As a procurement consultant, listening to and understanding client needs is absolutely essential. Indeed, it’s a key skill for anyone issuing a request for proposal (RFP) on behalf of an organization. Accordingly, asking the right client discovery questions can be the difference between selecting the perfect vendor and a failed RFP process.
Thoughtful client discovery questions get to the heart of your clients’ needs. For example, they reveal project goals, stakeholder dynamics and important decision factors. It helps you avoid unexpected roadblocks in the process.
So, this blog focuses on client discovery as part of procurement consulting. Specifically, you’ll learn client discovery basics and best practices. Then, you’ll review a list of sample client discovery questions that kick-start conversations.
What is client discovery?
Client discovery is how a consultant gathers information about an organization’s needs and goals in regard to a particular project. It may include in-person or virtual discussions as well as written questionnaires. The goal of the process is for the consultant to get to know the client and learn about their needs and expectations. Generally, client discovery is fairly informal and facilitated by the consultant.
In procurement consulting, client discovery is one of the first (and most important) steps of the process. It sets the tone for the engagement and helps to understand what a successful outcome looks like for each client.
Client discovery information helps:
- Establish RFP criteria
- Write customized RFP questions
- Select which vendors to include in the RFP
- Score proposals
- Make a final recommendation
Essentially, it’s the foundation for the entire process. Furthermore, thorough client discovery builds client confidence, establishes scope, sets expectations and guides the direction of the project.
Client discovery best practices
Hopefully, if you’re a consultant that manages RFPs on behalf of clients, you already have a client discovery process in place. However, if you’re new to the field or facing recurring challenges, it’s a good idea to examine your process.
Far too often, procurement consultants uncover new information too late in the process. For instance, have you ever had a stakeholder bring up previously unmentioned deal-breaker criteria during proposal scoring? Sometimes it happens, but situations like this leave you in a tough position. It’s not a good experience for you, the vendor or your client. Luckily, you can reduce the risk of running into surprises by following these client discovery best practices.
Define your process
When it comes to client discovery, consistency counts. Start by establishing a repeatable process. This enables you to identify opportunities for optimization. Next, use the process a few times. You can be certain that you’ll quickly identify what works and what doesn’t. Furthermore, sharing a thoughtful, well-defined process with your client boosts confidence and collaboration.
Take advantage of technology
When used properly, technology can vastly improve the procurement consulting experience. Indeed, moving the RFP process from Excel, Word and email into a centralized, automated RFP management system delivers value to everyone involved.
Consultant benefits: A strategic sourcing solution with vendor profiles, RFP templates, automatic scoring and added value for clients and vendors
Client benefits: A centralized place to answer client discovery questions, see project progress updates, assign stakeholder scoring roles, and provide data-based, auditable outcomes
Vendor benefits: An easier way to engage with knowledge library response storage, AI-powered suggestions and workflow tools.
Offer an overview
Before you begin the RFP process, walk the client through the steps. Share what you will handle for them and what they will be responsible for. Additionally, answer common questions like: How will you communicate? When should they expect updates? How much time will you need from them?
When the client understands the process and how their information is used, they’re better equipped to provide useful context and clear guidance.
To explore the RFP process in more detail, download the ebook: The RFP process guide.
Don’t make them repeat themselves
Typically, by the time a client gets to the discovery process, they’ve had a number of discussions with your firm already. Whenever possible, review the questions that have been asked and answered previously. Then, during your meeting, you can confirm your understanding without asking the same questions again.
Include the right people
Whether you send client discovery questionnaires digitally or host a group call, it’s important to gather input from stakeholders with different points of view. Sometimes, it’s easiest to task your primary contact with the duty of gathering input and reporting back.
On the other hand, with RFP software, you can assign questions to the individuals with the most knowledge of each topic. Either way, expanding the discovery conversation beyond a singular point of contact gives you a more complete picture of the client’s needs and expectations.
Document your takeaways
During client discovery, you’re going to face a barrage of information — take notes. After the meeting, but before you do anything else, gather and condense your takeaways. Then, send your primary point of contact a summary of what you learned and ask them to verify your understanding. Be sure to include:
- Problem statement
- Project goal
- Background summary
- Prioritized criteria
- Proposed scope
- Project timeline
Sample client discovery questions
One of the biggest challenges in consulting is knowing which client discovery questions will uncover crucial insights. Your questions should get to the heart of your client’s needs. Often, this means learning about the organization’s past, current state and future goals. Remember, you want to gather as much information as possible without taking up too much of the client’s time.
So, before writing your client’s RFP, consider asking these questions to help direct the conversation.
- What prompted you to begin the procurement process? Why now?
- What problems will this solution solve?
- Describe your current state. Who is your current vendor?
- How will you measure the success of this project? What are your goals?
- Do you have a hard deadline for implementation?
- What are your must haves?
- Are there technical requirements?
- What is the budget for this project?
- Are other departments impacted by this purchase?
- Who will be the final decision maker?
- Are there any vendors that we need to include in the RFP process?
- Do you anticipate any roadblocks?
- How often would you like updates, and how would you like them delivered?
- Have you worked with a procurement consultant previously? How did it go?
Ultimately, listening to your clients is the key to success. However, knowing the right questions to ask makes the process much easier. Explore these resources to learn more about how the best RFP software enables consultants to save time and add value to their client and vendor relationships.
- Vendor sourcing and RFP software for consulting firm
- Client discovery for request management
- Piper Jordan case study: Enhancing objectivity and results
- Lockton case study: Delivering a better client experience
“Moving this process online — instead of asking clients or prospects to sift through a giant [client discovery] Word doc — is a huge plus. They can add other members of their team and have them answer questions at the same time without having to worry about duplicating responses. That’s been a game-changer.” – Lockton