Why a discovery session is crucial for web designers & developers

12 min read
Kristina Romero

As web designers and developers, we don’t just provide websites, we provide solutions. The best solution, however, can only be offered if you know what your client needs. In order to land and attract more clients, you need to position your services as solutions. This is what the discovery session is for.

A well run discovery session will lock in clients because it positions you as an expert and converts leads into a full project proposal.

Look at it as your way to dial in on your client’s needs.

So what should a discovery session look like? Let’s explore the best practices for running a discovery session with a client, along with a step-by-step template and popular questions.

What is a discovery session?

Building websites and apps have two clearly defined phases: design and development. But there’s another “D” that’s a crucial part of the project process as it frames all the needs and target goals.

The discovery session, typically a paid in-depth meeting, assures that you and the client are clear on the full scope of the project as you “discover” together all the pieces that will make the design and development phases successful.

It’s tempting to pass the discovery session off as that initial phone call with the lead to get information for the proposal, but that’s not discovery.

Phone calls and meetings before money exchanges hands should be used to evaluate if the project is a good fit and if a discovery session is necessary.

How do you know if a discovery session is necessary? A good rule of thumb is whether the client has already worked through their needs, goals and vision before the call.

Use discovery session questions from the Ultimate Website Design Client Questionnaire to evaluate if the project is ready to jump into design. If you walk away from initial communication still unsure about pieces of the projects in any capacity (vision, function or goals), then you need a discovery session.

Getting started with the discovery session

Now that you understand what a discovery session is, let’s look at adding them to your own process. Ready? Let’s get started.

The discovery session as part of your process

The discovery session should be a paid part of the process that happens after the initial phone call and before design or any development. You can roll it into a full proposal you pitch to the client that includes your other services and phases, or you can single it out as its own project. (If you're not sure how, this guide explains how to write a web design proposal.)

Either way you choose, this is more than a meeting even though that is the form it takes, either on the phone, in a video call or in-person.

With a discovery session, you are pulling from all your years and experience with previous projects to help guide the client to getting all the ideas in their head, and some they haven’t even thought of, out on paper. Much like a consultant.

The discovery session should involve all-important players

This means the decision-makers, not their assistants. Not only is this important to streamline communication, but allows you to position to the ones that will move forward with the project.

When done right, the inclusion of a discovery session in your process should excite your leads to move forward with the project and work with you as their website professional. It means you care about their results and taking care of their investment so the project is a success.

Pricing a discovery session

A discovery session should not be free. It involves your time and your expertise. You are helping guide the client to define pieces of the project that they didn’t arrive with when they showed up on your doorstep.

As we discussed, discovery sessions can be sold as one-off services to initially begin work with a client or rolled in as a larger proposal.

So when pricing, view them like a service and more than just your “hourly-rate.” This line item should involve strategies, research and analysis (often detailed in a final PDF) and be priced to reflect that.

It’s popular to price the discovery session as 20% of the overall anticipated website budget.

For example, if a client is looking for a £10K website, you know they can then invest about £2K in the discovery phase to plan the scope of work accordingly.

If you roll the discovery session into a larger project quote, just note in the details you present the client if the project cost could change based on what the discovery session reveals.

Understanding discovery

If a client is resistant to a discovery session, you may be positioning it incorrectly.

Without clear needs, your project proposal is simply a guess, and disappointment is guaranteed.

Typically, you are on the losing end as indecisiveness means multiple revisions, countless notes, and scope creep.

Make sure to communicate that investing in a discovery session will actual save the project time and money. Much like a blueprint for building a house, the project needs a firm foundation and what you are providing is like an architect.

Explain the discovery session as the deliverable you will provide them (ie PDF, Google Doc, or recordings) is an investment into the success of the project.

As we move into the discovery session process with the framework and questions, note what ways you can “deliver” these results so the client can understand what exactly they are investing in.

The discovery session process

Now that we understand how they fit into your own process, let’s create a discovery session template so you know how each session should work.

Discovery session template

The discovery session is a project in itself. And with every project, there should be a process. Consider treating the signing off on the discovery process as kicking off onboarding (like a project would) and welcoming them as a client.

A good template for the discovery session involves five steps to make sure you stay positioned as the expert and deliver on what you promise. Keep in mind that these steps are just a discovery session template and you should adjust them to your needs:

1. Determine if the discovery session is required

Start with an initial conversation with the client to determine if discovery is required. On the call, introduce the need and scope of work so there are no surprises should that be the next step.

2. Put a price on the discovery session

Present a full project proposal or single quote for the discovery session detailing what’s involved and what deliverables will be made available after the meeting. If the project pricing relies on details from the discovery session, note that in the proposal.

3. Initiate the session

Upon acceptance, send a kickoff email and calendar link for them to schedule a call for all the required people. It’s up to you to set up a conference line or online meeting room (if virtual and not in-person). It’s preferable if the meeting can be recorded so you can transcribe for your own reports.

4. Run the discovery session

As the one running the meeting, you set the agenda and control the conversation. If the client is taking too long on one question, it’s up to you to move it along. You can always schedule a follow-up email if you didn’t get all the answers you needed. This way, the client can work on questions after the call and you can focus on items that need dialogue.

5. Analyze and deliver

Take the information from the discovery session and consolidate it into the deliverable promised. This deliverable should be something that stands on its own. It’s good to perform some analysis and repeat back all the information shared so everyone is on the same page and ready to move forward with the project!

Discovery session questions

Do not be intimidated by leading a discovery session.

Discovery is simply discovering the needs of the client, the goals of the website and what success looks like so everyone is pleased with the result.

Much of it involves asking discovery session questions, but with each question is an intended result that will help frame your next step in the project.

Take these discovery session questions as a guide to determine your own agenda for the session, which can vary based on the project and scope.

What is the primary goal of the website?

To discover the primary goal, begin by asking the questions, whywhat and who?

  • Ask your client to define “Why” they are doing what they are doing. This will get them to focus on the larger goal and what impact they are trying to make online.
  • With “the What” the client will now detail the products or services they offer that help them achieve their “Why.” What exactly do they bring to the market? Maybe even have them put these in order from most important to least important.
  • Finally, ask them “Who” this is for? Get them to narrow it down to a group of people who will benefit most from their “What.”

After this exploration, I like to take the primary goal and use the “SMART” goal model.

A SMART goal stands for Specific (targets a specific area for improvement), Measurable (can be tracked), Achievable (it’s realistic), Relevant (relevant to the company mission) and Time-Bound (has a deadline).

For example, the primary goal may look like: “We want 100 students (Specific and Measurable) to sign up for our summer program (Achievable and Relevant) by May (Time-Bound).”

Who is the end-user/target audience? And what is the goal for them using the website?

By knowing who the intended users of the website are, we can narrow in on five areas: AttractCaptureNurtureConvert and Measure.

Walkthrough the steps the website visitor will take in order to eventually convert to the “WHAT” your client is offering (often made clear through the SMART goal you’ve now helped them decide on).

  • Attract: How will your client attract leads? We need to find out from them what their current tools are and how we replicate that experience online.
  • Capture: How does your client capture leads? This question will lead to discussing value with your client and what they can give away in exchange for an email address.
  • Nurture: Is your client set up to currently nurture these leads? Help them brainstorm ideas on what types of email they can send their future leads.
  • Convert: Most importantly, does your client know what steps they want people to take to convert and make a purchase? You’ll need to help them brainstorm and write out ideas.
  • Measure: Lastly, how do we measure all this? Uncover if this metric is visits, email signups or something as simple as a phone call request.

Every client will be different based on their SMART goal.

What are the primary keywords?

Even if search engine optimization (SEO) isn’t included in your proposal or services, knowing the primary keywords for your client is critical to how you build the website.

Getting the client to define their primary keywords help them focus on their copy and how that copy is presented in the new layout of the website or app.

If you don’t have this conversation now, then chances are it will come up too late in the project.

Find out the importance of SEO to your client, and if they need a copywriter or additional SEO efforts to achieve their primary goal.

What have you done in the past or what are your current efforts?

With a clear primary goal (and possibly some secondary goals) you are now able to review the client’s past and current efforts to discover how the website or app will factor into their business’s key performance indicators (KPIs).

How can the website (or app) move the needle for the business?

This question may uncover functionality not previously discussed. That’s a good thing! It means you are getting to the heart of what success looks like for your client and can change the scope of work to meet these needs.

Who are your competitors?

Have the client list out at least three competitors with an online presence. By reviewing competitors, you can evaluate with the client what design elements and functions these websites have that may be attracting the same target audience.

Reviewing competitors also serves as a way for the client to explain their own offering and why they are different. Use the discovery session as a way to narrow in on these similarities and differences.

The wrap up

At the end of this session, your client will have defined, specific goals along with actionable steps to achieve them. You can now present this as a deliverable by having the session transcribed or reworking further research and analysis into a PDF.

Whichever the method, the purpose is for the client to feel they have a clear vision moving forward made possible by the discovery session.

Be the tour guide, not the destination

The website you build will not be the end of the journey for the client. The discovery you set out in the beginning are goals that often take months or years to achieve.

The landscape of the internet is constantly changing and as goals mature or metrics change, you as the expert will be there to help guide the client through the process just like in your first initial discovery session.

Remember: all you need to do is guide your client through this discovery process by leading them as a trusted professional.

With the discovery session deliverable in front of them, they will see their vision and goals and be excited for the journey ahead. Your job is to simply help them implement it. In turn, their leads will convert, their customers will stick around, and their business will grow.

And remember, you can use GoDaddy Pro to help you manage your clients and their websites.