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How To Diagnose Customer Needs

Are you assuming your customers know too much? According to best-selling author Jeff Thull most sales reps think that they're uncovering customer needs by merely asking about them. Unfortunately, most of the time, the customer is either too close to the problem, or lacks the knowledge required to figure out what's wrong. As a result, the wrong needs are surfaced, resulting in a solution that won't work.

Thull draws the analogy between a B2B sales rep interviewing a customer and a physician interviewing a patient. Here are three conversations:

VERSION 1: Patient: My stomach hurts.
Doctor: No problem. I have a special introductory offer...

VERSION 2: Patient: My stomach hurts.
Doctor: What do you think is causing the pain?
Patient: I ate too much last night; I need a strong antacid..
Doctor: No problem. Here's a prescription...

VERSION 3: Patient: My stomach hurts.
Doctor: In what way and at what times?
Patient: After I eat pizza, I get this burning sensation.
Doctor: Have you noticed an itchy mouth when this occurs?
Patient: Well, now that you mention it, yes.
Doctor: It sounds like you may have an allergy.
What kind of pizza have you been eating?
Patient: Actually, it's been pepperoni the last few times.
Doctor: We'll run a few tests, and if it's from the pepperoni,
a change in diet will take care of your stomach problem.

Thull notes that most sales reps tend to have conversations with their customers that are either like version 1 or version 2. Version 1 is the old "pitch whatever you've got" routine. Version 2 is what usually passes for "consultative" selling -- it assumes that the customer knows the problem and simply needs a solution to that problem

Version 3 corresponds to the way the B2B sales world really works. Most of the time, the stuff that you're selling is outside of the understanding of the customer and probably addresses problems that the customer doesn't really understand.

Therefore, it's your job to correctly diagnose those needs and, only then, figure out what's good for what ails them.

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