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Understanding Customer Needs

by David Brock on November 21st, 2016

I was listening to a “discovery call.”  It wasn’t much different than any other discovery call I’ve listened to.  The sales person was asking the customer about their needs.

As I listened to the questions, it struck me, the majority of the questions really weren’t about the customer’s needs but really about the product or solution.

They went like this:

  • What are you looking for in a [Insert whatever category you sell–e.g. Sales Automation, Marketing Automation, Financial Systems, Machine Tool, New Building] solution?
  • What features and capabilities are important to you in that solution?  And perhaps there was the drill down, Why is that important?
  • What other capabilities are you looking for in a solution?

You get where I’m going.  All the questions were focused on the solution, but few were focused on the customers’ needs.

Yes, there are usually a few initial questions like, “What are you trying to achieve?”  but they are quickly followed by, “What are your expectations of a [Insert solution] to help you achieve this?”

Too often, our discovery questions really aren’t about the customer needs, but about our solutions, we convert the discovery call to be all about us and not about the customer.

To be fair, sometimes our customers, to our delight, fall into the same trap.  Particularly if they’ve already started on their buying journey.  They start to express their needs in terms of features, functions, feeds and speeds of a solution—“Do you handle multi-currency, what’s your warranty?”

True customer needs are rarely expressed as solution attributes, instead they are things they seek to achieve in their businesses or personally.

They want to improve their customer experience, reduce product design cycles, improve quality, reduce manufacturing cycle time, improve their abilities to engage customers, reduce waste, open new markets, expand share, increase revenues, decrease costs, improve profitability, improve shareholder value, be a better company/community citizen.  From a personal point of view, they want to reduce stress, get home for their kids’ soccer(football) game, get the bonus, get their boss off their backs, get a promotion, get some sanity in their lives, explore something new.

Most of our great questioning technique seek to explore the nature of those needs, whether it’s the 5 Why’s, Rackham’s SPIN, or Sinek’s Golden Circle.

Yet we rarely understand these customer needs.  We rarely get to any depth, we rarely explore the implications, the expected outcomes, the consequences of doing nothing.

Likewise, our customers have been well trained, they want to leap from needs to solutions and “What can you do for me.”

We all want those conversations, we revel in them.  They shorten our sales cycles and get us focused on what we are most comfortable with:  Talking about ourselves and our products.

There’s a problem with this, whether it’s us jumping to our solutions or our well trained customers jumping to these.

Until we understand why they want to/must change, what that change looks like, what they are trying to achieve, and their goals, we/they cannot build the business case to gain their management approval for the change.

Until we help the decision-making group align around these issues, they don’t know what they should be looking for in a solution, they won’t be able to reach agreement and move forward.  They are likely to end in doing nothing and achieving nothing.

Until we understand these, we don’t know how to position our offerings in the most impactful ways.

We give up so  much in our abilities to engage and create value when we focus on their solution needs, not their business needs.

Imagine how things would change, if we changed our approach to understanding their needs.

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