Find the Real Need

Are you a reader?  In my free time, I deep dive into the latest sales and marketing books and research studies. Call me crazy. But enjoy discovering different viewpoints of people working to master B2B complex sales.

Everyone’s challenge seems to remain the same today: To understand how prospects make buying decisions and how to align our solution to their needs.

Ample data and explanations exist on why sales opportunities fail. I think one of the main reasons comes from salespeople’s tendency to sell too fast. Are you one?

These speedsters present their solution before the prospect is ready to hear them.

Or worse, they make assumptions about the prospect’s needs.

Recently, in reading a Harvard Business School case study on The Container Store, I came across a valuable story that epitomized selling the full solution around the real need, and its foundation principles in its total solution selling.

The story goes like this─A man was lost in the desert, dying of thirst, when he came to an oasis. Instead of being offered a glass of water and sent back into the desert, he was invited to sit under a palm tree, where he could rest and call his wife. And along with the water, he received a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen.

Although water was the man’s most immediate need, it was not his only need (even though most salespeople would not step beyond the water).

One of the lessons I have learned in my selling career is to discover the need and the need behind the need. Many salespeople believe that all problems are needs. In fact, a problem is only a need if the prospect expresses a desire to solve the problem.

Discovering the Need

You cannot sell a solution unless you first discover the prospect’s real needs. If you practice a collaborative approach in your sales process, with you and your prospect making informed, mutually beneficial decisions, you must also ask questions. It is the only way to develop a clear, complete, and mutual understanding of the prospect’s needs.

What is the right kind of questions? When in conversation with prospects, you can ask two types of questions:

1. Closed-ended questions: These questions elicit short, definite answers like yes or no, and sometimes a bit of information. They are useful in verifying information obtained from your research before the meeting. Closed-ended questions also give you a natural way to initiate the flow of the conversation, and you are demonstrating your intent to understand the prospect’s current circumstances.

2. Open-ended questions: These types of questions solicit a detailed response from the prospect. Unfortunately, most open-ended questions asked by salespeople are around product questions. Instead, base your question on gaining a clear understanding of the cause of a need (its circumstances).

As an example, “You indicated you were concerned over the quality output from your current machine, can you elaborate on that a little?” Asking good open-ended questions help you understand the problems, dissatisfactions, and difficulties in areas where your product or service may be a good fit. They can also help you probe to better understand the implications of not fixing the problem.

I did not intend to provide you with a tutorial on the questions process, only to highlight its importance in uncovering the need.  MERGE 2.0 and its online training modules coming out this spring will give you the tools to sharpen your skills in questioning.

Why is Need Important?

The need behind the need is important. That means searching for the real driver of the buyer’s decision. You arrive at this touchstone by drilling down, asking probing questions to draw out valuable information from the prospect.

Let me give you a real-life example. One of my insurance brokerage clients sells healthcare plans to major companies. In recent years, it has become somewhat of a commodity business. The prospect asked my client to come in and explain how his company could “reduce the cost of its employee medical plans.”

Okay. We know the need is to reduce costs, but what is driving the prospect to look at this issue now? What questions can we craft to find out the need behind the need? As an example: “Help me understand why reducing medical costs became a priority now, what triggered that awareness?”

By exploring behind the need, you gain insight into the why. What our brokerage client found out was the prospect CEO issued a cost-cutting initiative, a symptom of a larger need; the company missed its earnings forecast for two straight quarters. The prospect was compelled to investigate all areas within the company to reduce cost.

Our brokerage client used this information to discuss how it could apply its wellness strategy, augmented with a second strategy, to meet the company goal. Other competitors focused only on the need to reduce the rates for medical insurance.

The second strategy was designed to reduce the cost of the company’s group life insurance and disability coverage, leaving the level of medical coverages in place, but still meeting the goal of reduced savings.

By finding a solution for the need behind the need, my client could change the prospect’s vision for the solution and deliver what others overlooked.

What We’ve Learned

A prospect’s desire to fix, accomplish or avoid something is the need. Of course, you cannot be certain the nature of what your prospect’s needs until he or she explains them to you. However, you can be confident your prospect has a need when he uses the language of needs in 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.”

The prospect’s circumstances drive these needs; they represent facts, events, or conditions in the prospect’s environment. Look for triggering events that push these circumstances to the surface. Prospect needs do not exist in a vacuum. Always look at the circumstances surrounding the needs. Examples:

  • Revenues on the decline
  • New competitors enter his market
  • Customer demographics change
  • Legislative changes affect his business

As mentioned earlier, if you want a true competitive advantage, you must understand the need behind the need.  It may help you to remember the need behind the need often relates to one of four areas:

  • Financial impact. Any need to increase revenues or lower cost to improve the bottom line.
  • Personal impact. Any need stemming from the potential for personal loss or opportunity to gain.
  • Performance improvement. Any need to improve efficiency, work or process effectiveness.
  • Brand or image. Any need to improve prospect image with all stakeholders.

Think about this formula. A circumstance could be the company failed to meet its earnings targets. The need would be to reduce cost. The cost has a performance impact on earnings. However, the need behind the need is pressure brought by the CEO to reduce costs in all areas.

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

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

News Alert

MERGE 2.0, read my latest book, now released by the publisher and available on Amazon to purchase.  Learn everything you need to know to book revenue in the new realities of B2B professional selling.

And, if you’re not a reader and prefer interactive learning, take our MERGE 2.0 online learning course.  Go here for more info.

Thoughts and Comments

Copyright PleinAire Strategies, All Rights Reserved

Please accept our free offer for the entire 14-module MERGE 2.0 Sales Training Course (Retail value $495) for the next 60 days.

Use promo code free2020

Register for Free Now