Key To Sales Effectiveness: Knowing Customer Needs Before They Do

Russ Chadinha

In the B2B space, delivering a great product in response to a customer’s business problem is essential for sales effectiveness and productivity. When companies fail to align their product offers with customer needs, they soon fall by the wayside.

But the challenge for many sales organizations is how to look beyond what customers say about their pain points … and get to what they actually mean.

In a 1998 interview about developing the iMac, Steve Jobs told Newsweek that Apple didn’t design it based on consumer research. Jobs then made a memorable remark: “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them,” he said. “That’s why a lot of people at Apple get paid a lot of money, because they’re supposed to be on top of these things.”

When later asked what market research went into the iPad , Jobs replied: “None. It’s not the consumers’ job to know what they want.”

When taken out of context, many interpret this remark as sheer arrogance. But they’re missing the point. What Jobs essentially said is that, compared to Apple’s other research, asking people what they want isn’t a good way to design complex products.

When it comes to complex solutions, people don’t have enough information to tell you exactly what they need. And even if a person did make a careful assessment of what they need, their thinking would be limited to their current knowledge. That’s why, when a customer describes a certain business problem, your sales team needs broad knowledge to interpret the meaning of that need, and then create a comprehensive solution.

The right solution may at first seem counterintuitive. For example, let’s say one of your customers is running a data center and comes to you looking for server consolidation. The customer is having problems with server reliability and the expense of powering and maintaining the computing environment. Ultimately, the best solution isn’t server consolidation, but smaller servers. This solution wasn’t obvious based on what the customer said, but it aligned the right solution with what the customer meant.

To address customer pain points in the sales process, the rep has to listen to the customer and then respond with a knowledgeable solution that may not be obvious. That’s a challenge that requires excellent knowledge of your solutions, combined with in-depth training on how those products translate into solving customer pain points. When your team has these insights into customer needs, it improves sales effectiveness and helps ensure that the products and services you develop continue to align with those customer needs.

For example, if your customers tell you they need to be more responsive and effective in their own business, you might offer them mobile solutions that help them to interact and solve problems in real time. But your customers also need something that’s less obvious: In addition to mobile solutions, they need capabilities to make decisions faster to ultimately enable the mobile solution.

To stay competitive, all of your processes and capabilities need to line up to provide what that customer is looking for, so that they help you deliver products and services in an effective way. It’s easy to say that. To do that, you must have sales reps that know how to listen, and give them the training and tools they need to align products with customer problems. And that level of sales effectiveness, to paraphrase Steve Jobs, allows you to address your customers’ pain points, even if they don’t always know what they need until you show it to them.

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