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Continuing the vibrant Quora discussion about the most important steps in the sales process, a contributor posted that the "...'single most important step is making sure you find out everything you possibly can about the client. (Needs - overt, implied and intentionally hidden)"

Her position is inarguable, but it's also more complex than her expression acknowledges. Knowing "everything you possibly can about the client" is multi-dimensional, something like saying, "Learn everything you possibly can about someone's health and fitness." It's a big question.

You'd have to understand:

  • The industry, or you'd have no context. 
  • Where that company is positioned in the industry, which defines the limits on its ability to respond to industry issues, e.g., the industry leader can and should do different things than an upstart new entrant.
  • Company-specific flavor of the needs typical in that industry
  • Department-specific needs
  • Person-specific needs: practical/operational needs, economic needs, personal/emotional needs. 

Then all these needs must be understood in relation to that one stakeholder's current professional status and relationship to her co-workers, superiors, direct reports, suppliers, customers/clients, etc. It's a constellation of intelligence gathering that requires a disciplined, sustainable process that motivates individual stakeholders to participate out of self-interest.Finally, you have to have a reliable client decision process or you'll set a world record for cost-of-sales, and spend yourself out of business.

Here's a cheat sheet to guide your investigation. For each person, you have to understand their needs in three dimensions:

  • Practical: This is the "what," i.e., the strategic and operational impact they seek. This is where they're concerned about practical effects such as faster throughput, slower obsolescence, more reliability, less complexity, greater choice, lesser employee turnover, easier distribution, etc. This conversation is happening inside every company every day, and it's pretty easy to tap into and explore. It's also the category of need that most professional salespeople have gotten good at defining.  
  • Economic: This is the relationship between perceived value and perceived cost. Emphasis is on "perceived."  This value is the imputed economic impact obtainable from reversing the negative practical impacts ("current state") and achieving their view of what would happen if they overcame those negative factors and achieved their positive opposite ("desired state").
  • Personal/Emotional: This is the "why" of the sale, and has to do with their self-image and personal aspirations. "I want to make partner." "I need a successful project to offset a recent stumble." "I want to look good to my new boss." "I want to be seen as an innovator." You have to define the other two types of need first, or they'll resist cooperating with this part.

Mike O'Horo

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