It was late, and I was exhausted.
But I needed the money.
I was pulling my hair out putting together on YET ANOTHER proposal.
I’d already spent HOURS on the phone and multiple back-and-forths. He seemed excited.
I sent the proposal, and –
Crickets. Ghosted again.
The next morning I stopped doing proposals and asked for a check before I did anything. If they wouldn’t do a paid discovery session, I told them to get lost.
Here’s why requiring prospects do a paid discovery with my agency changed everything:
1. I Attracted Higher Quality Clients
A paid discovery phase acts as a filtering mechanism. Only clients who value planning and are willing to invest in strategy will opt for discovery.
Shitty clients who don’t plan expect magic. Then they quit.
Clients that plan understand that marketing takes time and expertise.
Clients who balk at paying for discovery end up being the most difficult down the road. They have unrealistic expectations and are likely to churn quickly. Let them walk rather than wasting time reacting to their knee-jerk demands.
2. I Instilled a Planning Mindset Upfront
Discovery establishes a planning mindset from day one.
You set the expectation that marketing requires research, analysis, and strategy. This mindset sticks with the client well beyond the initial engagement, keeping them disciplined vs. demanding immediate results.
Most prospects want to skip straight to tactics without strategy. Most prospects are shitty. Coincidence?
Paid discovery forces them to slow down and do the work to build an intelligent foundation. Or f** off.
3. I Better Framed My Agency’s Value
The most profitable clients who truly grasp the value you provide. Discovery allows you to demonstrate this value first-hand, making your (now higher) pricing much easier to swallow.
When clients experience how your strategy can transform their business, they are more than happy to pay your retainer fees.
4. I Increased Lifetime Value
A paid discovery phase enhances lifetime value in multiple ways:
- The close rate from paid discovery to retainer is extremely high.
- You establish periodic planning sessions upfront as part of the engagement. This strategic review process increases retention.
- Ongoing planning keeps the relationship fresh and evolving vs. stagnant. Again boosting retention.
When you combine higher close rates with longer retention, the lifetime value impact is massive.
5. I Ensured Consistency
This structured process enables your team to deliver consistent quality by removing variability. Your proven methodology guides all client engagements, rather than reacting (and re-scoping) case-by-case.
Consistent deliverables lead to consistent client satisfaction. These systems are also essential for smooth staff growth and transitions.
Making the Shift
Transitioning to paid discovery will take some work, but the payoff for your agency will be immense. Here are some tips:
Adjust Sales Conversations
Get your sales team on board to position paid discovery as a required starting point. They need to convey the value of investing in strategy before tactical execution.
Refine Your Discovery Offering
Clearly define what your discovery engagements include, their duration, and pricing. Then stick to it consistently across clients. No exceptions.
Develop marketing assets explaining why discovery is a must, not a luxury. These can include emails, one-pagers, webinars, etc.
Beef up your internal processes around onboarding new discovery clients. Document playbooks to ensure consistency across all engagements.
Mine Retainer Leads
Leverage current retainer clients to generate referrals specifically for discovery engagements. They already know first-hand the power of your process.
Track conversion rates from discovery to retainer closely. Look for patterns in who opts for ongoing engagements vs. one-off projects. Refine your positioning and targeting accordingly.
If you hate your clients – if your close rates suck – paid discovery can change that. That’s what it did for me.
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