In my formative years in selling, one of the key things I learned was to understand my customer’s needs and requirements as early as possible.

In virtually every sales methodology and process, there is some “discovery stage.” Typically, in that stage, our goal is to understand the customer’s needs, goals, requirements. We do this to understand how to present our solution, demonstrating we meet their needs and so forth.

There’s a huge challenge with this–consequently a huge opportunity.

By the time a customer is able to articulate their needs, priorities, and requirements, they are pretty advanced in their buying cycle. They’ve clearly spent time defining the problem they want to solve. They have probably done some research of alternatives available, and are narrowing down the solutions they are willing to consider.

If we are first engaging them at a time when they can answer the question, “What are your needs, priorities, and requirements,” we have lost a huge opportunity to create value with the customer by helping them discover these.

The toughest part of the buyer’s journey is figuring out the problem they are seeking to solve, establishing goals for solving that problem, aligning the diverse priorities and agendas of the buying group, understanding their needs, priorities and requirements, considering alternative approaches to solving the problem, then determining their needs, requirements, and priorities once they’ve settled on an approach.

If we engage them when they have finally figured that out, we are only addressing the simplest part of their buying journey. As a result, our value in helping them learn and determine what they might do has been eliminated.

We transform our relationship with our customers when, through working with them, we help them learn, discover, and grow. When we help them think of things in a different way, consider alternatives and new options. When we learn about who they are, what their fears and aspirations are, what their goals are. When we learn with them, identifying problems and opportunities, helping understand risks, alternatives, gaining alignment within the organization, figuring out what they want to achieve. We create greater value with them by helping them determine their needs and requirements–rather than waiting for them to figure it out for themselves.

If we’ve engage our customers at the right time, we never have to ask the question, “What are your needs, priorities, and requirements?” We already understand these because we’ve been involved with the customer in shaping them.

As a salesperson, if this is where we start, we are already behind, we are already disadvantaged, we are limited in the value we can create with the customer.