Whether you’re a startup founder, an investor, or an executive producer at an agency, you have probably looked into working with a tech partner that could help you develop a digital product you’re working on.
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The process of finding the right vendor likely goes like this: you either hear about a proven tech company from a friend or search for a reliable software vendor online. Once you spot a company that seems to tick all the boxes in terms of capabilities and experience, you reach out to them via email or a dedicated "estimate a project" form found on their website. Chances are that, when your potential tech partner gets back to you, they suggest organizing a discovery call to get to know each other better and discuss the project in detail. So what is technical discovery call in general?
Discovery calls can launch great partnerships and take you a couple of steps closer to the success of your project. However, they can also turn out to be frustrating for both sides: you—the client and the software company you're talking with. In this blog post, we'll share some tips about approaching discovery calls from the client perspective and tell you how you can better prepare for this meeting. Let's start by explaining the goal of discovery calls.
What is the purpose of a technical discovery call?
A discovery call is a meeting during which you and your potential tech partner can decide whether you're a good fit for each other.
In some verticals, the so-called sales discovery call is primarily an opportunity to "qualify" a potential customer: to determine whether a lead has the characteristics it takes to become a paying client. When it comes to software development, however, the projects are usually quite complex so many different factors come into play here. Keep in mind that building digital products usually requires some collaboration between the client and the tech vendor. A discovery call is an excellent opportunity to verify whether you're truly ready to start a professional relationship with a given software company and to identify all technical risks.
For instance, if you can't find an hour in your calendar to have this meeting or you reschedule multiple times, it might be a sign of similar issues to come. If you don't provide straight answers to the questions asked during the call, it may point to the fact that you only have a vague vision of the project or that you're just exploring the software vendor landscape.
There's nothing wrong with being at an early stage of the product discovery process and not knowing yet how it should like. In fact, we often help our clients with product ideation and strategy. The crucial thing in the discovery phase, however, is that you're straightforward with the potential tech partner and openly discuss different aspects of the product you might be building together. In order to better prepare yourself for a technical discovery call, let's go through the types of questions you can expect from a software vendor.
Discovery call questions: what should you expect?
During the technical discovery call, you'll likely be talking to sales reps and potentially people responsible for project delivery. At Apptension, we always do some research about your business before the call, but we still might have some questions about your company to for in depth understanding of your needs, for instance:
- what makes your company unique in the industry?
- what are the pain points you're trying to solve?
- who are the key stakeholders?
Understandably, the bulk of the technical discovery process has to do with the minimum viable product you want to deliver. The main insights a tech company needs to get have to do with the scope of the project, the timeline, and the budget.
The scope of the project
You can expect questions about the functionalities your end-product should have. You might also discuss things that are specifically not in the scope of this project, e.g. things that will be done by your in-house team. Make sure that you share detailed functional requirements. They will prove very helpful when working on your project's budget and conducting a technical discovery process. Don't worry about spilling the beans: seasoned tech vendors are used to signing confidentiality agreements. Just remember to ask for NDA before the discovery call.
To better understand your market, the sales reps might ask questions about your target audience and the competitive landscape. The software company will also ask about your preferred technology for the project. Based on your answer, they will be able to check if there's a technical match between your needs and their expertise. It may also be the case that they present technical alternatives that might be more cost-effective or better suited to your type of product.
Questions about the timeline are important for several reasons. First of all, they help the software vendor verify whether they have enough available resources with the right skills to deliver the project on time. Secondly, some projects have to be launched on a specific day because, e.g., they're supposed to promote a movie premiere. It's essential that your tech partner knows about such a fixed deadline because they can plan the timeline accordingly. Finally, a timeline-related conversation allows the tech company to find out more about your expectations and discuss their feasibility.
Now, the size of your budget is something you might not be comfortable sharing openly. After all, you might think: what if I go over their regular prices and they give a higher quote because of that? While it's understandable that you might be worried, you need to remember good technical partners are very transparent about their prices. You'll know how much money you're paying for what and why. There really is no room to hide costs in the budget.
Dodging the budget question, on the other hand, may prove to be costly for both sides of the conversation: you may end up with an estimate you don't have a budget for and the software company will spend a lot of time on estimating a project that's never going to happen regardless of their best efforts. It's much better to be upfront about the budget you can allocate for the project. Experienced tech vendors will be able to tell you if it's even feasible to build a given project within that range. If the budget is tight, they can suggest some cost optimizations, e.g., building a less complex version of your product to put it on the market faster and get some paying customers before you start developing the product further.
5 steps to ensure effective communication during the discovery call
1. Prior research
Doing your own research before any business-related meeting or call is always a necessary step you should take. When you're talking to vendors, they would definitely want you to have a general grasp of the services they're offering, and you should since you're the one reaching out to them for the said services. This is often suggested to the selling end of the call, however, it is also applicable to the buyers.
Especially in the current Google era, we are in. Make sure you know some of the practical details about your vendors before reaching out to them, like all the services they offer and their policies, most of which can be found on their websites or business profiles. Going through reviews from other clients is also very helpful to make you certain that you're not going to be wasting any time.
2. A list of questions you may have
When we're on the receiving end of a consultation, we often forget to flag our own worries and raise the questions that have been bugging us.
Some of us hesitate to sound uninformed and be judged. Don't let such worries bother you. It's a service provider's job to help you navigate their services with ease.
Make a list of all the questions you have beforehand and go through them as you're talking with the vendor to make sure they're all answered. Also, don't hesitate to throw in any questions that pop up during the conversation. Clarity from the beginning is better than stressing over the ambiguities later.
3. Key answers prepared beforehand
You must already have an idea of the areas technical discovery questions touch upon. But just to set the record straight, here's a list of how these questions may be presented.
- Can you tell me about your company?
- What metrics are you responsible for?
- What are your goals for the quarter/half/year?
- What challenges are you facing in achieving those goals?
- What do you think would be a solution to that problem?
- Do you have a timeline/plan for implementing a solution?
- Is there a budget for that plan?
- Is there anyone else involved in this decision?
- What are you hoping to see improve once you find a solution?
Now with these questions clearly lined up, it's better you also prepare your answers beforehand. That way, you'll sound more confident and decisive in communicating your goals and expectations to the vendor. It will also be the best for you because taking time to form well-thought answers. So you can be better at keeping things in check rather than talking spontaneously and forgetting some important details or mentioning something you didn't want to during the conversation.
4. Establishing trust
Fostering trust is a two-way phenomenon. When you're talking to a vendor, avoid coming off as too cynical. Give them the chance to explain their end and have some faith in your intuition.
It's also best not to keep things from your potential business partner simply because you don't trust them yet. It will be more productive to share everything openly, as stated before when you're talking about your strategy or the budget.
5. Wrapping up with clarity
The technical discovery call has ended. Both sides have put forward their cases, calculated potential technical risk, and you're certain that you can move ahead with your vendor, make sure to convey it. Leaving things hanging would only give way to misunderstandings and misinterpretations.
Once the call is wrapped up, you can head toward the next big thing.
What are the next steps after the technical discovery call?
If your project is at an early stage and the requirements are not yet set, you should still work on defining them. At Apptension, we offer creative & technical consultancy services, so we often start projects with a discovery phase, during which we work with the client on figuring out the details of their product or service. Before such details are determined, it's impossible to create a reliable cost estimate of the project, you can only count on a ballpark. However, if you're looking for a software team to build a project that's already been defined, the next step after a technical discovery call may be creating an estimate.
How to prepare for a discovery call with a software vendor? Conclusions:
The software vendor you'll be talking with will most likely come prepared to the vendor discovery call. They'll use the information you provided in the contact form/email to find out more about you and make some assumptions about the project. In order for the technical discovery call to be truly effective and be the beginning of a fruitful partnership, you should also be prepared. Take a moment to organize the information you have on your future product: the target audience and their pain points, the scope of the project, and your budget.
If you already have a very specific vision of your project, you can also prepare the details before the call: list the supported devices and browsers, put all of the tech requirements together. It will help your technical partner to create a good cost estimate and a timeline for the project.
Keep in mind that working with a software vendor is a partnership where both parties need to collaborate. Technical discovery calls can help you decide if a given company is a good fit for your project, but in order to have a quality conversation about it you need to provide accurate information. Otherwise, it's much harder to pick optimal technical solutions for your product and create realistic estimates.