Understanding the needs of customers is nothing new. The concept of needs-based selling has been included in sales training for years, however what does it really mean and how can we be sure we are actually doing it properly?
Before we start questioning our customers to uncover their needs, we need to know what needs actually look like. It is pretty surprising that as salespeople we sometimes have difficulty understanding the difference between ‘needs’ and ‘solutions’
As respected Harvard economist, Theodore Levitt once stated, “Nobody needs a drill, they need a hole”. In other words, it often takes a bit of digging deeper to actually identify a client’s needs, which may be hiding behind an obvious solution. For example, in my business as a web-designer I am used to clients approaching me in need of a website. It would be easy for me to jump in immediately and start designing a site for them based on their budget, market, client base, etc – however in doing so I have done very little to understand my clients actual requirements. A little time spent questioning my clients often reveals a desire to be more accessible to their customers, a wish to become known in their field, to encourage a community of likeminded businesses… and other needs that a simple website may not actually be the answer to.
Being too eager to address a client’s needs is a mistake we often make, usually with the best intentions, as we are keen to provide them with a solution to their problem. However if we jump in too quickly it’s a bit like reading the first chapter of a book and assuming we know how it ends. Often premature solutions end up missing the mark and leading to disappointed customers. Taking a longer approach benefits both the customer, who feels understood and valued, as well as yourself, as it ensures that you are working on the best solution for your client right from the start.
TIP: When you find yourself offering a solution to a customer, ask yourself what the need is that led to this solution. Taking this step back will help you in taking more steps forward in the long run.
As business owners, if all we do is listen and respond to the needs stated up-front by our customers, we are not adding any value to our services, and in all honesty are pretty much doing exactly what our competitors can do just as well. Where we can differentiate ourselves and our business, and gain respect and trust which leads to ongoing relationships, is by taking the time to identify our clients implied needs and demonstrate to them that we are prepared to go that extra step to ensure we are giving them the product and service that ultimately suits them best.