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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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 discovery call, let's go through the types of questions you can expect from a software vendor.
During the 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 better understand your needs, for instance:
Understandably, the bulk of the discovery process has to do with the project 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.
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. 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.
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 discovery call may be creating an estimate.
The software vendor you'll be talking with will most likely come prepared. 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 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. 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.