Tag Archives: customer need assessment

Customer Needs: One Size Does Not Fit All

Alec’s Shoes is one of New England’s most successful independent shoe stores, offering a great selection of athletic footwear, men’s and women’s casual and dress shoes, and a wide range of accessories.

But the store is known for much more than its inventory. In fact, it’s the exceptional customer service provided by the twenty-plus staff members that satisfies patrons and keeps them coming back time after time.

While this might seem like a simple approach, the store’s high level of customer service truly stands out. The floor reps are consultative, and focus on every aspect of how each pair of shoes will be used before making recommendations. They almost always offer each customer two to three choices, and customers who ask for size suggestions get both feet measured!

“Statistically, nearly twenty percent of American adults wear shoes that are the wrong size,” store owner John Koutsos explained. “And lots of people have two feet of different sizes. By measuring each customer’s actual size, both in length and width, and by considering the variation in size between their left and right foot as well as their hosiery preferences, we’re able to give them the best possible fit for both comfort and performance.”

Regardless of what type of business we’re in, gauging our customers’ and prospects’ needs requires more than a “one-size-fits-all” approach too. Here are a few proven best practices:

  • Never assume the customer knows everything necessary to make the right choice. Most know considerably less than we know about the products and services we provide; and while we may each have a number of “in-the-know” regular or long-term clients who are familiar with what we do, there are still application-related or other nuances that warrant our attention. The best practice is to always ask clarifying questions with respect to each situation, and to go the extra mile toward accurately assessing all the circumstances associated with each situation and each customer’s needs.
  • Focus on what each customer or prospect is trying to accomplish rather than on what service or product type they are “looking for” or what they “think they need.” By asking open-ended questions that relate to each customer’s situation or how they plan to use our products and services, we should be able to assess all of their needs, which might include a basic or customized approach, various products, options and accessories, or possibly a specialized solution about which they were unaware.
  • Look beyond product and service needs for other hidden needs. The more we learn about our customers and prospects, the easier it becomes to structure the most appealing proposals. In many instances, there are issues with respect to company policies, structure, affiliations, specialties, and buying practices that might make a difference in how we’d like to configure our offer. In other cases, there might be personal needs to consider, such as a need to satisfy a demanding boss, a special need for service response guarantees, or the need to feel secure about a supplier’s competitive position or reputation (an important issue to the buyer who has been “burned” in the past by a less-than-reputable competitor).
  • Develop a consistent method of uncovering these basic and not-so-basic needs. Creating a standard list of items to cover, questions to ask and options/benefits to present is one good way to develop a dependable and thorough approach. Many have also found that using this type of resource allows them to pay closer attention to each customer or prospect. In some cases, this extra focus will enable us to discover the “little things” that, when addressed, result in closing the sale or in a better customer experience (CX) and long-term customer loyalty.
  • Take an extra minute to double-check established needs, specifications and expectations. Sixty-seconds of prudence at the start can often save hours after-the-fact should there be extenuating circumstances or a misunderstanding about features, billing issues or other special requirements. A few final clarifying questions can even make the difference in getting the business, as most customers like to buy from those who show their interest and professionalism.

 

Know Your Customer?

I don’t think it was by chance that Arthur “Red” Motley’s well-known and frequently cited fifteen-word definition of the selling process begins with a reference to customers.

“Know your customer, know your product, call a lot of people, ask all to buy,” Motley said. Fifteen words that are as true today as they were back in the 1940’s when he was a nationally-acclaimed sales trainer and motivational speaker.

Certainly, knowing our customers is critical to long-term sales success; it is also a never-ending process, as customer knowledge should be accumulated during each and every sales call.

At the start, we get to know our customers by building relationships. These relationships are built with individuals and organizations, and are nurtured over time by learning their respective personalities, values, communication styles, interests, concerns, understandings, misunderstandings, evaluation protocols, policies and procedures; by learning about what’s important to them.

We get to know our customers better through comprehensive and on-going need assessment  identifying needs both recognized and unrecognized, short-term needs, emerging needs, longer-term objectives, priorities, changes, and related needs.

We get to know our customers more each time we deliver the solutions to their needs in the form of our products and services. If all goes well, this too is a never-ending process!

And we come to know our customers even more by following-up after-the-fact to ensure they are satisfied, and when we provide customer service and support.

In all of these instances the primary tools-of-the-trade are probing and listening, as we will never get to know our customers through sales presentations, advertisements, promotions or talking at them; and regardless of what type of business we’re in, knowing our customers, i.e., nurturing relationships and gauging on-going needs  requires more than a one-size-fits-all approach.

Here are five proven best practices:

Proactively work on customer relationships. Start by adding a “relationship component” to all pre-call plans and meeting agendas; incorporate specific actions, behaviors, questions, and comments. It’s important to remember that the strength of customer relationships plays a major role in their decision-making.

Never assume the customer knows everything necessary to make the right choice. While we might have a number of long-term clients who are familiar with what we do, there are still nuances that warrant our attention. The best practice is to always ask clarifying questions with respect to each situation, and to go the extra mile toward accurately assessing all the circumstances associated with each customer’s recognized and unrecognized needs.

An effective method for implementing this approach is to focus on what each customer is trying to accomplish rather than what they “think they need.” By asking open-ended questions that test customer requests or that relate to each customer’s overall objectives we should be able to assess all of their needs, which might include a service or specialized solution about which they were unaware.

The more we learn about our customers and their needs, the easier it becomes to structure the most appealing proposals. In many instances unanticipated issues with respect to company policies, affiliations, and buying practices might make a difference in how we configure our offer. In other cases, there might be personal needs to consider, such as a need to satisfy a demanding boss, a special need for responsiveness, or the need to feel more secure about our competitive position as a supplier.

Develop and use a consistent method (in writing) for uncovering these basic and not-so-basic needs. Not only is this a good way to ensure success, but also an effective way to help us pay closer attention to each customer rather than on whatever it might be that we intend to ask or say. In some cases, this extra focus will enable us to discover the little things that result in long-term customer loyalty.

Take an extra minute to double-check established needs, specifications and expectations. Sixty-seconds of prudence before order fulfillment can often save hours after-the-fact should there be extenuating circumstances or a misunderstanding about features, billing issues or other special requirements.

Diligent post-sale or post-delivery follow-up can help us avoid many unpleasant situations, and also helps us to send a strong implied message that says, “We care! We’re professional!”

True to his reputation for conciseness, Red Motley said quite a bit with only three words: Know your customer.

Working Backwards to Build Value During Sales Calls

backwards2A number of successful sales professionals will tell you that there are times when “working backwards” can be a great plan!

In fact, in a previous post we referenced the “SPIN” Selling System, which is based on the work of British research psychologist Neal Rackham, and in which Rackham also suggests the practice of “working backwards.”

The premise is that to comprehensively uncover a prospect’s needs we must ask well-crafted questions – preferably in open-ended style. When selecting and forming these questions, sales professionals should “work backwards” from the problems their solutions solve, and then find ways to uncover how their prospects are going about trying to solve those problems.

Like may things in life, simple but not necessarily easy!

But without truly understanding a customer’s or prospect’s needs, priorities and longer-term objectives, along with the “implications” of each, it is difficult if not impossible to optimize the value proposition.

Customer Need Assessment: One Size Does Not Fit All!

A number of seasoned sales professionals recently acknowledged that they often find themselves assuming that they know what their customer need without conducting a detailed need assessment. An approach, they quickly agreed, that is often dangerous.

In truth, regardless of what type of business we’re in or how long we’ve been in it, gauging our customers’ and prospects’ needs requires diligence and it requires more than a “one-size-fits-all” approach.

Here are a few proven best practices:

  • Never assume the customer knows everything necessary to make the right choice
  • Focus on what each customer is trying to accomplish rather than what “they think they need”
  • Look beyond product and service needs for related or hidden needs
  • Develop a consistent method of uncovering these basic and not-so-basic needs… a standardized need assessment method 
  • Take the extra time to double-check and confirm established needs, specifications and expectations

Read the full article…

Sales Malpractice

Defined as “…prescribing medicine or medical treatment without sufficient knowledge of the patient’s condition,” malpractice is an odious word.

Similarly speaking, the sin of “sales malpractice” is committed countless times each day, often with devastating consequences. Business relationships are compromised, orders are lost, time is wasted and needs are left unfulfilled because of sales malpractice.


Sales malpractice happens when sales people fail to properly assess or recognize customer needs, interests and priorities. The transgression tends to be committed unintentionally, as well-intentioned sellers plod on with ineffective pitches, one-sided sales spiels and misdirected presentations, offering solutions that don’t quite fit.


Fortunately, the malady is easily avoided!


Creating and then diligently executing a customer needs assessment (CNA) plan is the answer. And, to avoid any misconceptions, the CNA must be conducted early in the selling process, and must be regularly confirmed during more lengthy selling cycles.


In addition, an effective CNA must go well beyond asking customers what they think they need!


Successful needs-assessment involves learning about what each customer is trying to accomplish; it requires thoughtful questions, focused listening, a situational analysis and confirmation of the facts.


In today’s consultative selling model, all customer needs must be assessed and confirmed before any solutions are offered; no presentation can be made, no advice given, no proposal written, no quote submitted until all factors have been carefully considered.


Only then can a solution be offered in good conscience.