How to Conduct the all-important Scoping Meeting

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Millie Meldrum from SalesGRID interviewed our CEO and Co-founder David Marshall in October 2021. David is a sales veteran and an expert in B2B sales. 

The following is an edited transcript of the interview discussing the importance of scoping and how to best undertake it within the sales process. 

Millie

Millie

Today we’re going to talk about running a scoping meeting. 

So can you explain to us, exactly what is scoping and why is it important?

What is Scoping?

David

David

Scoping is sometimes referred to as the discovery processor as the scoping phase with the customer. 

And it’s important, it’s absolutely crucial in B2B sales because this is the formal stage where you’re trying to work out how to connect your solution to the customer’s problem. 

You need to work out how to connect your product or service to their business requirements.  

Here’s the thing with B2B sales: we’re not selling widgets.  We are selling complex solutions. There is enough complexity that the customer and vendor need to come together to match up, validate and clarify the requirements and capabilities.

So that’s what scoping is, it’s about digging into the customer’s situation to understand their requirements so that you can produce a proposal that hits the mark.

Why do we need scoping in B2B Sales?

Millie

Millie

Why do you think it’s crucial to the sales process?

David

David

Yeah, it is crucial because it talks to how we translate complexity into comprehension for the customer. Because the only reason why the customer is engaging with you as a salesperson is because they’re looking for a solution that’s not transactional. 

They’re not looking for a widget or a commodity. If it was that simple they’d be able to go on the internet to research you and they’ll be able to buy your product online or buy your competitors product online. This is the way of the world as more and more products and services are being “intermediated” meaning that the salesperson is being cut out of the process because there are a lot of products and services that you can procure now online. 

But there’s still a huge part of the B2B economy where it isn’t that easy. The customer needs to go through this procurement part or this buying process with the vendor to find what they need to make an informed decision.

This is why the buyer scoping process is pivotal because it is that formal process where we are working hard with the customer, partnering with the customer to help understand what their requirements are and how we can then fit our product and service to their needs. 

Or if we can don’t have a really good fit –  we should be confident enough to walk away from the opportunity.

Where to fit scoping into your sales process

Millie

Millie

Where in the process do you think scoping should fit into or where do you put it in your sales process?

David

David

Yes, that is an important question. Because initially, I would say that it fits in at a particular stage in the process.  Most sales organisations will have a five or six-stage sales process and quite often there’ll be a stage called scoping (or discovery, requirements analysis etc). 

If there isn’t that they certainly should have within their process a very clear step that says, right, this is the step in the process where we’re going to do a very specific effort around scoping and discovering. 

But thinking about the question more Millie, it’s not just one step or one stage.  You should be doing Scoping in a lot of your interactions with the customer. So from the moment you do that initial introduction call,  you’re naturally already asking questions, you’re scoping the environment, then you’re learning about their situation and requirements. 

You could take this even further to say that even at the top of the funnel, with marketing automation, we’re gathering information and starting the scoping process. So throughout the whole sales process, you are constantly in a kind of fact-finding or discovery mode? 

Nonetheless, there should be a stage in the process where you need to formally conduct a scoping effort with your prospective customer. And so where does it actually fit in? 

An agreed scoping session should fit it in after you have fully qualified the customer. That is because you are going further down the funnel you are now investing some significant time in this effort. If you’re working in a fairly technical area the scoping is going to involve not just the salesperson but other support people, solution engineers or technical people that have significant expertise. 

These expert resources in this process carry a significant cost. So, you’re making an investment and you should only make that investment in scoping if you have sufficiently qualified the customer. 

Specifically, you should be conducting a formal scoping session if they have confirmed they are in a buying mode. You also need to have confirmed that there is a sufficient fit between their requirements and your company’s offering. This validation can be done in the lead up to the scoping meeting with some high-level requirement questions.

In summary, if you think about a sales process in terms of key stages, you might have a lead generation stage, initial qualification stage, and then typically your Scoping, or discovery phase will come straight after that.

steps-involved

What steps are involved in Scoping?

Millie

Millie

As you just said, scoping isn’t just one step. So what are the multiple steps that are involved in scoping?

David

David

If we talk purely about the formal Scoping effort, there’s going to be a big step, which is the scoping call or the scoping workshop, depending on the size of the deal. If you have a multi-million dollar deal, you might actually run a half-day workshop with the customer. The customer might actually demand that you run multiple workshops as part of the scoping on these really big deals. 

But, let’s say you are working a $100,000 deal. Typically there’s got to be some sort of Scoping meeting. But then you have to think about the steps you need to take to prepare for the workshop.

Preparing for the Scoping meeting

Some of the things you need to be thinking about are, what resources do I need to bring into this meeting? What resources does the customer need to bring into the meeting? What are the key areas to delve into? etc

Clearly there’s a bunch of preparation. And this is a really important area where I think we salespeople can fall down. Because we develop a level of expertise and comfort in our space and we can get a bit lazy.  We tend to cut corners in our preparation. So it’s really important to take a pause and think about this investment you’re making and maximise your potential to benefit from this investment. 

To do that, who are the right people? What resources are we bringing in?  Obviously, when am I going to call this workshop and where, how are we going to do it, via zoom in person? Planning tactically and strategically for how you’re going to get the most out of this meeting.

This will involve going over everything you’ve learned and gathered in the process to date.

The worst thing you can do for a scoping meeting is to rock up and start with “a  blank sheet of paper”. You should come well prepared with everything you’ve learned so far. 

Now there’s plenty of other things. 

It’s going to vary from industry to industry, but some high-value activities you can do in preparation for a scoping workshop include:

  • Send a questionnaire to the customer in advance
  • Send a draft “return brief” to document “this is what we understand currently and that these are the gaps you want to fill in for the Scoping workshop”

The main point is that you need to think and plan for the workshop as opposed to just rocking up to have a good old chinwag with the customer. And let’s be honest, this happens more often than not. As a salesperson, you’ve got to have the discipline to push back against the easy route. 

So, what other steps are involved? 

When running the scoping workshop, let’s assume it is a two-hour workshop. Again, this is a big investment by you AND the customer. So obviously the meeting needs to be run in a highly professional way. But you need to be perhaps on a heightened alert, I think for the scoping workshop, rather than seeing it as a point in the process where you are not selling.

Running the meeting

So you need to run the workshop professionally. And part of that professionalism is that you need to make sure you not only gather the right information but you actually document as much information as you can out of that workshop.

Naturally, with technology today, if it’s via Zoom, or Teams or WebEx, make sure you get permission from the customer in advance to record the workshop so that you know you can have people then afterwards go over and make sure everything is picked up from the discussion. 

Just little planning tips like, the customer might insist they use their teams or their WebEx or whatever. If they’re doing that, you need to confirm that they can record it and share it with you. If you can’t get a recording, then you have got to make sure you have a damn good note-taker in the meeting who is going to be taking notes for everything that’s been learned through the scoping workshop. 

Remember, there are different ways of discovering information. I think, again, salespeople tend to think I’m gonna rock up the scoping workshop, I’m gonna ask a bunch of questions and get answers back. 

Now that’s OK, but it’s very one dimensional. There’s other dimensions or ways in which you can gather information. 

You can use exhibits during the meeting to help drive the discussion. Rather than just having talking heads on the Discovery call. Whether in a meeting or on Zoom, actually get people to view exhibits that can clarify what they understand the situation is.

People often think more visually, than they do in an auditory way. So that helps them draw out their thoughts and share information with you. So yeah, just being creative and thinking in different ways about how to run the meeting.

An exhibit could be a diagram that illustrates the requirements, it could be a visual that illustrates the future state versus the current state. Another technique is to ask the customer to walk you through their current process (or a part thereof) in real-time.

Remember, a lot of customers are going to be thinking “I am going to spend two or three hours for 4  different vendors”. Not only is it time-consuming, but it can also be pretty boring!

How can you actually make the scoping meeting engaging and enjoyable for the customer? Because that’s a good thing in itself, a good thing emotionally for your customer to feel like the vendor ran an engaging experience. But it’s also going to deliver a better result in terms of that Scoping effort.

after-the-meeting

After the meeting

Finally, Millie, the third bucket of steps, is all the activity “post-workshop”. And so many times salespeople fall down here. They might send back some perfunctory notes after the meeting.

Clearly confirming back the outcome of the scoping workshop is absolutely crucial. At a minimum, “this is what we talked about – this is how we understand what you’ve told us“.  Of course, the detail is going to vary a lot. If you’re an engineering firm – engineers tend to do this stuff in their sleep – how they’ll document all the technical drawing, technical details. But in other businesses where the salesperson is leading the effort – maybe not so much.

The scoping document needs to be a sales document. It’s not just a set of notes and bullet points. It needs to confirm customer requirements in a way that differentiates your offering. You can do this by bringing insight into their problem. (check out this article on asking questions).

And the final thing I would say is again, this whole frame of Scoping is really integral to the entire sales process. Don’t just leave that scoping document as an artefact. 

Make sure you engage the customer to actually comment on that document. You’ve got so many sharing tools now with cloud technology.  Ask them to collaborate with you on the document and try to make it a living, breathing, evolving document throughout the sales process. Ultimately, it should be strongly reflected in your proposal. So a lot of steps there Millie, but that’d be the big ones. 

Questions to be asking

Millie

Millie

Awesome. Can you tell us a few of the key questions you would be asking in that initial scoping meeting to engage the customer?

David

David

Yes, So again, there’s this whole theme of you know, just rock up to the meeting and wing it. And again, you tend to do it, the more expert you become in your role because you can kind of wing it. But you shouldn’t, because you will always get the most optimal result if you plan and prepare for these meetings with some key questions that you’re going to ask. 

There are really four buckets of questions or categories that you should be thinking about. 

(check out this article on asking questions).

Functional Questions

Obviously, there are the functional details to draw out and this is where most salespeople start and stop. For example, if you are selling Payroll software: “tell me, how many people in your payroll team, how many people actually get paid, when do you have to run payroll, how much time does it take the team to do the process, what sort of issues in the process etc?”. 

 

These are all functional questions. You’re trying to understand, functionally, what the customer needs for a solution. And of course, you know, you might even have a checklist of all the typical questions that need to be asked. 

Now, if there’s a lot of questions, and most of them are generic, they should be asked in advance of the scoping meeting. You can validate them back either in the meeting or some other mechanism because it’s actually some other categories that are even more important for scoping.

Contextual Questions

You’ve also got to dig into the contextual categories. So contextual areas of scoping and discovery are, contextually, why are they looking for this solution? Why is it important? What’s actually triggered this process? Your payroll system has been, you know, poor for the last five years, – why now? 

And contextually around who are the key players who are the key stakeholders, and a lot of this information, again, may have been or should have been, perhaps gathered before the scoping meeting, but you definitely want to be validating within the scoping meeting, some of these contextual matters will have an impact on the buying decision. And it doesn’t mean you’re going to get answers to all these questions. 

Another contextual layer is to find out who has been asked to tender,  which vendor(s) have been used before,  getting the competitive landscape. These are all valid areas to probe into before and during the scoping meeting and after.

questions-to-be-asking

Commercial Questions

So commercial questions, again, validating either their budget parameters to have money allocated this year or next financial year, What sort of win are they looking for in terms of ROI? Do they expect a 10x sort of return on their investment? and so on. 

But it’s not just the financial aspects of the commercial situation. You also need to dig into what are the costs and expectations on their own in terms of resources? What are they going to put into this purchasing decision and implementation? 

Whether it’s implementing a solution or an ongoing service – what ongoing resources internally are required to manage your product or service? So this piece tends to get missed in the ROI. It’s not just the dollar investments provided by the vendor.

There are all these other internal cost change management costs, digging into the risk profile of this project, how risky does it feel for the customer to be going from the status quo to the new solution? So digging into that, you’ve got this other dynamic by the way as you’re asking questions. 

Presumably, in the scoping you’ve done good preparation and you have all the right people in the room. But that doesn’t always happen. Yeah, it might be someone can’t make it to the meeting or whatever, how are you then going to make sure you’ve got a really good Q&A registered against all these questions across all the different people that are involved in the buying decision. 

Procedural Questions

So procedural type questions like how am I going to get to a yes and then to a contract, the legals. All the procedural stuff around how to get stuff done inside the organisation. Because you’re selling your service into one company that might have a very different sort of implementation profile for one organisation compared to another in terms of how they go through their whole sign off process and how they allocate resources and so on. How do they measure the success of the solution? 

So there’s  Functional, Contextual, Commercial and Procedural. Four categories in which you can ask a whole range of questions depending on the nature of the business, and the nature of the product and service that you are marketing.

top-tips

Davids Top Tip for Scoping and Discovery

Millie

Millie

Yeah, awesome. Thank you so much. And just to sum up, and to finish us off, can you give us your top tip for scoping In general.

David

David

Top tip for scoping? My top tip Millie would be to see Scoping to see discovery as a fantastic opportunity for you to differentiate your company against the competition. It’s obviously also a great opportunity to learn more about your customer. It’s a great opportunity to really understand what needs to be delivered, obviously. 

But really, my top tip would be primarily to see scoping as a great opportunity to differentiate yourself, to differentiate you as a salesperson, to differentiate your solution engineer pre-sales or whoever’s supporting you. 

But to differentiate the brand of your company in the customer’s mind as – 

“gee whiz, you know that vendor x, they were more professional, they were more prepared. They asked more very interesting questions that no one else is asking about the contextual, functional, commercial and procedural aspects… “

“they also ran a really good discovery workshop, it was really interesting,  we didn’t just have a chat for two hours, they showed us all some really interesting exhibits on the way that we’re thinking about our problem”

“ and we actually learned some stuff from the scoping meeting. It wasn’t just a one-way download.”

So if you can think of Scoping as an opportunity to differentiate – then it’s going to produce a whole bunch of stuff, right? You’re going to get great information, you’re going to learn a lot, and you are going to position yourself favourable against your competitors.

Millie

Millie

Awesome. Thank you so much. 

David

David

No worries, Millie. Thank you. 

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