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The Discovery Session: How to Create & Sell Introductory Services

By Michael Zipursky

Have you ever spoken to an ideal client and sent in a proposal feeling like it’s a guaranteed juicy new piece of business…

…only for them to get cold feet out of nowhere — and respond to your proposal with “we’ll get back to you on this at a later date?”

Ouch. It hurts, huh?

You’re not alone. In fact, this is a common challenge among consultants.

This happens because your ideal client…

  1. Hasn’t worked with you yet
  2. Doesn’t yet feel the level of trust to hire you

So, how can you overcome that?

How can you get your “foot in the door” with this client, so you can deliver real value?

That’s where your discovery session comes in.

What Is A Discovery Session?

A discovery session is a smaller-scope, lower-priced, introductory service to offer your consulting clients.

It creates tremendous value for both you and your potential consulting clients.

It’s valuable for your clients because…

  • It’s inexpensive. Clients have a budget. If you fit within their budget, they’re more likely to accept it (however, your client’s budget is more flexible the better you are at value-based pricing).
  • It involves the least amount of risk. Before you successfully complete a project for a client, they will feel a certain amount of risk — but a discovery session, as a smaller project, reduces this risk.
  • It lays out the path ahead. A discovery session is like the blueprint for a house. It provides a plan for all further work and helps ensure the implementation is successful.

And valuable for you because…

  • It’s typically fixed in price and scope. You don’t need to worry about negotiation on the price of figuring out the deliverable. It’s the same thing every time.
  • It’s easier to sell. Unlike a full consulting engagement, discovery offers are easier and quicker to sell. They are lower-priced and don’t require a consulting proposal.
  • It leads to larger engagements. You’ll find that your clients who go through your discovery session often invest in a full engagement with you because you “set the stage” for the project.

By the end of this post, you’ll understand how to create, sell, and run your first discovery session.

And if you continue to offer and improve your discovery session, it will become a core part of your business — helping you generate revenue and bigger consulting projects.

To help you understand successful discovery session offers, we’ll look at three examples that come from 3 of our Clarity Coaching clients.

How Discovery Sessions Help: IT Consultant Case Story

Prior to working with Consulting Success®, Software/Technology consultant Sam Schutte did free discovery work for clients before presenting them with a proposal.

It didn’t work.

“I can’t get approval for this amount of money,” his buyers would respond with after reading his proposal.

Sam regularly charges 6-figures for his consulting work. Going from free consulting to $100K+ consulting threw his clients off.

So instead of giving away this discovery session work for free, he began charging for it.

For $2500-$5000, he’ll spend an afternoon with the client and make a plan for their project. They work out if their goals are feasible, what it would take to accomplish them, potential roadblocks, etc.

There is tremendous value in these types of conversations — value you should be capturing for yourself. 

Now, Sam begins 100% of his consulting projects with a discovery offer.

As a result, he won a $250,000 engagement, increased his revenue by 60%, and has much more confidence he can close large consulting projects.

Check out episode #119 of the Consulting Success® Podcast to learn more about how discovery session’s transformed Sam’s consulting business.

Mike’s eCommerce Operations Discovery Session

Mike helps eCommerce companies build operations that scale.

His clients almost always start with his discovery session: the Ops Performance review.

ops performance review discovery session

The Ops Performance Review helps his clients understand how complex their eCommerce operations improvement project will be. And it helps Mike understand the current state of his client’s business.

To build this offer, Mike started by outlining the key areas of operations that eCommerce companies need to have mastered. Then, he built a scoring system based on these 12 areas — and gave it a nice acronym (BOSS).

These 12 areas give his client a score and determine their operational risk.

During the Ops Performance Review, Mike gathers all types of data and information about his client and their business. He records all of this in order to analyze his client through the 12 areas.

After going through this analysis, Mike sends his client a thorough, 10-20 page report outlining the client’s score.

He then provides a summary, risk & recommendations, and how he will help. It takes him about 10 hours on average to complete this report.

He presents the report to his clients on a call, and then, offers another call to discuss how he will help. This is where he offers a further engagement where they do the implementation, and help the client improve on the areas where they scored poorly.

Andrew’s UX Audit Discovery Session

Andrew helps businesses improve their website experience for their customers online.

Andrew is well known in the UX field. Not only does he have a well-established consulting website, but he also has a personal brand website.

Most of Andrew’s engagements start with his discovery offer: a UX Audit.

ux audit discovery session

During the UX Audit, Andrew does an assessment on his client’s current website. Like a doctor, he is looking to diagnose the problems going on with his client’s website.

The deliverable is a guided presentation, with 1 finding per page. Each page consists of a finding, proof, data, and recommendations.

What each page does is showcase the problems that are causing his client’s to lose revenue due to UX issues on their website.

For example, Andrew also includes user testing — quotes from his client’s real customers about the problems they are having with the website — that drive home the point. Like Mike, he also uses a scoring model.

The report is so effective because it reduces the client’s level of confidence, shows them what they don’t know, and positions Andrew as the expert to solve these problems.

The UX Audit has become a core offer in Andrew’s firm. After the presentation, he schedules a second meeting to present the next steps — how he will help them solve these issues.

Adam’s Operational Assessment Discovery Session

Adam helps construction companies streamline their business, operations, management, and marketing.

Before a full engagement, Adam highly recommends clients go through his discovery session: the Operational Assessment.

operational assessment consulting discovery offer

The construction companies that Adam works with are very complicated and involve over 20 different areas. He prompts his clients to download their Operational Assessment brochure, where they learn about his service in more detail.

If they are interested, they must send Adam all of the information he requires: documents on cash flow, org chart, salaries — everything Adam needs to build the report.

He also runs 2-3 full-day workshops with his clients to gather more data. Adam then analyzes all of this data and starts putting his report together.

The report itself takes 40 hours to write, and he guarantees it within 10-15 business days. It’s about 36 pages.

3 days after the report, he schedules a presentation with the client. This follow-up presentation includes an ROI calculator, showing the estimated ROI for the client if they invest in his further help. The numbers Adam uses in the ROI calculator come directly from the client.

75% of these operational assessments lead to bigger, 6-figure projects business for Adam.

Discovery Session Key Themes/Checklist

What do these 3 successful discovery offers have in common?

  • They are branded. The consultants have not only created these offers, but they’ve made them attractive: naming them, designing them, and making them stand out.
  • They create stand-alone value. Even if the client does not engage the consultant for further work, they are getting tremendous value from the reports themselves.
  • They highlight the client’s problems and upside. Clients are more likely to take action when you highlight their problems, and then show them the financial upside if they solve these problems. The discovery session is the perfect offer to do this.
  • They have some sort of scoring system. A scoring system makes the client’s problems more apparent and motivates them to want to increase their score.
  • They provide clear next steps. If you provide your client with recommendations and clear next steps, investing in your help will organically emerge as their next step.
  • They follow a step-by-step process. With your discovery offer, you should know exactly what to do every time, which reduces complexity and fosters mastery.
  • They are a core part of the consultant’s business. Discovery sessions might start off as a side-project — but when you follow the examples in this post, they will become a tremendous value-driver for both you and your clients. Eventually, you can turn it into a productized offer.

Action Step: Map Out Your Discovery Session Offer

Now that you have seen 3 examples of discovery sessions — and understand their commonalities — you are ready to build your first discovery session.

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Write the steps to your typical consulting engagement.
  2. Split it into two parts: the front-end (what you do before implementing your expertise), and the back-end (what you do while implementing your expertise). Your discovery session will come from this front-end.
  3. Break down your client’s business into specific areas where you help.
  4. Create a scoring system based on these areas.
  5. Brand your offer: give it a name based on what it will help your clients achieve.
  6. Offer it to one of your potential clients.

Imperfect action is the key. Your first discovery session offer won’t be perfect. Your first time delivering it is a part of building it.

But over time, as you continually deliver it, it will get better and better.

And once you master it, it will become a core revenue-generator for your consulting business.

Do you offer a discovery session in your consulting business?

If not, how do your consulting engagements usually start?

Leave a comment and join the discussion — and tell us what you think about this key concept!

If you’re looking for creating a profitable discovery session, check out our Clarity Coaching Program.

We will help you create a turn-key discovery session that not only generates quick revenue for your consulting business — but sets you up for bigger projects.

2 thoughts on “The Discovery Session: How to Create & Sell Introductory Services

  1. John Latham says:

    Great article, Michael! You broke down this process beautifully and made its value really stand out. I can’t wait to develop my own discovery process now. Thank you!

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