The Customer’s Hidden Agenda


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Is Your Needs Analysis Only Scraping The Surface?

What if your needs analysis is only scraping the surface? It may be effective in capturing a detailed list of product requirements and functional specifications, but that is not enough.

Too often the buyer’s more fundamental underlying motivations remain hidden.   In this insight we will explore sellers can boost success by tapping into the hidden agenda of their customers and prospects.


Why Stated Requirements Are NOT Enough!

A clear definition of requirements is an essential element of good buying, just as it is a part of good selling. But is a clear technical or functional specification enough to fully understand the buyer’s needs? The answer is ‘probably not!`  They describe in detail what the buyer wants, but in much less detail why it is wanted.

How well do you understand your customer’s agenda?

The buyer has an agenda. However it is probably not what you think it is. The product or solution you are selling is not the customer’s agenda.  It is only an expression of that agenda!  That means connecting with what is really driving your customer is key your sales success.


What’s Really Driving The Purchase?

To understand what is motivating the buyer the seller needs to shed light on the more fundamental drivers behind the decision. These may include:

Economic Drivers, such as; freeing up capital, cutting costs, or increasing sales

– Strategic Business Drivers, such as entering a new market, developing the business, or the launch of a new business initiative

Competitiveness Drivers, such as; increasing efficiency, market advantage or customer satisfaction

Compliance Drivers, such as good corporate governance, preventing litigation, or adherence with laws, regulations and standards

These drivers help the seller to understand the ‘why’ of the decision.   They can be read about in corporate press releases and shareholder briefings.

However, while these logical-rational drivers shed light on the decision, there are likely to be other factors that won’t be so easily discovered.


What Really Makes Your Buyer Tick?

The prospect’s needs and requirements may have been defined and so too has the strategy.   These can be explained logically and justified rationally either on paper, or in a spreadsheet. But is that enough to explain what really makes your customer tick?

Do you know what really makes your customer tick?

However cogently expressed the buyer’s needs and requirements may be, they are often only a poor guide to what is really motivating the decision.

You have to go deeper to uncover the buyer’s more fundamental underlying motivations.  That is because the fundamental driver of all human behavior is emotional and consequently can be hidden.


It’s Not Just Logic & Analysis!

We often think of the business manager as the epitome of logic and analysis. Obsessed with numbers and results, there is little time for emotion!  But is that really true?

Think of any famous business figure, or entrepreneur -whether it is Bill Gates or Richard Branson.  They are driven by power, ambition, confidence and vision and these are some of the most powerful emotions that there are!

What is the role of emotion in the buying decision of your customers?

Emotion is at the heart of what drives great managers and their businesses. Tapping into what the buyer is feeling, as well as thinking is therefore very important for the seller.  However the traditional focus of needs analysis and fact finds mean that does not happen often enough.


What Is The Emotional Agenda?

There is an emotional agenda to many buying decisions and in particular important, complex, or risky ones. The important question is how well do your sales pitches and proposals address this vital emotional agenda.

How well do your sales pitches and proposals address this vital emotional agenda?

We often use the phrase ‘ justify with numbers – compel with emotion‘. That is because the emotional drivers of the buying decision:

  • Are a powerful influence over behavior
  • May not be purely rational
  • Often go unexpressed and may even be sub-conscious
  • Are inextricably bound up with our core attitudes, beliefs and values, pas well as our hopes and fears
  • Are strongly influenced by others – they have a powerful socio-political dimension
  • Act as the filters of perception thereby shaping our view of reality and our interpretation of events

All these factors make the emotional agenda of prime importance to the salesperson. However identifying them can be a challenge.


Is There A Hidden Agenda?

Buyers rarely wear their emotions on their sleeves. Powerful though the emotions are – they may not be expressed and indeed can be subconscious.  They are in the words of Kevin Allen; ‘The Hidden Agenda’.

Tapping into the buyer’s hidden emotional agenda is the ultimate sales strategy. The ad man who coined the ‘hidden agenda’ phrase argues that it is more important than the quality of the sales pitch or sales proposal and he is right!

Kevin Allen, the famous ad man responsible for the MasterCard ‘priceless campaign’,poses the question:

What if it is not really about the greatness of your; pitch, sales skills, or product?

Increasingly sellers are beginning to realize that success goes to the seller who can connect with the buyer’s hidden agenda.


Connecting With The Hidden Agenda

After you have discovered the customer’s hidden agenda become an advocate for what the customer is passionate and emotional about, rather than simply a salesperson for your product, or solution.  That means:

  • A champion of your customers values and ideals
  • An ambassador for their vision and mission
  • A counselor in respect of their fears
  • A bulwark in terms of their risks and vulnerabilities.


Finding The Hidden Agenda – A Test For You

Go beyond stated requirements to uncover the hidden agenda – the fundamental underlying motives of the buyer. Really get to know the buyer and what makes him or her think.

Here is a test of whether you understand your customer’s hidden agenda.   How many of the following questions can you answer (and relate your product, or solution to):

  1. What is it that matters most to them?
  2. What is it that fuels the buyer and his-her business, or project?
  3. What keeps the buyer awake at night?
  4. What gets the buyer out of bed in the morning?
  5. What is the buyer’s greatest hope, greatest frustration?
  6. What is his or her source of greatest pride?
  7. How do they imagine their future?
  8. What is the buyer’s soft underbelly in terms of sensitivity, embarrassment, defensiveness and ego?
  9. Who do they admire aspire to be, or dread becoming?
  10. What are their core values?

So, how many of the above could you answer?  Discovering the buyer’s hidden emotional agenda is often a work in progress – it requires continual effort.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Ray Collis
Ray Collis is a Business to Business sales coach, sales trainer, Director and Buyer Research Practice Lead of The ASG Group - recognized among the Top 5 sales training organizations worldwide in terms of overcoming the challenges in B2B selling to procurement, or the sophisticated buying organization (ES Research Group). Ray is co-author of several books, including The B2B Sales Revolution and QuickWin B2B Sales, and also of the sales blog Buyer Insights.


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