I recently suggested that seeking to achieve “customer delight” may be a misguided and ultimately unprofitable strategy for customer service organisation organisations. I’d now like to share another potentially controversial idea: that focusing on satisfying your prospects apparent needs may be an equally misguided strategy.
To be clear, I’m only referring to well-defined needs that your prospect is already aware of, not all those latent pent-up needs that they may not currently be aware of or concerned about. And I’m thinking particularly of high-value B2B sales environments with lengthy and complex decision making processes, not short-cycle, low-value transactional sales.
Why look for undefined needs?
Here’s the problem with focusing too high a proportion of your sales and marketing energies on identifying prospects with existing well-defined needs: in most cases, they will either already be in an active buying cycle (in which case some other vendor’s fingerprints are probably all over their requirements) or they may have already concluded that the issue, although interesting, isn’t urgent and therefore not worth spending money on.
The already-in-an-active-buying-cycle-problem, by the way, is why insisting that your sales rigorously BANT qualify opportunities before investing time with the prospect is a counter-productive strategy: by the time most opportunities fully tick all four BANT boxes (Budget, Authority, Need, Timeframe), their decision criteria have usually already been influenced by other vendors who got in early.
The not-worth-spending-money-on-problem can be equally challenging, unless you can persuade the prospect to expand the scope of the problem (and therefore their needs) to embrace some urgent – and much more valuable – new dimensions. Either way, focusing on needs your prospect is already aware of can dramatically restrict your addressable market – and it doesn’t do a great deal for your sales win rate, either.
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It’s time to Challenge your prospects
So what’s the answer? Well, as the authors of The Challenger Sale suggest, it is to focus your energies on issues that your prospects may either be unaware of, assume cannot be solved, or believe that their current approach to solving them, no matter how inadequate, is the best available to them.
In doing so, it’s pretty much inevitable that you will take their thinking beyond their current perceptions of what they need. By educating them on new possibilities, they may come to conclude that their initial perceptions about what the problem was, what the consequences were, or how the problem could best be solved, were wrong – and they can come to regard you as the expert that can take them forward in the right direction.
Unsticking the Status Quo
You need to challenge their assumptions, to offer them fresh perspectives, and to highlight the potentially economic (and other) consequences of sticking with the status quo. You need them to believe that the costs, consequences and rewards of taking a new approach – with your guidance – outweigh any risks that may be involved.
Let’s be clear: changing from what they are doing today to your solution will involve them in some degree of risk. Any change involves risk. But so does sticking with what they have got today. By helping them take a fresh perspective on what they really need, and helping them avoid the inevitable landmines that could lie in their way, you can dramatically change the balance of their risk and reward.
A less risky strategy
And while we’re talking about risk, what about the risk to your sales and marketing productivity that would inevitably be caused by choosing to focus on asking your prospects what they need and then jumping through hoops to suggest that your offering is best at addressing it?
That approach may work for Systems Integrators (and customers with deep pockets), but if you are a B2B-focused organisation wanting to take replicable solutions to market, you’re much better to focus on uncovering or creating issues that are going to prove critical to your prospects, and which you can show how you can solve better than any other approach open to them.
So please don’t (just) base your sales strategy on asking customers what they think they want. You’ll do far better focusing on issues that if your prospects only knew enough about them, they would conclude that they had to do something, and that your organisation was best placed to help.