How Must-Haves and Nice-To-Haves Make the Sale

blog151_musthavesUnderstanding a prospect’s key buying criteria is vital to holding a competitive advantage. To give buyers what they want, you must know what they want.

As much as we would like prospects to tell us exactly what they want in clear, articulate terms, it’s not going to happen. Even though they’ve developed a vision for what the solution should look like, at the early stages of a sales process, it still isn’t crystal clear.

When determining what motivates B2B companies to buy your product or solution, you need to spend some time alongside them to understand their buyer personas.

Once you uncover needs, and they begin their decision-making process, prospects will define standards or criteria by which they judge the relative value of possible solutions.

Define the criteria as “must-haves” and “nice-to-haves.” Remember, it’s not what we see; it’s what the prospect sees.

Consider, for example; you’re traveling to two hotels located in the same city. They seem identical, except one sports a newer workout facility with all the latest equipment and a spa. Clearly, the newer workout center and spa differentiate the two hotels; however, it is only an important buying criterion, if it is important to the buyer.

Salespeople tend to sell capability before determining if the prospect needs it and values it. If I am traveling to a city on business for a quick in and out without workout time, my reaction is why pay for a feature I do not need.

So, as we prepare to understand the criteria, remember we are transitioning from the prospect’s mental image of a solution, his buying vision or concept, and are not yet comparing specific products or services. As he transitions, he is thinking, “What will fix my problem or issue?

Understand the Prospect’s Buying Criteria

Buying criteria consist of all the information needed for a prospect to make a buying decision. While the prospect selects some criteria, he may prioritize the criteria differently. As you set the stage for your evaluation of alternative solutions, you must first fully understand the criteria.

Too many salespeople assume they know the criteria and jump into the product pitch. That’s why 60 percent of sales pipeline opportunities end up in no-decision. You’re trying to sell a prospect something he doesn’t value or need.

As the chart below illustrates, several factors, like quality specifications, price, or delivery schedules fit the definition of important criteria:


Once you and the prospect list out the criteria, it is time to prioritize them. Must-have criteria are essential; nice-to-have criteria fall into the options category of things the prospect may like. If all alternative solutions meet the must-have criteria, prospects will then move onto comparing nice-to-have criteria.

Finding the Balance

Let’s look at an example. Suppose you are the human resources director for a large manufacturing company with 10,000 employees in three locations. You had several increases in medical cost over the last few years, which raised employee costs and deductible amounts. You want to offer them a platform of voluntary benefits that will provide products to fill in these gaps without any additional cost to the company.

Your must-have criteria: 1) offering must include a policy that fills the gap to cover the high deductibles; 2) offering must help employees with out-of-pocket costs; 3) enrollers must be bi-lingual as 70 percent of employees speak Spanish. Your must-have criteria are factors that relate to what the product and service “must be able to do.” After listing the must-haves, you can now start to eliminate several vendors who cannot help you solve this need.

So, following your process and listening to several offerings, let’s say we are now down to two firms. Let’s call them Company A and Company B.

Since both companies can meet your must-have requirements, the differentiation will come from the nice-to-have, and how you value and prioritize them. I have listed them on the chart below.

Company A offers technology with an iPhone app written in Spanish. Since most of your employees do not own or have access to personal computers, this feature may be something that you value because it helps the enrollment process. You select company A if you value this aspect of its offering.

Let’s say, however, Company A’s payroll integration requires your payroll department to take additional steps to transfer the money each pay period. One of the nice-to-haves with Company B, your current payroll provider; it operates the same payroll system as you do. The extra cost of payroll may be a concern causing you to prioritize your nice-to-haves differently. You might choose Company B over Company A. Notice how this plays out on the following chart:

Company A Criteria Company B Advantage
Provides Bi-lingual enrollers Provides equal
Gap Policy available Gap Insurance Product Gap Policy available equal
iPhone app Payroll integration Has current payroll ?
$ 70 per participant Price  $91 per participant ?

You will begin your evaluation from a strong position if you understand prospects’ must-haves and priorities. Above all, you must continue to monitor these influential as they may change during the buying process.

Following their buying process, your prospects will self-discover your solution as ideal, but only if you do an effective job of incorporating most, if not all, the criteria and they come to know it solves their problem or issue.

The success of today’s exercise lies in your ability to understand early on what important must-haves affect the prospect’s buying decision; then in your ability to turn your attention to how the prospect prioritizes the nice-to-haves. It is here where you find your competitive advantage by guiding the prospect through alternatives. The prospect will appreciate and experience the process as powerful and even transformative.

See you on the upside,


For more information, go to
Or call William L. MacDonald in San Diego at PleinAire Strategies LLC at 760.340.4277 or 213.598.4700

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