Written by Sean McPheat |
Do you know what the difference is between a need and a want?
A lot of people think that they are the same, but they are different.
When selling it’s important that you understand the difference between needs and wants because you need to appeal to both impulses during the sales interaction.
And understanding this element of sales is always one of the most important areas that any Sales Training course will cover.
Let’s take a closer look.
Look at needs as those things that are vital for survival and a want is something that you desire.
Wants are almost always linked to an emotion that the want gives you.
You need food to survive right? But why do you have that expensive cut of steak?
The answer is that you want it, you’ll love the taste, maybe how it looks and if you’re on a date then you want to impress your partner. They are all wants.
The need would be to put calories in your body for survival. The want is everything else.
Needs were famously codified by psychologist Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation.” Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs is often depicted as a pyramid, with physiological needs at the bottom and more emotional and spiritual needs towards the top.
The needs are further split into “deficiency needs” (things without which life can be intolerable) and “growth needs” (those things which help us develop and improve our lives).
The implication of this model is that we must satisfy those needs at the bottom of the pyramid before we can work on the upper tiers. Common sense confirms the truth of this – you haven’t time to worry about “self-actualization” if the rain is pouring through your ceiling.
Most of our selling is aimed at “growth needs” (although safety products, food staples, mortgages etc might also target the lower part of the pyramid). These are products and services which help people live fully realised lives, where their ambitions and desires can be satisfied. Many of these upper tier “needs” can also be described as “wants” since, at least for a limited time, we can do without them. However, it makes sense to sell your product or service across as many tiers as possible.
In short – when a want and a need are aligned then you have a lay down sale!
In terms of selling think of needs as MUST-HAVE-DO-OR-DIE criteria. These MUST be fulfilled. Wants are everything else.
When selling to someone listen very closely to the language that they use because it will reveal all and what is most important to them.
Here’s an example:
“The car needs to have 4 doors because of my kids and Bluetooth because I travel a lot and want to sync my phone with the stereo. It must be economical too because I travel more than 20,000 miles per annum to and from work. Bit of poke would be nice, and I’d like heated seats and a wireless charger”
So, let’s look.
The MUST-HAVE-DO-OR-DIE items were:
• Four doors
• Miles per gallon
These MUST be fulfilled first before anything else so as a salesperson these would be your go to items to cover off before you look at the other items which were nice to have wants.
• A bit of poke
• Heated seats
• Wireless charger
So those 3 items could be negotiated but the 3 must have items would not be. Now if you had a car to sell with all 6 features then it should be one of those sales that is easy to close that I mentioned earlier if the price was right.
If you had the 3 must have items and say 2 of the nice to have items, then you could have a sale if you included something else.
There are many different needs which a customer may cite when choosing a product or service. Much will depend upon the unique priorities of each customer but there are consistent and common themes.
Here are some of the most frequently cited needs, beginning with product-orientated needs:
1. Functionality and Fit
It may seem like a no-brainer, but it bears highlighting – your offering must fit the customer and solve the problem they are facing. A sports car is a bad fit for a family man (unless he’s buying a second car for track day escapades). A compact car won’t work well for someone who is unusually tall. You want the customer to instinctively feel “this is right.” Listening to what their needs are and finding a solution that really works will close the sale.
People may be willing to go a little higher than their initial budget would allow (most frequently with property purchases) but every customer has a breaking point. Pitching in with a price that preserves your margins but meets the customer’s reasonable expectation is key.
Remember that it isn’t necessary about offering “low, low prices.” For some luxury items, customers expect to pay a premium and may be suspicious of a price tag that’s pitched too low. Would you buy a £100 Rolex?
3. Design and Experience
The look and feel of the product are very important to customers. For one thing, the products we buy often makes a statement about the buyer. What values does your brand promote? Convenience? Beauty? Environmental friendliness? Luxury? Do these values align with the product’s design features and the experience of using it, and do both align with customer needs?
4. Reliability and Performance
You probably thought about n car, reading that header, didn’t you? Cars sell on these needs very frequently. People rely on their vehicles for work, play and getting in the weekly shop. They also enjoy showing off their acceleration, corner handling, safety features and fuel efficiency.
However, both these related qualities apply just as well to a raincoat, an accountancy platform or laptop. People don’t want to keep renewing their products repeatedly, or constantly repairing or upgrading them. Reliability may not be a sexy sell, but it’s a proven one.
There are four main needs that services, in particular, frequently fulfil:
This is too often overlooked, but people want services that understand them. This is most frequently exemplified in customer service encounters. Will your customers have the best possible experience when they call for assistance, or email to change a booking?
6. Openness and Fairness
Particularly with regards to subscription contracts, customers expect to be treated fairly, offered any discounts they are eligible and not hoodwinked into opting for extras they do not need. Fail to do this and your sale could go badly wrong (cf. the British scandal around insurers’ PPI payments, which were deemed to be sold fraudulently and had to be repaid to over 64 million customers to the tune of over £40 billion to date).
Sounds like a simple ask, doesn’t it? But product and service designers know you can’t give every customer everything they want. Within reasonable limits however, services which can be tailored to each customer satisfy the human need for control.
Perhaps it’s in the way subscriptions are structured, or there may be a suite of options that customers can add into their package (a common strategy for cable TV providers and car manufacturers). Customers want to feel free to make the service work for them, rather than having to work around its limitations.
8. Information and Accessibility
Services which are open and accessible to all are the most popular. Going over and above locally mandated disability access requirements can often convey a brand advantage, particularly when this is advertised and sold.
Accessibility is also about making services easier to understand. Mobile contract providers have historically struggled with this, offering far too many variables and options for some customers to understand, leading to the growth of price comparison websites. In a sense, this is the flipside of options – offering too many alternatives can cause paralysis in a customer who is wavering.
When customers need to learn about their service or product, how available is the necessary information, via chatbots, blogs, demonstration videos, FAQs, and other functions? Poor customer service has been cited as a major component of consumer choice, with 58% of customers changing service providers after experiencing it, according to a Microsoft report.
Those eight categories contain most (but not all) of the needs that customers most frequently cite. But what of wants? How are they different, and how can they be leveraged by salespeople?
As we’ve seen, wants are those desirable features which customers have on their “wish list” but whose absence won’t necessarily mean a lost sale.
A customer needs a family car with a sizable boot, and would like a video-enabled parking aid built in. The “would like” clues the salesperson in to the fact that this second preference is negotiable. In other words, it’s a want, but not a need.
Here are some common wants that customers will express, plus the emotions you are leveraging when you fulfil those wants:
1. Prestige Brands: some customers really put stock in a notable brand, rather than opting for a less well-known or newer provider.
Emotion Leveraged: Pride of Ownership, Confidence.
2. Beauty: Not everyone needs everything in their life to be beautiful, but for some it’s important. Form usually triumphs over function, but for some consumers these are equally important considerations.
Emotion Leveraged: Desire.
3. Add-Ons: This is a catch-all for all those optional extras that certain products love to bundle in. Think cars and PCs, for instance. From ergonomic keyboards to heated passenger seats, there are loads of additional features that could help push a sale over the line. You probably won’t lead with these features, but it’s useful to have them in your back pocket. Up-selling and cross-selling are very important for a salesperson!
Emotion Leveraged: Desire and Confidence.
4. Simplicity: Some customers really do value products and services that they can think about as little as possible. For those consumers, stressing how easy the product is to use, or the service to access, will prove a useful sales strategy.
Emotion Leveraged: Peace of Mind.
5. Creativity: Finally, some customers really value creative and interesting solutions to problems. Think those corkscrews shaped like fish, or James Dyson’s Airblade hand-dryers in toilets. Consumers with a particular interest in product design, creativity or invention may value this feature more highly than other wants or even needs.
Emotion Leveraged: Fascination.
These are just a few examples of customer wants, which you can discover by asking open questions and then tailoring your sales pitch accordingly.
Imagine that you need a car to get to work each day and to drop the kids off at school. So, you’ve made the decision to buy a car because you NEED it.
But the brand, the make, and the model that you choose will be based on your WANTS. If it was a simple as getting from A to B, then everyone would be driving low-cost cars that did the job.
But purchasing decisions are not made like that!
That’s a good example of grasping the difference between customer needs and wants and is one that I recommend that you take into yours selling interactions.
Normally the decision has been made to make a purchase to fulfil a need. Your job as a salesperson is to cater for their wants and this is where most of your focus should be.
That doesn’t mean ramming benefits and features down the customer’s throat.
Customers hate to be sold to, but they love to buy.
So how can you illicit the customers’ needs and wants?
Well, it all comes down to the quality of your questioning and listening skills.
Consultative selling skills are a must when it comes down to understanding needs and wants. It’s not a one-way sales pitch here. Instead, you should be asking lots of questions around why they want something, how they want it, the impact it will have on them and what’s important when they make decisions like this.
And what they don’t want is as important as understanding what they do want. Your customer may have made purchasing decisions in the past and have got their fingers burned.
“And I don’t want the payment protection cover because I’ve never made a claim in over 20 years, so I’ve been wasting my money”
Now imagine a salesperson trying to convince this customer that they do need it? It will probably come over as pushy and that it is in the self-interest of the salesperson’s commission rather than what the customer wants.
Some people have fears about what will happen in their business if they don’t achieve their goals. By helping them move away from those situations, you lessen the fears and help them build confidence.
Others have opportunities to achieve goals and they need help to move towards them. This is a chance for you to discuss the gains they would get from your products and services.
Never sell anything unless you understand their needs and wants
“Prescription before diagnosis is malpractice” It’s an old one but a good one.
Your doctor wouldn’t prescribe medicine or drugs without first asking you lots of questions around your symptoms and situation. The same can be said with selling.
Never sell anything without first understanding the customers’ needs and wants.
You can then tailor your interaction with them on the areas that are most important to them. Not the area’s most important to you.
Want to learn more? Why not try one of our Sales Competency Assessments or our free Sales Skills Test which will highlight if you are strong in this area.
Alternatively, why not try an Online Sales Training solution which range from LIVE Sales Training Webinars through to online courses.
Updated on: 25 August, 2022
Originally published: 7 May, 2019
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