Is the Discovery Process Necessary for an Effective Website?

Cole Wiebe
July 25, 2019
Read time: 6 minutes

"Look, I just want a quote, okay."

These are words I've heard many times over the years. Prospective clients often object to entering a discovery process. They don't want to talk about their needs or goals, or discuss the options for achieving desired outcomes. They just want to browse through a few quotations, and pick one. And statistically, business owners who use this process pick the second from the bottom, concluding that the very lowest would probably be worth about as much as they paid for it.

The problem here is that their new website is being viewed as just a commodity. Most people evaluate website proposals the same way they do hamburgers, based upon the list of 'ingredients' vs price. In an RFQ (request for quotation) showdown, the Hardee's burger (in the illustration) would lose, because it doesn't have lettuce, tomato or pickles... a 'shorter list', even though there is far more burger for the money (40% more than the Burger King Double Whopper With Cheese, and nearly twice what's in the McDonald's Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese).

Burger comparison

A client-centric design process assumes that the customer is always right, they know what's best for their business, and the web designer / developer and marketing professional's role is simply that of 'work for hire'. Here's my order... fill it. It's that perception, and the way most customers shop for internet marketing services, that is the reason most websites are listed as a non-recoverable "expense" on the balance sheet.

I'll be the first to admit that many so-called 'web designers' and online marketers are no more than mouse-pushing fulfillment contractors and 'software installers'; the unfortunate product of the way most people shop for internet marketing. Most websites are 'designed' by the client. It's very important here to differentiate between a 'labourer' who simply fills an order, and a 'trusted adviser' skilled in increasing customer engagement and sales.

How is it possible to propose the perfect solution before knowing much about you, your business, your company's history, your competition, who your ideal customers are, your goals and objectives, or even attempting to discover any of the problems the solution is supposed to solve?

As an online marketing consultant and web designer and developer of more than 22 years, I favour an ROI-centric approach with a discovery process, where profit for you, the client, is job #1. And to achieve a great return on investment, we need to become user-centric. We need to focus on your audience and ideal customers.

My question is, "How can I deliver a win for you, if we haven't had the opportunity to even define what a win is?"

Here's something else few buyers of websites think about. Without sufficient discovery, a proposal is based upon very sketchy information, or simply addressing the bullet points on the RFQ, based upon an amateur's perception of what is needed. (No offence is intended here. The business owner is an expert in his/her field, but isn't a professional designer of profitable websites and internet marketing advisor, with hundreds of projects analyzed to base their recommendations upon. When it comes to designing and developing a highly profitable website, with effective content and conversion strategies, they are amateurs.)

The RFQ process is hopelessly flawed. If a proposal is submitted and accepted, the so-called designer (vendor) now fears losing the contract by scrapping or revising any of the initial deliverables of the project. They're locked into the original recommendations, based upon the RFQ bullet points and insufficient information, even though further evaluation now exposes a strategy and features/tactics that are all wrong for the audience, and achieving the sales results the client was hoping to achieve. Oops!

Commodity vendor vs trusted advisor

I believe it is a seasoned professional's duty to carefully research each unique project very carefully, compile the very best solution options for consideration, and help the customer make quality choices based upon the unique aspects of their business, their marketing goals, their ideal customers and budget. In the case of online marketing, the right decisions should always result in increased sales, and a healthy return on investment.

If you want your visitors to become buyers, and give you their money, the website needs to be all about your customers; the valuable content they're looking for, the best user experience, a flow of information that answers all of their questions, earns their trust and engages them in your sales funnel (so you have ongoing influence)... until they become your customer.

When determining the best treatment for complex symptoms, where misdiagnosis could be costly, or even life threatening, the competent physician asks plenty of questions, accompanied by a thorough examination. Additional tests are taken and evaluated. Often more tests are then scheduled to confirm the diagnosis. Physician and patient meet several times to discuss treatment options. And only after this discovery process is the appropriate treatment prescribed. Coming into the office with a self-diagnosis and request for a quotation would be inappropriate, because it negates the medical professional's role as trusted advisor, and the physician doesn't have enough information to even begin discussing costs at the outset. The treatment process begins with several consultations.

With the conventional RFQ and interview process, the owner, or a few members of the management team, look at websites they like and create a shopping list. Without much internet marketing experience, if any, design aesthetics and features become the primary considerations. Requests for quotation are sent out to anywhere from ten to several hundred competing vendors. And the longest list of items/features on the proposal, for the best price, generally wins the bid.

Experienced estimators quickly learn how to game the RFQ process. For example, one company may list the inclusion of a 'blog', with a short paragraph describing it. A competitor cleverly breaks that item down into 8 sub-components. They then do the same thing for almost every item. The resulting fifteen page proposal looks a lot more substantial than most of the "thin" quotes, almost assuring the project will be awarded based on perception of "bang for the buck". For recommendations made completely off the cuff, without any real understanding of what will deliver a return on investment, it sure does look impressive. Nice PowerPoint and proposal, but will it increase sales?

As discussed above, when the buyer puts together a request for proposal, it's like a patient doing a bit of Google research, providing a self diagnosis for their illness, and requesting physicians to tender bids for the delivery of the patient's chosen drugs or surgical procedure. That approach would be ridiculous, of course, and a misdiagnosis could prove fatal.

Nobody takes quotes from a long list of dentists and chooses the lowest bidder to perform a root canal on the tooth the patient has pointed out. It may not even be the right tooth. Rather, we select an established professional, who takes x-rays, evaluates the bone structure of the jaw, and then goes through the advantages and disadvantages of several solutions, which may include a root canal and crown, an extraction and bridge, or dental implant.

For the legal profession, it would be the same as preparing your own defence for a serious crime, then selecting the attorney to present your typed defence in court, as your 'courtroom puppet', based upon his/her attire and the price agreed to on the quotation. While it's highly unlikely any self-respecting lawyer would take on the case under those terms, the outcome would almost certainly include a prison sentence.

Why do we automatically go to established, trusted professionals in these important situations, instead of using a bid process? Because the stakes are high. And yet, today businesses live and die based upon the success of their websites and online marketing. You need an expert, not just someone who can assemble a quick website, based upon your list of bullet points on an RFQ, and a really low price.

Your company's future, or your career, deserve the benefit of the advice of a highly experienced internet marketing professional. To determine the very best solution, there is a discovery process that needs to take place before your adviser has enough information to design a solution that will deliver a solid return on your investment, and fulfill your real list of desired outcomes.

At the end of the day, your website should be a valuable tool that helps you connect with buyers, increase sales and maximize profitability; not just fulfill of a wish list of bullet points on a request for quotation.

How does the discovery process work?

To get a return on your investment, you're buying the successful strategy, and the marketing professional behind it, more than a collection of pixels that form your website on the screen. Building a lead-generating site, and implementing the content marketing strategy, will probably involve working closely together for months, or even a few years. The pre-discovery and discovery processes provide an opportunity for the prospective client and adviser to work together to see if they would be a good fit.

There are usually several phone, Skype or face to face discovery meetings. Those consultations are valuable to you, whether you choose to proceed with a website project with that firm, or not. Once your advisor knows what represents a win for you, the competition you're up against, who your ideal clients are, the content strategy they're going to use to engage your audience and bring them to your site, and the conversion funnel strategy needed to move visitors towards a buying decision; then it's time to propose the initial website design solution, and the content/SEO/promotion strategy.

Final thoughts

Discovery is a tried and proven approach, employed by professionals in many fields, who want to deliver a successful outcome for their clients.


Cole Wiebe, content marketing expert, Vancouver, BCCole Wiebe helps brands and professionals grow their influence and value online; so they can “out content”™ their competition. Cole is a content strategist, content writer, conversion copywriter and online marketing coach.

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