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If You Are Learning Your Customers’ Needs, You Are Too Late

by David Brock on May 21st, 2012

Classically, as we qualified and engaged our customers in solving their problems, sales people focused on understanding our customers’ needs.  Our questioning process was focused on identifying pains, needs, and problems so we could present a justified solution addressing those issues.

Don’t get me wrong, these are still important parts of the selling and buying processes, but if this is where we are first engaging the customer, then we aren’t maximizing the value we can create, and we aren’t maximizing our ability to win.

Intercepting our customers at this point of the buying process is too late.  By this time, the customer has already well defined their problem, they’ve organized to solve it, they have probably done a lot of research in assessing alternatives.  In fact, unless you are on their short list, there’s a high likelihood they won’t even want to see you or give you a chance to assess needs.

Sales people create the greatest value by engaging customers much earlier—before they even recognize they should do something.  Customers may be so busy or so sheltered they may not recognize they have a problem or there is a different way of doing things.  They are focused on their day to day operations and may be blind to the fact they might be missing opportunities.

Sales people get to see lots of customers and different ways of doing things.  Sales people have the time to look at emerging opportunities and understand how the customer might take advantage of them.  Removed from the day to day chore of running the business, sales people has a different view and may not be blinded as customers might be.

Customers expect sales people to provide insight, to help them learn how they might improve and grow.  Customers may not know they should have needs or what those needs are, because they haven’t recognize the opportunity.  They may be numb to the pain, so they don’t know their pains.
Sales people must engage their customers earlier, creating the awareness or vision to do something different, helping the customer discover they have needs and pain, helping the customer define the problem and what they want to do, helping the customer organize to solve the problem, and define their needs, requirements and priorities.

We need to understand our customers’ needs and priorities.  However, if that’s the first time we are engaged, your competitor may have been there before—creating greater value and positioning themselves to win.

Are you engaging your customers appropriately?

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  1. Hi David,
    Really liked your blog and totally agree. Sales people can best bring value to their customers early, when the customer is struggling with their strategic issues. Even further than understanding their needs, sales people need to create value by providing them with fresh insights and new knowledge. In our experience, customers no longer want to spend the time telling their sales people their needs. They want sales people who can understand their needs without having to spend a lot of time asking questions. And they want sales people who tell them what they should be doing to address those needs. Our research indicates that less than 25% of sales people have the skills to do this well – but it is increasing.

    Paul Hesselschwerdt
    CEO Global Partners Inc

    • Thanks for the comment Paul. It’s unfortunate that so few sales people have these skills, but it presents an important challenge for managers, trainers, consultants to change this.

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