Salespeople know that they’re supposed to sell to the customer’s needs. Here is the classic—and tragically wrong—way they usually learn to do it: Uncover the first need. Begin a product presentation, covering features and benefits. Then attempt to uncover another need. More product talk. Etc.

Research shows that presentations like this are 25 percent less effective than those in which a thorough needs assessment is followed by a summary of all of the customer’s needs. You will be far more successful if you begin by uncovering and agreeing on at least three relevant needs that the customer perceives as important. Only then should you begin a product presentation tailored to address those needs.

Never present your product until you have agreed on at least three important and relevant needs.

Here’s how to do that.

  1. Ask questions designed to draw out the customer’s needs—specifically, problems or opportunities that can be best addressed by the unique capabilities of your company or your products.
  2. Take notes while the customer talks. This shows that you’re a good listener and that you actually care.
  3. Summarize and reach agreement on needs. When you believe you have uncovered at least three strong and relevant needs, summarize them and check your understanding with the customer. In this way, you reach agreement on the customer’s needs. Use this format to gain agreement:”As I understand it, you are looking for a way to ­_____, ______, and ______. Is that correct?”If the customer says no, ask more questions and do more listening. Only after the customer agrees that you correctly understand those three important needs should you begin to present the capabilities of your company and your product.

You are now prepared to make that presentation in a far more powerful way by tailoring it to focus directly on issues the customer already has agreed upon as vital problems or opportunities.

Action Selling ® In Action

Financial consultant Brad Martin describes his experience with the Action Selling ® approach to needs identification as a revelation and a radical departure from the way he was originally trained.

Martin works for a large financial services company. Like many salespeople, he was taught to respond to each customer need as quickly as he was able to uncover it. So he would spot a need, present a product feature and benefit to address it, then fish for another need. “That worked all right,” Martin said, “but sometimes I ran into trouble by presenting capabilities that didn’t quite match the prospect’s needs when they were considered as a whole. This meant I later had to deal with many more objections than necessary.”

The problem is that customer needs do not exist individually, in a vacuum. They are interrelated.

Martin learned in Act 4 of the Action Selling ® training program to uncover and agree on at least three needs before presenting his solutions. “Now my presentations are much better focused, and fewer objections surface,” he said. “I am closing a significantly higher percentage of my prospects.”