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The Lost Opportunity Of Focusing On Customers With “Needs”

by David Brock on September 13th, 2016
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It’s always terrible to start a blog post with a disclaimer.  It’s great to have customers with “needs.”  Implicit in this, is they have recognized they have a problem or opportunity and are somewhere on the path to addressing that—including searching for solutions.

These customers with “needs” are great.  Our ability to engage them is much easier, since they are more likely to be interested in learning about how we can address those needs.  There are some challenges–they may have preconceived ideas, they may be going down a path that’s very different, they may not have a complete understanding of what they should be considering, or even a complete understanding of what they’re real needs are.

For sales people, life is great when we have enough customers with “needs.”  If there are enough to qualify, compete for, and win–making our numbers, life is wonderful.

But what happens when we don’t have enough people who have “needs?”  How do we make our number?

Alternatively, what if we want to grow more aggressively, we want to capture all the opportunity?

There are far more opportunities with those who have a “latent need,” than there are of those with expressed “needs.”

Stated differently, there are far greater numbers of opportunities in organizations that haven’t yet recognized the need to change.  These are people who may not know there are better ways of doing things.  They may not recognize they have problems.  They may have become blind to some of those problems.  They may simply be too busy surviving to even begin addressing these issues.

(For those marketers, product management people in the audience, in essence, this is the TAM).

These are people who still have “needs,” they just haven’t recognized it yet.

Some sales people think that customers who are already looking for solutions for their problems are the “low hanging fruit.”  Afterall, they’ve recognized the need to change and are on a buying journey.

I actually think the people who have not yet recognized the problems and opportunities, or the need to change, are the low hanging fruit–the richest opportunities to go after.  Here’s my reasoning.

First, you offer the greatest leadership, value, and differentiation to these people.  It’s, “You” that’s helping them learn, discover, understand, and commit to change.  You set yourself apart from everyone else, because it’s you that helped them see new ways of growing and succeeding.

Second, you are guiding them and engaged in their entire process.  You aren’t jumping on board later when they have shaped their priorities, established their biases.  You get to work with them, as a trusted advisor, through the entire process.  You help them establish the priorities, goals, directions.  Many times, they will so value your work, they won’t even engage competition.  In the very least you get to help “write the RFP.”

Third, there are so many more of these opportunities out there.  If we only work with those customers who have established their needs and requirements, there are fewer of them, and all of our competitors are chasing them, as well.  It’s a very crowded space and it’s very difficult to set yourself apart.  I’d much rather go where there is no or less competition.

Be clear, I’m not encouraging you to abandon those opportunities where customers have established their needs.  I’m just suggesting there are a lot more opportunities available.  We shouldn’t overlook those, we should actively pursue those.

There is a challenge though.  In going after people and organizations that haven’t recognized they need to change, you have to know your stuff, you have to have your act together.  You need to know which prospects are actually having the problems or missing opportunities.  This means you have to do your homework on who are the top performers, who are laggards, where are the opportunities.

You also have to have a compelling insight and be able to support that insight in reaching out and engaging these customers.  You will be disrupting their thinking.  When you capture their attention, you have to continue to be able to drive the conversation.

You have to quickly recognize, regardless how compelling your insight, some will have other priorities, some will choose to do nothing for now.  Some will simply choose to bury their heads in the sand.  You need to be able to discern these and set them to the side, focusing on those you can get interested in changing and moving forward.

Don’t miss the opportunity to call on those customers that don’t yet have “needs.”

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2 Comments
  1. Dave, I am a broken record on this idea of discovering needs – especially for tech companies.

    But, here goes again.

    The typewriter, the telephone, cash register, and other technologies were very hard sells, when they were first introduced.

    They did not met any perceived need & were derided.

    So, how did people sell them? Well, you gotta read some history & knowing how it turned out will make it easier for you to figure out how to sell your product today.

    • Richard Nockolds permalink

      John Patterson’s “Get a Receipt”, for example. History is absolutely the place to go to get the difference between expressed and unexpressed [or latent] needs. But we don’t create the needs, we’ve just got to help the customer find them.

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