Do We Know How To Do “Needs Discovery/Analysis?”

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My good friend, Brian MacIver, reminded me of the struggle sales people have in doing “Needs Analysis.”

I suspect there are a lot of reasons.

Much is simply the fact that “we” typically get involved in the customer buying process very late. Most data is now showing customers may be 70% or more through their buying process before they first involve sales. By that time, they have completed (or think they have) their needs analysis, and are moving to selecting a solution.



“We,” naturally like that because we get to talk about our products, our companies, ourselves. It’s what we’ve been trained to do and what too many think of as “selling.”

For the small number that try, perhaps, half-heartedly because they read we are supposed to do that, customers may be impatient. After all, they “think” they have determined their needs, so when we ask them needs discovery questions, they get impatient. They are past this, and want to move on, and we are relieved because we want to talk about our products. (This doesn’t reduce the importance of having these conversations, more later.)

Sometimes we do have the opportunity to have needs discovery conversations, but we are trained to have the wrong conversation. We conduct needs discovery for our products! “What features, functions, capabilities are you looking for? What were you planning on spending? Would you like it in red?”

In fairness to sales people, most marketing and sales enablement focuses on needs discovery for our products. Virtually every playbook or training program I look at focuses on “Do the customers need what we sell,” or “How do we convince them to need what we sell?”

Furthermore, we are trained to get them to need what we sell more than needing what our competition sells–which is why we always have the meaningless feature/function comparative checklists.

But none of this focuses on the customer real need and that’s the problem!

Their real needs have nothing to do with our products. Of course our products are a partial answer to their needs, but if we are to conduct meaningful need discovery, the conversation can have nothing to do with our products or services.

Need discovery is all about the customer. What are their goals, dreams, aspirations—followed always by, “Why is that important to you?” What are their opportunities, challenges, problems—followed always by a series of “Why” questions, and a series of impact/consequences questions.

Need discovery should always include some “challenging questions,” (not necessarily in the sense of Challenger, but perhaps not dissimilar). These questions are focused on helping the customer think about their situation, problem or what they want to do differently. They typically begin with, “What if….,” or “Have you considered…..?” They lead the customer into introspection and learning. They should help the customer understand alternatives and trade-offs.



Need discovery should always include questions about their project plan–not their buying journey. Their buying journey is just a small part of their overall project plan. We need to understand this, so we can be most helpful. We need to help them understand this, to help them learn what they should be considering, who should be involved, when they want to have a solution in place.

To conduct great need discovery calls, we need to understand our customers, their markets, their business priorities, and strategies, and them–as human beings. We need great business and financial acumen. We need to be curious. Above all, we need to have empathy.

Great need discovery is important from another perspective. Usually we think of need discovery in terms of what we learn (naturally, we always think of ourselves). But great need discovery is about helping the customer learn.

Too often, they don’t know what questions they should be asking themselves. They don’t know what they don’t know. They haven’t had the opportunity to reflect, to understand what they really are trying to achieve, or to think about things differently.

Need discovery is not only about what we discover, but what the customer discovers about themselves. In truth, all discovery is about shared learning.

Once we learn to conduct customer focused need discovery calls, then it’s easy to translate what we do, how we do it, and what we sell to things that are meaningful and create value to them.

Doing great need discovery is tough, but it is what our customers most need.

For sales people–are you conducting need discovery calls that are important to your customer?



For sales enablement and marketing–are you equipping sales people with the knowledge, skills and tools to conduct customer focused need discovery?

For managers, are you coaching your people on how they conduct great need discovery with customers?

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