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  • Writer's pictureDavid A. Schneider

What customers want

How to find out what your customers really want:

No matter if you sell B2B or B2C, you will always have to deal with people.

Even if the customer you are selling to is a fortune 500 company, there are people in charge of making the decision to buy or not, and not the company.

And those people will always have some goals or challenges going on in their life and businesses.

Your job in sales or as an entrepreneur will be to find out what makes your customers buy, what it is customers really want and ideally even what your customers think in the process.

Getting an insight into these thought processes is the basis for every successful sales strategy.

If you don’t know what people are looking for, how will you offer it to them?

The tricky part is just that every person is different.

And for every product, there will be different motivations behind it that can drive that person away or further in your direction.

There are some general motivations behind why people buy certain products as we already discussed in our article on what makes customers buy.

But to become a sales professional you have to be successful with the cards you have been dealt with. Usually you are not in the position to make major changes in the product to make it appealing to a larger customer group.

Complex products with lots of technical details usually also can’t rely on impulse buying or fancy brands to make people want them.

Such products are made-to-measure for their individual customers, and they will want to know all their needs are truly met before investing millions in new machinery. Here it gets tricky - because some of them do not even have an idea of what the ideal solution might be for them.

So this guide is for all those of you who need to really understand what their customers want.

Finding out what customers really want

what customers really want
What people want is often not obvious - not even to themselves.

As a salesman in a complex sales process, your job is not just selling as many products as possible (even though that might be good for your commission), but instead it is to offer solutions to a problem.

Every successful product in the market out there was initially built either out of a want or a need that customers had, and often there are even a lot more hidden benefits you can connect to a product then you might at first think.

But what really turns people who at first didn't even want to have an appointment with you into happy customers for years?

Simply put you will have to identify the specific situation a person is in, show why your product can help to make the situation better and thereby try to trigger a buying decision in the customer.

While there are some strategies to increase sales in a conversation, they all actually rely on asking good open-ended questions that make the other person talk and reveal as much about themselves as possible.

Many sales gurus like to call a set of questions their “big magic sales secret”, while in fact it is merely a sequence of questions everybody can ask.

After reading this post, you will have a clear understanding of what these questions are about and how you can utilize them.

The famous book Spin Selling by Neil Rackham for example does great research on this topic and shows that the right questions lead to success in sales.

But be aware that asking questions and having the other person talk about their situation alone still is not going to bring you the desired outcome.

Furthermore you will have to really actively listen to the other person and respond accordingly.

Active listening is harder than you might think at first, and in most instances there are not many sales representatives capable of doing it.

Instead we often prepare what we are going to say next while someone else does the talking for a moment, and thereby only truly understand a fraction of the whole details the other person just mentioned.

But what if the one or two details you just missed will give you the final piece of the puzzle to bring up a compelling argument for your solution in the conversation?

Therefore try to listen as closely as possible to the other person and remember as many details as possible.

This means that you do not think about your next answer, until the other person really has finished.

Also look for signs of excitement or anger and frustration while the other person is talking.

Observing the body language of your counterpart thereby is crucial to uncover things that might be hidden beneath the surface and thus not directly mentioned.

The topic of body language in itself is huge and would be way too much to cover in this post, but there are great books out there to learn it.

If you are serious about your career in sales, you should have at least a basic understanding of when a person shows interest or excitement apart from their words.

Understanding the situation of your customer

what customers want

“In the most successful sales conversations, the customer does most of the talking”

To get a first idea what it is the customer is looking for, you could first of all ask the prospect about their situation:

What are they doing exactly?

For how long?

What made them decide to pursue this path and not another?

What does the future look like, what are their plans?

Why do they think that way?

What kind of system is in use now to deal with problem x?

How many items get shipped in a day?

What is their average time to work on the project?

What would improve the situation?

What would the ideal solution look like for them?

With this way of asking the prospect, the most important thing to know is what are they doing right now, what have they been doing in the past and what will they be doing in the future.

All those 3 scenarios will be important to your prospect and almost everybody has some kind of goals and ambitions that they reach for in the near future.

If you are lucky, the prospect might already mention some situations where your products will be a good solution.

The more you can get them to speak and open up, the better your chances of uncovering their buying patterns and finding out what exactly they want to hear.

Ideally, at this stage of the conversation you should already have established rapport with the prospect.

If you have not yet fully understood how this works, check out our free guide for building rapport.

You could also ask one question that clearly helps to find out about past buying behaviour:

What else did you spend money on to solve problem X?

This gives you a clear idea what the prospect not only would theoretically want, but also what exactly they are willing to spend money on.

Often this is a crucial difference.

Many people do not know what they want.

In a conversation, they might only give you vague ideas that come up at that moment.

If there is something they spend money on, this is a reliable indicator that this topic or this kind of solution is really important to them.

In retrospect, if they already purchased something to help with a certain problem, it is a strong indication that there might be a real need that you can hopefully offer a solution to in your sales process.

Digging Deeper in the sales conversation

what do customers actually want
Ok we now know some of their decisions. Time to find out more.

Most of the time however, you will not be lucky enough to have someone tell you their needs and wants right away.

And making success depending on luck in sales is setting yourself up for failure.

In some cases you will have to dig deeper to find out more about the other person about what really drives them.

Asking a detailed question about your counterpart's situation, wishes and desires or goals they want to reach will also make the other person talk about himself.

It is thus a great conversation opener because it will automatically make them feel good, and that is what you want in a sales conversation.

Everybody loves to tell their own personal story, or tell about their own successes.

The more the prospect does the talking, the better you are leading the conversation.

Ask about motivations behind past decisions or what caused them to do one thing instead of the other.

After having uncovered the basics about their motivations, you then proceed by asking questions about their specific problem they are describing:





How Often?

What happens, if ...?

If you further try to uncover details from the prospect and use these types of follow up questions, be aware of any possible high sensitive areas you might step into.

Maybe there is an area causing problems.

And maybe exactly your prospect was responsible for the dilemma back then. Such memories usually trigger strong feelings, and areise the desire to avoid having such a scenario in the future.

Or they could have a strong emotional feeling or bond towards a certain topic, maybe they love one thing or hate another.

Emotions will always help you to get people to act if you can make use of them in the right way. Generally people will be motivated to move toward pleasure and away from pain.

If you can position your solution in helping them with their pain, and moving them towards pleasure - you are on the right track.

Look for all kinds of areas that could be significant to the buyer, that will align with the prospects goals and whereby you can offer the ideal solution.

If you can't find anything at your first try, start the process again by moving the conversation further into this direction and keep asking them more questions about their situation only expressed differently.

This means you do not ask the same question, but try to frame it differently this time.

You could use other words or try to discuss the topic from a different angle.

There is always something that bothers people or that they need help with, and your job is to uncover it.

Getting your customer to act

Find the cause and effect to make it urgent to act now and prove that your client is served best when he starts using your product today.

This can be done by digging even deeper into those problems that are solvable for your product and which negative effects might arise if the buyer does not act right now.

Remember: All people want to move away from pain and towards pleasure.

Studies have shown that we humans would do much more and act much faster if we are in pain to make that pain stop than to get pleasure, meaning pain will be the best leverage you can make use of in any sales conversation.

Test it for yourself: what would make you more committed:

Stop someone from stealing 1.000$ from your bank account


Make an extra 1.000$

Most people would work much harder to prevent someone from stealing from their bank account than they would work to make the extra cash. Pain is the best motivation.

Pain can especially be financially if for example old machinery will create higher costs, and the prospect could replace those machines with new ones.

Or they might suffer a Cyber-attack from hackers if they do not update their IT systems as soon as possible.

Once an existing or potential problem has been identified, start taking it a step further in the prospects mind by drawing verbal pictures of possible negative outcomes:

What would happen if …?

Does that lead to a bad image?

Can you think of other ways this can be harmful for you and your business?

Will that result in … ?

By asking such questions from a helpful and honest standpoint with the interest to help the prospect, you will change your role from a salesperson to a problem solver that can transform the situation of a prospect from where it is today to a better one tomorrow.

During this stage, always look for any emotional reaction good or bad in the other person's body language and try to read between the lines of what the other person is saying.

Some of them will not be ready to reveal everything about their situation or might just not trust you enough at this moment.

Just be prepared that some might withhold information or try not to directly talk about certain details.

This is perfectly normal, and in most cases will solve itself as soon as you have established a long and good enough relationship with the buyer.

It is natural to not trust everybody from the first moment on.

After you have established enough rapport in the first part of the sales conversation however, usually people will be open to talk.

So the next time when you are around with a prospect, remember:

First listen.

Then understand.

Then answer.

The client and their situation are the most important part to get any sale. And if your product can provide real value to people, there will be situations and conversations where it will be needed.


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