Sep 18, 2020

Read Time 6 min

Q&A: How to Have More Strategic Customer Conversations


Have you stopped to ask yourself if your customer conversations and QBRs are really about your customer – or are they about what your customers thinks about your product?

Do you understand the “why” that drives their day-to-day priorities? Are they giving you their unvarnished perspective in a way that can help your company learn and grow?

Having conducted over 2,000 B2B customer interviews, Bob London of Chief Listening Officers joined us to share his best conversational tactics including:

  • The go-to questions that yield candid responses
  • The right way to frame conversations, ask questions, and follow up
  • Tips on “listening between the lines” to maximize insights

Chief Listening OfficerIf you missed the webinar, you can watch it on-demand.

Q&A Recap:

Speaker: Bob London of Chief Listening Officers


Q: Please explain the three customer P’s mentioned during the webinar.

A: It’s your customer’s problems, priorities, and perception. Problems include both the business problems and tactical problems that you’re trying to solve as a vendor. Priorities rank their problems by importance. And there’s perception, which is often an area of disconnect between vendors and customers.

For example, I worked with a very successful, fast-growing publication that had no revenue problems. They talked about themselves using a particular word and they were very proud of this. I don’t want to give it away since I’m doing a case study on it that I’ll publish soon. But they said they were all about X, and it was a very specific function. But when I went to their customers and readers, they didn’t use that word to describe them. They used words that were much lower down the value chain. So, you can’t just assume people understand what you are. Once you decide your positioning and brand identity, you have to tell your audience over and over and over again.

Q: Should you send a discovery meeting email invite (see template below) to the company’s CEO, your daily contact, or someone else?

A: It should be someone who has decision making authority and responsibility. They might be at the executive level, but it’s someone who has enough domain experience in the job function that you’re selling to. The other way to think about it is that it must be someone who recognizes firsthand the value of the solution and knows what it costs. I’ve had some conversations where the customer loves it, but they don’t know what the return on investment is or what it costs. Then I’ve had other conversations where they know what it costs, but they’re not hands-on with it. So, look for someone who’s got both parts of that equation.


Q: How do you introduce more strategic conversations to the customer? For example, if you have weekly client meetings, but they’re more transactional. 

A: In my experience – and I’ve said this same thing about sales – you ideally want to separate this conversation from any other topic. If it’s part of a QBR, the risk is that it becomes part of the QPR, sort of like a routine. This is not routine. This is something special that you’re doing. You also want the customer to have a quiet mind. I have these meetings one-on-one so it would not be appropriate to have tons of people on the phone.

This is also not really a sales thing. Yes, salespeople can use some of these questions to get at the ultimate drivers behind the deals they’re working, but I would keep it separate in terms of framing.

In terms of framing, you can position it as an initiative in your organization that comes from the CEO. Then it gets internally and externally announced in e-mails as not just another meeting, but as a series of conversations with individual customers that are designed to help you better understand their world.

Sometimes, I call it the “agenda-less listening tour” because it doesn’t have a place in the enterprise; there’s no one in charge of listening. There’s no budget for listening, sadly. But it’s important to communicate and frame it when it’s a priority for your company, and customers will appreciate that.


Q: How long is a discovery meeting and how many questions should you ask?

A: It depends on the situation. The e-mail template (shown in question #2) asks for 30 to 45 minutes of the customer’s time. The number of questions really shouldn’t have much baring on it. It has to do with asking just enough questions to get what you feel is helpful to you. The only real limit is that you should respect their time and not go past 45 minutes.

It might just be me, but most of the time, if someone’s on a roll, and it’s been 45 minutes, they’ll keep talking because they have stuff that they want to share. Or, because we identified an interesting vein of conversation. Or sometimes I present a concept on the fly and they’ll end up talking about that.

But if you forced me to come up with a number of questions, I’d say it’s usually no more than 10 or 12.


Q: How often should Customer Success have discovery conversations?

A: Once a year is good. If I could convince companies to do this once a year – and I’m not overstating it – I think the world would be a better place because there’d be so much less friction. Not emotional friction, but just back-and-forth questions. The companies that do this will grow faster. And the companies that grow faster, have gotten there because they’re more curious.

I’ve looked back at my clients and find it stunning how many of them are on the Inc. 5000 list. It’s not because they hired me, but because they’re successful and one of the ingredients is their curiosity factor. The CEO is out there having meetings with customers all the time and he’s not in selling mode, he’s in listening mode. I always say curious brands win. That’s really the method. It doesn’t have to be more than once a year, but once a year would be a great starting point for most, especially B2B SaaS companies.


Q: How do you get unresponsive customers to engage in discovery conversations? 

A: If you position this correctly, it should come across as not just another ask, but as a higher-level, more important conversation. On a tactical level, something that I’ve done recently, and have recommended to others, is send an e-mail with the subject line: “Just looking for a one-digit reply.” Then in the body, write: “Hi, I know you’re busy. Take a quick look. Just send me the number of the phrase below that reflects where we are. 1) Things are great, but I don’t have time to talk. 2) I’m busy this week but I’d love to talk next week. 3) I’m not interested. 4) Don’t ever email me again.”

You remove all the friction since they don’t have to write a reply. They only have to type one digit. When I send out emails like that to people who I’ve lost touch with, or when my clients use that approach, it’s a 70% response rate.


Q: Should discovery calls occur via phone, video calls, or in person?

A: When I started this, I was working with companies local to me, and I did conduct them face to face. This was years ago. I didn’t plan it out that way. I just did it. Then, I pivoted to exclusively phone conversations. The reason for that was it was more efficient to do it by phone. There’s no travel time.

I wasn’t losing any insight by doing it over the phone. Some people worried about missing body language signs. But I don’t need to see their body language. And if I can see theirs that means they can see mine and I don’t look like I’m listening. I’m actually hunched over concentrating and typing notes. They don’t need to see me doing that right across the table from them. So, I started doing it by phone and it worked out really well. I realized that people end up feeling a little bit like it’s their confessional. I imagine them kicked back, concentrating on what I’m saying, and thinking about their answers. So, I don’t use Zoom. I don’t need to see them.

Also, when thinking about how to make it easier for customers to participate, when you visit someone face to face, it’s harder for them to reschedule at the last minute. It gives them less flexibility. Sometimes, they have to worry about validating my parking. I don’t want any of those burdens to be on the customer. I just want to talk and listen and take notes and the phone is an awesome way to do it. 


To learn more about why Customer Success needs to have more discovery conversations as well as the exact questions you should ask customers during these calls, check out the webinar.

View Now

P.S. Bob also took the time to answer other questions that came in from the audience that we didn’t have a chance to address live on the webinar. You can view this follow-up article and video here

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