior conversations, even when we had asked pointed questions on their goals during kick-off, etc.
  • Bob London
    Bob London Member Posts: 54 Expert
    5 Insightfuls Photogenic First Anniversary
    edited March 2021
    Great question about great questions!

    I've been doing (and coaching) B2B customer discovery for 7 years during which I've developed a list of open-ended non-cliche questions, some of which are rather disruptive and bold. These questions seem to really get customers talking - and thinking.

    These include:
    • "What do you think is the top priority or challenge being discussed in board meetings?"
    • "What's on your whiteboard now that wasn't there 90 days ago?"
    • "What are your customers' top challenges?
    • "What's the one thing you and your team need to get better at this year?"
    • "If I gave you a magic wand, what problem would you make disappear first?"
    • "What's the biggest thing that surprised you since you signed the contract with us?"
    • "If a competitor contacted you today, would you ignore them…or want to learn more?"
    • "If you were having coffee with our CEO, what would you say?"
    • "What would make you a customer for life?"
    As the graphic below shows, you start big (about their market/business), then zero in on their team's challenges before asking about their experience with your product/company.

    Hope these are useful and definitely feel free to share. And of course happy to get into deeper convos about this as it is one of my absolute favorite topics.

    Bob London

  • Bob London
    Bob London Member Posts: 54 Expert
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    edited March 2021
    Hi, again. No list of discovery questions would be complete without adding guidance on how to "listen between the lines" - an absolutely critical skill. Here are my top tips:


    Questions or comments?

    Bob London