4 Boxes of Discovery with Prospects for a B2B Product
Qualifying B2B design partners as prospective customers requires learning about:
The current state of the business
The desired future state
The required product capabilities to the future state
The success metrics they’ll use
Your goal should be to leave every interaction having added value and having learned new information about their problems, their ideal outcomes, their process, etc.
If you leave a conversation without learning anything about a prospect’s current state, you’re probably pitching.
The future state allows the prospect to step into the hypothetical where their current problems and the negative consequences they cause have been solved.
These potential positive business outcomes also need to be quantifiable, and you’ll need to press for those numbers to make sure it’s something the business actually cares about. What gets measured gets managed!
When we outline the qualification-led sales process with founders, the first question we often get is, “I understand what information we need to pass each gate and why it’s important, but how do we get that information from the prospect customer?”
Enter the concept of the four boxes for performing discovery and taking notes throughout the sales process. These are the four main areas you’ll focus on for discovery:
The current state of your prospect's business
The desired future state of your prospect's business
The required capabilities to get them from the current state to the future state
The success metrics they’ll measure to know they’ve achieved this goal
By following this framework, you won’t forget to cover a specific area and all your notes can be contextualized based on the box they occupy. It’s also easy to continually update this during the sales process and review it with the prospect to make sure you’re aligned.
Here's what a blank version looks like going into a conversation with a potential enterprise customer.
You’ll ask your discovery and qualification questions going left to right, top to bottom. This flow should also align nicely with the (see Building your first customer presentation) that you'll walk the prospect through.
At a high level, these are examples of the questions you should ask for each box as you progress through the sales process.
Suggested questions to ask enterprise sales prospects
Even though it's listed as a unique stage in the sales process, discovery never stops while working with prospects. Your goal should be to always leave every interaction with them (live or async) having added value and having learned new information about their problems, their ideal outcomes, their process, etc. If you leave a conversation with a prospect without learning anything about their current state, you’re probably pitching.
What are the key takeaways in the discovery phase?
The key to great discovery, aside from preparation, is genuine curiosity about the prospect/company's current state:
why they do things the way they do
what could be better
where they want to go
what would it take for them to get there
how will they measure success to know they’ve achieved their goals
What to uncover in the 4 discovery boxes
The current state is all about understanding how things are today for the business, the team, and the individual prospect and what negative consequences (problems) have arisen as a result. Negative consequences should always be quantifiable (money, time, customer count, market share, etc).
You’ll start by learning about the person or team you’re speaking with. You want to understand what they were brought on to achieve in the company and how that’s going. Reference the questions we’ve outlined in the Interviewing innovators Field Guide article to get the most value here. Then, you’ll want to hunt for instances where there's pain around a process or outcome that your product solves, and how the negative consequences are impacting them, their team, and the business as a whole.
The best outcome for the current state is discovering that the prospect agrees with your paradigm on how their workflow could be improved, has a pain that's causing quantifiable negative consequences, and they have a compelling reason and timeline to solve it.
Design partners probably agree with your paradigm on how their workflow could be improved or they wouldn’t be design partners, so you’re likely focused on the last two criteria. For example, you’ll want to uncover if any of the following instances are true.
Examples of quantifiable negative consequences
Missed revenue opportunities of $X
X% of customer churn, resulting in loss of market share
Capital/operating expenditures over budget by $X
Lost productivity resulting in estimated loss of $X potential revenue
Time-to-release taking an average of X, which is Y hours/weeks/days delayed
Current-state sample questions
Walk me through the current process for X. How long does that take? What would you be able to achieve if that time was cut in half or reduced altogether?
What’s keeping you from achieving that?
Help me understand the importance of X? Who else in the business cares about this? How do they measure it?
Given the choice, would you rather your team spend their time on X or Y? What higher-value tasks could they tackle if they had that time back? Why those?
Which tools do you rely on to complete your workflow? What’s the hardest part about using them? Is this your ideal workflow, or are you actively trying to enhance it?
Current-state key learnings about a prospect
Where the person or team sits within the company's org chart
The person or team's focus for the next six to 12 months
Their workflow and how impact is measured
Whether they're experiencing quantifiable negative consequences that your product can solve
Whether there's a compelling reason to solve these problems now
Now that you’ve got an understanding of the current state and what's broken, it's time to transition your discovery to what an ideal scenario would be.
The future state allows the prospect to step into the hypothetical where their current problems and the negative consequences they cause have been solved. These potential positive business outcomes also need to be quantifiable, and you’ll need to press for those numbers to make sure it’s something the business actually cares about. What gets measured gets managed!
Future-state sample questions
Describe the impact to the business if you were able to achieve X. How would you measure that?
How could your team enable your company to get an advantage on the competition?
How would you like to spend your time if X wasn’t an issue any more? What gains could you recognize as a result?
How might you reinvest the budget currently spent on operational overhead (infrastructure, full-time employees, redundant platforms) if those tasks could be delivered as a service?
When talking to prospects about their ideal workflow, process, and outcomes, make sure to always ask second- and third-level questions to verify that these aren’t just pipe dreams or nice-to-haves. Again, you’re trying to get to quantifiable business outcomes like these:
Examples of positive business outcomes
Reduce time to market by Y, resulting in estimated $X gain in net-new revenue
Reduce time to decision-making by Y%
Increase revenue growth rate of X%
Spend $X less on infrastructure
$X increase in revenue stream from new product launch
Team gained Y% of their time back, dedicating it to X project that resulted in Z% quicker time to deploy
Reduce budgeted full-time employee head count by X
Future-state key learnings about a prospect
The ideal workflow for the prospect, the team, and/or the company
How the line of business owners measures the impact of moving to this ideal workflow
The bridge between a prospect's current state and their future state can be found in the required capabilities. These features allow them to solve their negative consequences and unlock positive business outcomes. The majority of required capabilities should tie back to paid features of your product and are, ideally, unique to your solution.
It's OK for one or two of the required capabilities to be product aspects that aren’t behind a paywall, or that your competition (including internal tooling) can do. However, if the majority of the required capabilities don’t tie back to features the prospect would pay for, they're likely not qualified and don’t warrant spending time with until that changes.
Required capabilities sample questions
What capabilities would allow you to solve your current pain around X?
What would the workflow look like in order to achieve those positive business outcomes?
If you could have one or two product capabilities to get a 10x increase in your team’s output, what would they be?
In the workflow you described, if you could offload two or three of those tasks to a product, which ones would they be? Why?
Required capabilities key learnings
Whether paid features allow the prospect to get from their current state to the desired future state
Whether these features are currently available in the product
Success metrics measure how the prospect’s business will know when they have achieved their ideal future state and positive business outcomes. These are usually technical in nature, since they are how you measure required capabilities.
If positive business outcomes speak to the line of business BUYERS (CEO, CRO, CFO, etc.), then the success metrics usually speak to the technical USERS/BUYERS (VPE, CTO, CIO, CISO, etc.)
Examples of success metrics
Increase release cadence by X%
Reduce time to production by X days/weeks/months
Consolidate workloads from X platforms into one instance
Reduce the amount of time team spends on non-strategic manual tasks by X%
Meet deployment date of Y
# of FTEs required to complete release decreased by X
Success metrics key learnings
What they'll measure in order to know if they’ve achieved the desired future state
The technical success metrics that would provide positive business outcomes