Tag Archives: how to assess customer needs

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.


Sales Pros Beware: Confirmation Bias Might Be Costing You…

confirmationbias2In a recent newsletter, Conway Management Company shared insightful information about a thing called confirmation bias, which is the tendency to pursue and embrace information that matches our existing beliefs.

Consider that we tend to seek out and enjoy people who write or say exactly what we think, and that we tend to gravitate toward these sources not for information but for confirmation. In other words, we all have a tendency (ourselves as well as our customers!) to “hear what we want to hear.”

The trouble with confirmation bias begins when it gets in the way of seeking out facts. Because we are more likely to seek evidence that the things we believe to be true are, in fact, correct, we may move forward in our sales effort too soon. Doing so usually results in a premature presentation, as explained in our previous post.

If instead we can develop the habit of seeking contrary information — primarily through diligent trial closing — it will enable us to more comprehensively uncover customers’ needs, goals and  priorities, as well as potential objections, and to then present a more compelling value proposition.

“SP” Selling Can Be Expensive!

missinglinkWe’ve observed a troubling habit that many sales people have fallen-into, which is costing them and their organizations significantly in terms of lost opportunities or unrealized profit.

Perhaps you are familiar with the “SPIN” Selling System, which is based on the work of British research psychologist Neal Rackham.

If so, then you know SPIN is a mnemonic representing a precisely defined sequence of four question types that enables a salesperson to move a selling conversation logically from exploring the customers’ needs to designing and presenting comprehensive, compelling solutions.

The question types are:

  • Situation Questions – to learn about bigger-picture issues and processes
  • Problem Questions – to uncover needs or objectives
  • Implication Questions – to confirm or determine the effect or consequences of the problem (s)
  • Need Payoff Questions – to quantify the benefits of the proposed solutions to the problem (s)

While we shared additional details about “SPIN Selling” in one of our previous newsletters, the point of this article is to share our observation that far too many sales people implement what we’ve termed “SP Selling” instead of a more complete process such as SPIN Selling.

In other words, these reps are pretty good at assessing situations and, to a lesser degree, simple or explicit needs (Problems, as defined by the SPIN method). But then they commit the cardinal selling-sin of making premature presentations.

These presentations are premature because without a more in-depth assessment that incorporates something comparable to the “IN” components of the SPIN Selling System, it is very difficult to establish sufficient value.

Consequently, the resulting “premature” presentation or value-proposition tends to come across as feature-rich and benefits-poor, or sounds more like an old-fashioned sales pitch based more on “what we offer” rather than “what you’ll get.”

One good way sales professionals can avoid this pitfall is to engage in more diligent pre-call planning – in writing!

When done right, this simple step gives the seller a straightforward guideline to follow during sales calls so they avoid the temptation of presenting solutions too early.

If you’re wondering how to define “too early,” consider that if we don’t know the answers to the following two critically-important questions — without those answers beginning with the words “we” or “I” — then we should continue to probe more deeply to uncover needs, implications and the “need payoff” as defined above:

  1. Why should the buyer listen to me or accept my proposed solution?
  2. What measurable benefit or benefits will the buyer’s organization realize if they should do so?

For an example of one simple planning tool that can help you plan the best sales calls in less time, you can download a free “4.0 Planning Tool” from our web site.

As you’ll see, the challenge will be to properly identify the fourth “O.”