November 04, 2009

How to Find Out What Buyers Really Want

Here is a statement of the obvious: buyers don’t buy products, or services they buy solutions to problems, or the ability to exploit opportunities. In short they buy them to meet a need. So, why do sellers spend 9 times more time talking about their solutions than the needs of the buyer?

Before a buyer buys he, or she must have a need and that need must have a certain urgency, or priority. If the seller wants to sell his, or her solutions then he, or she must clearly demonstrate how it can solve the buyer’s problem. The problem is that listing product features and benefits is an ineffective way of doing this.

To remedy this problem here is a checklist to guide you in identifying and then meeting the needs of the buyer.:

1. Avoid premature diagnosis of the solution. In other words he, or she must define the problem before prescribing a solution. Don’t make assumptions regarding the customer’s needs, or assume that he, or she needs what you are offering. Ask first and give the customer a chance to say no.

2. The expert may immediately know the problem and perhaps even the solution. However, he, or she must take care to involve the customer in the discovery and build trust along the way. Connecting with buyer’s needs, requires a consultative approach with the salesperson adopting the role of an expert, or trusted advisor.

3. Understand what stage the buyers is at:
- The need is hidden (blissful ignorance)
- The need is recognized
- They are actively looking to resolve the need.

4. Understand the company and its industry, as well as its goals and strategy. Without this the seller will struggle to understand what is motivating the buyer. Understand the tradeoffs, constraints and complicating factors that bear on the needs. Understand needs from the perspective of the different stakeholders.

5. Don’t take the buyers needs on face value. Dig beneath the surface. Look to the implications of the needs. Help the buyer to develop a clearer picture of his/her needs and the advantages of solving them.

6. More questions are not the answer. Ask better questions – those that relate to needs and their implications. Don’t ask situational questions – for example about the size of the company, how long it was established – that is information that is ‘nice to know’ as opposed to ‘need to know’, or can be found from other sources (such as the company’s web site).

7. Buyers can be slow to open up. When they hear questions they fear closing. So the seller must earn the right to ask questions. This is done by showing tact, a willingness and ability to help.

8. Be tactful and sensitive regarding how they unearth the buyer’s needs. Protect the person when identifying the problem and don’t make the buyer feel like a fool!

9. It is not enough just to listen and to understand needs, but to provoke, inspire, enthuse and engage with the seller around the opportunities and challenge facing its business.

10. The sales person must help the buyer envision life after the problem has been solved. No pain, no sale - that was the old sales philosophy, with the job of the salesperson being to find and accentuate points of pain. However, the sales pro moves beyond the pain and the problem to focus on the benefits, the vision, the business impact and the likely risks that will need to be overcome.

11. Sell to those with latent needs. The role of the salesperson now includes demand generation. That means traditional prequalification criteria no longer apply.

12. Selling higher in the organization – where priorities are set and budgets can be set in response to the identification of needs. This will require a new vocabulary and a new message. It also requires confidence and skill.

Questions About Needs:

So with those tips in mind here are some questions to help you address the buyer's needs:
- What does the buyer want to achieve?
- What does the company want to achieve?
- What are the key business drivers in this area?
- What is the underlying opportunity, or challenge facing the business? How big is it? How urgent is it?
- What is the gap between desired and actual performance in the area in question? - How does this compare with internal and external expectations?
- What are the relevant industry drivers, or trends?
- Are there any critical events, or dates?
- Who does it impact on most? How? Who else is affected? In what ways? What are the consequences? What is the cost?
- The impact on the business - has it been quantified? What are the benefits of its resolution? Are they quantified in a credible manner?
- What are the relevant metrics? How will success be measured?
- Is this area a priority? If it is why has it not been addressed to date (constraints)?
- Has the issue been address/discussed in the past? What happened as a result?
- What are the competing priorities and projects?
- How does it fit with existing people and processes?
- What are the barriers to addressing the need / exploiting the opportunity?
- What could prevent it? What constraints?
- What is the context in terms of the organisations history, culture, politics, etc?

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