The Holy Grail of Sales: Find the Need Behind the Need

Blog133_-SellYourAdvantage_v1-1Over the last few years, I have written many blogs on opening new sales opportunities and managing the complex sale, especially with today’s multiple buying influences. We’ve also discussed how to deal with the competition and stand out from the crowd.

These scenarios came up crystal clear recently when in a client engagement, the consultants asked me to weigh in on a major challenge they were facing with one of their biggest prospect opportunities.

I thought the group could benefit from one of our strategies; many of you can because you’ve no doubt faced the same issue.

My client is a regional actuarial and retirement advisory firm with a focus on defined benefit pension plans. It has created a solid approach to opening new sales opportunities with a concept that resonates with professional firms.

We took my client’s team through some training on structuring the message to open more doors to top-tier decision makers. [Download our ebook on How to Secure Executive Appointments Under Favorable Conditions.] Soon, the team’s results improved and it was landing high-level discussions with qualified prospects.

The client firm decided to hold conversations around a fairly new concept in pension planning called a “cash balance pension plan.” Without getting deep into the weeds, two general types of pension plans exist—defined benefit plans and defined contribution plans.

In general, defined benefit plans provide a specific benefit at retirement for each eligible employee, while defined contribution plans specify the amount of contributions to be made by the employer toward an employee’s retirement account.

In a defined contribution plan, the actual amount of retirement benefits provided to an employee depends on the amount of the contributions, as well as the gains or losses of the account.

A cash balance plan is a defined benefit plan that defines the benefit in terms that are more characteristic of a defined contribution plan. In other words, a cash balance plan defines the promised benefit in terms of a stated account balance.

Behind the Conversation

As a result of the consulting team’s efforts, they landed an opportunity with a large law firm with 125 partners. The firm employed 300 staff and struggled with how to provide more retirement benefits to partners without increasing the cost to all employees.

My advisory firm consultants built their concept around need and were now deeply engaged in discussions with what would become the largest client of their firm. As you can imagine, they have their share of stiff competition.

The law firm was interested in designing a cash balance pension plan for its 125 partners, with a particular focus on 25 of the most senior partners. Our plan must allow the senior partners to defer more than their firm’s current 401(k).

The law firm’s specific requirements are in priority order:

  1. Must be able to enroll the plan by January 1st (at this point, it is October 15th)

  2. Ensure senior partners are allowed to put the maximum amounts in the plan

  3. Deliver a high-touch approach to educating partners and coordinating personal financial plans

  4. Co-locate plan with 401(k) system for concurrent partner viewing and common platform of investment choices

  5. Provide a single, direct contact person for partners, not a call center

  6. Offer a consultant with law firm experience and references

My client benefitted from the insight of an internal coach who offered some good intelligence on the competition and shared where he felt weak points loomed.

Here’s the comparison the team came up with based on his input:


As we look at the above chart, two drawbacks stand out and call for resolution. In the upcoming meeting, the consultants must develop some questions around the top priorities to understand the concerns of the prospect.

We discussed a natural process for getting questioning on the table. Whenever you have drawbacks, you need to first weigh the importance of the need you can’t satisfy against the importance of the need(s) you can.

To do this well, you need to refocus the prospect on the bigger picture and have them outweigh the drawbacks with previously accepted benefits.

You need to look at benefits that solve the prospect’s highest priority needs. So looking at our chart, we can meet the prospect’s deadline and provide the maximum contribution levels for their partners. Unfortunately, so can the competition. But can they?

Need Behind the Need

Blog133_-SellYourAdvantage_v1-3This situation is when we must look at “the need behind the need.” For you and the prospect to make an informed, mutually beneficial decision, you must ask key questions to develop a clear, complete, and mutual understanding of the prospect’s special needs.

A clear understanding means that for each need, you know:

  • The cause of the need (circumstance)

  • Specifically, what the customer wants to improve, fix or accomplish (needs)

  • Why the need is important (need behind the need)

A complete understanding means that for the buying decision the prospect is making, you know all the prospect’s needs and the priority of those needs, and the why (need behind the need). A mutual understanding means that you and the prospect fully share the same understanding.

If we take a look at this situation, the circumstance the prospect faces is due to government limits on its qualified pension plan (the 401(k)). The government limits the dollar amount that the partners can tax defer.

So the need is to offer a program that will allow the partners to tax defer additional income so that after their investigation, they see the cash balance plan as their solution. All three firms are competing to meet this need.

Now we must find out the need behind the need. And we must help the prospect firm step back and look at the big picture. Perhaps, it has needs that we can’t satisfy. So let’s dig a little deeper behind the first two needs, rather than just check the box.

Dig Deeper Yet

We know the need is to tax defer more money above government limits, but what is driving the prospect to look at this now? What questions can we craft to find out the need behind the need?

As an example, you might ask: “Help me understanding why deferrals over the 401(k) limits became a priority now, what triggered that?”

By exploring behind the need, you gain some insight on the why. What our consultants found out was that three senior partners were pushing to solve this need. The cash balance plan satisfied their objective. But not all the way.

The partners used this information to discuss how they could apply the cash balance plan along with another strategy to meet the goal of the firm. Other competitors seem to only focus on the need.

By finding a solution for the need behind the need, my client’s consultants were able to change the prospect’s vision for the solution and bring it a solution that others overlooked.

It would have been simpler to check off the first two and focus on how you would overcome the two areas where you had drawbacks. By understanding the need behind the need, the consultants were able to help reshape the prospect’s vision.

What We’ve Learned

A prospect’s desire to fix, accomplish or avoid something is their need. You can’t be sure what your prospect’s needs are until he or she explains them to you. However, you can be confident a prospect has a need when he uses the language of needs─words or phrases that express desire.

“Our goal is to cut cost by 15%.”

“We want to upgrade our current system.”

“We need to find a way to retain key employees.”

These needs are driven by the prospect’s circumstances. These are facts, events, or conditions in the prospect’s environment. Look for triggering events that bring these circumstances to the surface. Prospect needs do not exist in a vacuum. Look at the circumstances that surround them. Examples:

  • Revenues on the decline

  • New competitors enter their market

  • Customer demographics change

  • Legislative changes affect their business

As we discussed above, it is not enough to simply understand the need. If you want a real competitive advantage, you need to understand the need behind the need. When a prospect has a need, there’s a reason why the need is important. Asking questions to uncover the need behind the need will help you determine what’s really important to the prospect.

It may help you to remember that the need behind the need is often related to one of four areas:

  • Financial impact─Any need to increase revenues or lower cost to improve the bottom line.

  • Personal impact─Prospect need is based on the potential for personal loss or an opportunity to gain.

  • Performance improvements─Improving efficiency or effectiveness of work or processes.

  • Brand or image─How you can help them improve their image with all stakeholders.

As the last example, a circumstance might be that many employees are leaving the company for new opportunities. The need would be to improve employee retention. The turnover has a financial and performance impact on the company. But the need behind the need may be to maintain consistent relationships with the company’s customers.

Gear your salespersonship around finding the need behind the need. It works every time. Because you are acting in your prospect’s best interests.

And who doesn’t need a Holy Grail?

News Alert

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