In Sales & Marketing We Must Ban The Word ‘Need’

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We live in a world where consumers have been empowered. Buyers, in most of the purchases they make, have an abundance of choice and a plethora of information. Consumers are no longer restricted to a few local companies or suppliers that they can find through Yellow Pages and the library. In the main, when buying, people are not reactive to simply responding to the telemarketing call or direct mail they receive. Rather, the customer journey starts with them utilising networks on and offline and using search engines.

In order to respond to this paradigm, companies have to ‘get inside the head’ of their prospects and customers to ensure that their communications resonate. Thinking in terms of ‘needs’ is unhelpful in this endeavour.

A need is a ‘requirement, a want, a necessity’. However, do your customers really require specifically what you do? Are there no alternative options either from a competitor or by achieving the desired outcome in a different way?

For example, a recruitment agent might state that a client looking for a new member of staff ‘needs’ their services. However, this simply isn’t the case. There are many recruitment agents available, of which they are just one. Moreover, the desired outcome, to recruit a new member of staff, can be achieved in other ways, for example, mining the database of LinkedIn or taking out an advert in an industry trade publication.

It may seem that I am playing with semantics. However, the problem with the word ‘need’ is that it doesn’t make you think like your prospect. It doesn’t allow you to get inside their head and, in so doing, assist in creating content and communications that will resonate with customers. In fact, there is an arrogance to the word ‘need’ which may have been more appropriate in a time where consumers were restricted to very little choice in the market.

Instead, there are three better ways to think about your product or service which will enable you to understand the customer motivations to buy. In this way it is more likely your company’s communications will resonate with prospects.

1. Challenges/Problems – Customers may not know your solution exists. This could be because you are a small business that is relatively unknown. It could also be because you have a really innovative solution of which most people are unaware. Your prospects, however, don’t have to know you. They will, though, understand the challenges and issues they have. If you can comprehend how a prospect sees their situation, you are more likely to create communications that ‘stick’.

For example, I may not know your new children’s art centre has opened. I do know I am struggling with what to do with my kids this weekend. So, talking about the benefits of your new children’s art centre may not resonate with me. I may not even find it online. I certainly won’t be looking for it, if it is new. It is certainly not something ‘I need’. However, ‘how to keep your children happy this weekend’, within a relevant geographical location, is a more pertinent message because it aligns with the way the customer is thinking. This comes from looking at your offering in terms of challenges rather than ‘needs’.

2. Events/Context – No-one wakes up in the morning and decides to employ a new accountant, buy a new car or hire a training company. Every purchase is precipitated by an event. So, it may be a tax investigation leads to someone deciding they require a new accountant. A new addition to the family may mean the current family car is no longer fit for purpose, and high growth and an influx of new staff may lead to a training provider being sought. In a world where customers are proactive in looking for solutions, and where mobile and wearable technology means we are increasingly doing everything ‘in the moment’, context matters.

By understanding the challenges that your prospects have, and overlaying the contexts in which they will arise, companies can create compelling content and communications which really resonate with a buyer’s motivations. In this way, a businesses’ marketing messages will be much more effective. However, this will not be achieved by thinking in terms of ‘needs’.

3. Intention – Finally, perhaps the holy grail of marketing is to know what a customer is going to require before they do. Of course, years ago this was impossible but today it certainly is not. There are many people who are worried in this digital era that we could lose our privacy. Well, in many ways, it has already happened. ‘Big data’ allows companies to look at correlations between actions and in this way predict what we are going to do next, even before we know ourselves. So, Amazon can look at the correlation between products and know what we might like to buy next. Many of us have experienced how effective this system is and have the purchases to prove it!

In other words, marketing will increasingly focus on anticipating, with great accuracy, what a prospect or customer may want next. The amount of data that companies like Amazon, Netflix, Google, Facebook and Twitter possess, makes this approach increasingly effective. The irony of living in a world with abundance of choice is that we often don’t have the energy, time or willingness to exercise it. This means that ‘Good enough’ is often exactly that; ‘good enough’, and so if companies offer us something of use, before any other business, that first mover advantage, in a world of immediacy, can be invaluable.

In a world where every business owns a multitude of media channels such as its Website, Blog, Facebook Page, LinkedIn Page, YouTube channel, Twitter account etc., etc., every organisation is looking to create valuable and compelling communications. Thinking in terms of ‘needs’ will not aid this process. Thinking in terms of challenges, events and intentions just might.

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  1. Author

    Thanks for the positive feedback Simone! I am really glad the article resonated.

  2. I couldnt agree more…i see it everyday just because a sales person has managed to talk to the owner of a company doesnt mean they are selling.
    There is so much more nowadays to winning a sale but it starts with understanding the customer. Really enjoyed this piece.

    1. Author

      Thanks Warran for the feedback. I am glad you enjoyed the article. There is so much bad sales and marketing around because people believe the same old platitudes. Spread the word there is an alternative!

  3. Hello Mr. Leboff,
    I have felt the “need to ban the word need” for quite some time – and agree with you 100%! When an advertisement says, “…for all your automotive/accounting/roofing, etc., needs” – I cringe!

    Rather – consumers today WANT, they do not NEED….regarding quality of life products and services. Therefore, as your insights so wonderfully point out – we must educate and inform consumers/buyers to the point of purchase, – not sell them on the antiquated notion of what they need.

    Keep up the great work, sir!!

  4. Author

    Thanks Greg, I am glad you liked the article. In a world of abundance of choice, we have to be customer centric. By understanding customer challenges and the context in which they occur, it is easier to create content that will ‘stick’.

    1. Author

      Never too late! Thank you for your feedback. I am glad it resonated with you.

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