Is the customer NEED the most important thing we must learn in sales?

We may hate to admit it, but we’re creatures of habit.

I’m not talking about habits many of us aspire to – waking up early, exercising, reading regularly, etc. There are only a few people that actually hold the good habits.

I’m talking about bigger habits in our lives.

We’re habitual in our thoughts, our behaviors, and our actions.  We have shortcuts in our thinking, basic paradigms that drive us, and we get very comfortable in patterns – even if they cause discomfort.  It’s a universal truth.

Why is this?  It has to do with the amount of information we all have to take in and the constant nature of change. We have a baseline developed on how we process information.  Call it a worldview, a paradigm, or a belief system – neurologically, it is a set of patterns in the brain developed over time that govern how we think.  These are built in, and critical to how we make decisions.

Due to continual change, these patterns inevitably come to points where they completely fail us.  Oftentimes this manifests itself in what we call a NEED – something missing that is essential or important.  But, a NEED itself will not cause us to change behavior, our habits are stronger than that.

Our patterns are built into us so much that in most cases of voluntary change, we must have a strong WANT to change, and envision a positive or risk-averting IMPACT of that change, before we ever address the NEED to change.  This WANT + IMPACT equation emotionally shows us what we VALUE.

Simply put, individually and organizationally, our habits generally win until we define the VALUE of change.  We don’t VALUE change until we emotionally give credence to the WHY behind it and believe in the IMPACTS it will have.  When we do that, we give priority to that change.

Illustrating a Need without Value

Let me illustrate with something I thought was very personal to me – my health.

I’ve never considered myself a workaholic. In helping to build and grow a business from an idea to nearly 100 employees, I always thought I was just doing what was needed to be done.  It didn’t matter if I spent 90 hours a week, there were just things that simply needed to happen for us to be a success. The early years of this were the worst, as I was proving myself to clients, my partners, our new employees, and to myself.

For the first 3-4 years of the business, I thought nothing of working until 2-3 a.m., responding immediately to every email that came my way, and asking for, shouldering, and executing every new responsibility that raised its head without a critical thought.

In a book on habits and how they impact our lives (Making Habits, Breaking Habits: Why We Do Things, Why We Don’t, and How to Make Any Change Stick), author Jeremy Dean looks critically at how habits are formed, how they are broken, and how they impact us.  He found that habits can take anywhere from 21 to 254 days to form…good habits, bad habits, and all types in between.

I gave my workaholic tendencies a lot longer than that to grow.  They took root as habits and I started to reap the consequences.  There were the great things – company growth, revenue, new clients, new locations, new responsibilities and more.  But, with it came painful things as well – sleeplessness, anxiety, attention deficit, less workout time, less time in prayer/meditation, weight gain, the list goes on.  Add to this a couple of serious health incidents along the way, and these habits I formed started to put me in a bad spot.  Over time, the hours I worked decreased, but the habits kept going.

I knew I NEEDED to change.  It was essential, important, and required that I do so in order to achieve what I ultimately WANTED … a healthy life and time with those I love.  However, I was never willing to do so.

Why?

The answer is simple – VALUE.

Over time I had come to VALUE – to hold in high regard and importance – the business, my reputation, my peer’s recognition, and being in the middle of things more than an integrated healthy life.  I WANTED these things, saw only their positive IMPACT, and thought the IMPACT without them in my life could be drastic.

Awareness of this value calculation came, as it often does, with a shift in my life and someone willing to ask me some tough questions.

The short of the matter is that my health worsened quickly and began to cause more and more of a negative impact on those around me.

Someone I love truly served me by making me aware and telling me the truth.  She asked me the tough questions – those that made me pause, rethink, and reframe the way I was viewing things.  She gave me hope things could be different and highlighted the importance of changing in a way that made me own it.  She was a servant leader to me – an ultimate salesperson.

I had WANTED to make a change in my lifestyle and NEEDED to due to health reasons.  But, until an IMPACT was brought to bear that woke me up enough to make the change, I never truly VALUED that change.

(We’ll save the details for another blog).

A need without value is not an opportunity. It’s just a need

This same pattern happens in businesses all the time. It’s universal. Systems, processes, and habits of working become ingrained in an organization. Time changes the world. Subtle and seismic shifts create new levels of awareness for business leaders.  Their definition of success changes along with the anticipated economic, strategic and personal impacts of success.

Ingrained ways of operating slowly break.  New systems, processes, products and habits are needed. Addressing these new NEEDS becomes essential, important, and required to sustain growth and ensure everyone’s prosperity.

Many salespeople dream about this scenario.  When they find it, they say, “I FOUND A NEED WE CAN SOLVE!  Now, I have a qualified opportunity!”  They are focused on the NEED ONLY.

Many miss that it is the VALUE calculation that makes the NEED relevant. Unless you are as good at completing the buyers’ value calculation as you are at uncovering their needs, you will fill your pipeline with needs that will never turn into deals.  Is it any wonder that 58% of deals in the typical B2B sales pipeline never make a buying decision?

Only VALUE demands change

Needs may force change slowly over time, but that won’t help your pipeline today.  Buyers can live in old habits for a long time, even if they cause some pain.  Buyers activate change only when the pain or the value calculation becomes too great to ignore (when the WANT and the IMPACT are big enough to assign VALUE to).

You’ve heard the adage, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.”  Every horse needs water…but it will only drink when it’s thirsty.  Finding needs within an organization is a great start, but needs alone will never activate a serious buying cycle.  We must serve our clients by taking the next step to understand what they value first. In other words, under what circumstances does a solution to these needs become a must-have vs. a nice-to-have?

We must actively work with buyers to answer the questions of…

  • The core reasons for seeking a change for the organization; for themselves.
  • The impacts they associate with that change for the organization; for themselves.
  • Why now becomes the time for change.

If we understand this, we can be in a position to help them define options for change based on what truly matters to them. Then, and only then, will they be ready to truly address the NEED.

So, remember, a NEED by itself is just that… a need.  Uncovered alone it can alert you to an opportunity, but you will never have a full picture of how you can serve and lead (how you can sell effectively) until you understand the VALUE that is or could be placed on fulfilling that need.

Challenge yourself.

Ask the extra questions.

Do the extra work.

I promise, it will be worth it!