How To Be Specific When Locking Down The Customer’s Needs

Written by Sean McPheat | Linkedin thumb

Do You Know Your Customers?Have you ever been in a discussion with a prospect and felt that you weren’t on  the same wavelength, or your understanding of their needs was too vague to button down?

Have there been situations where you possibly misunderstood their meaning and came to conclusions that were not accurate?

Don’t worry, it happens every day, and it’s often caused by the conversation being too generic and there being a lack of clarity in what’s being discussed. As humans, we try to make sense out of what is being said by matching them against things we have experienced before.

For example, if I was to say the words ‘increased productivity’ to you, what would your immediate reaction be? Probably an improvement in the amount or quantity of what was being produced. But by how much, exactly? The term used is too generic or general to answer that question.

The same goes for words like ‘partnership’, ‘quality’, ‘streamlining’, ‘reduction’ and such-like. When we use these expressions, we have an idea of what we mean and, if requested, would be able to specify the meaning. However, we often think that others know what we mean because we know what we mean.

It is important that we get the prospect to go from general to specific by highlighting the concept that is being generalised and focussing in on the meaning so it becomes more specific.

Here are some examples of generalities:

“We’ve been trying for some time to reduce costs, but have only been partly successful” 

“If we could improve the sales processes, I’m sure we’d see improvements pretty quickly” 

“I really want to develop a partnership rather than just have a supplier relationship”

In each of these, you’ll see the need to get the prospect to be more specific. In the first example, the prospect will know what efforts they’ve made (trying), how long they’ve been trying (some time), how much they have to save (reduce costs) and exactly what they’ve achieved so far (partly successful).

Unfortunately, your none the wiser, so it would be necessary for you to focus in on the meaning behind one or more of these generalities.

Examples of your questions may include:

“When you say ‘trying’, can you give me an idea of what you’ve done so far and the impact it has had on reducing costs?” 

“You mentioned ‘improving the sales processes’. Exactly what improvements are you referring to and what improvements would you looking for?”

“We like to work with customers in that way too. Could you let me know specifically what you mean by ‘partnership’ as it’s important we’re talking about the same thing here.”

Each of these questions take your customer or prospect’s thinking to a more focused, detailed and specific level. The answers will help you clarify the position your customer is at and what possible changes you could help them achieve in the future.

Getting the conversation from generic to specific will help you develop solutions that will take your prospect’s business further and quicker because you don’t have to rely on mind-reading to assess what your prospect actually wants or means. That will develop your understanding quicker and with more accuracy than if you tried guessing what those generic terms actually meant.

Happy Selling!

Sean McPheat

Managing Director

MTD Sales Training | Sales Blog | Image courtesy of Dollarphotoclub

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Originally published: 7 January, 2015