Business development 2 October 2015

How finding problems can change your customer conversations

The main problem with voice of the customer messaging is that you won’t be the only one doing it.
The main problem with voice of the customer messaging is that you won’t be the only one doing it.

As an entrepreneur, you may have been led to believe your customer always knows what’s best for them. They, not you, are qualified to move their business forward. Your sales approach should conform to their interpretation of the market, not yours.

That’s basically the rationale behind “voice of the customer” messaging, a so-called best practice that may be fuelling the perception that you are a commodity provider.

Research conducted by my company, Corporate Visions, in conjunction with Dr Zakary Tormala, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, strongly suggests this is the case (and that a better approach exists – more on that later). That’s due largely to some fundamental flaws in the voice of the customer approach, flaws that prevent you from creating the uniqueness and urgency needed to convince prospects to consider doing something different than what they’re doing today.

The main problem with voice of the customer messaging is that you won’t be the only one doing it. As a result, your competitors are going to receive the exact same inputs from prospects and customers as you. And, in all likelihood, they’ll be responding to these inputs with capabilities that probably aren’t much different from yours.

This leaves you vulnerable to a few selling challenges. First, your prospect won’t feel the urgency to change. They’ll become indecisive and fail to see enough contrast between what you’re proposing and what they’re doing today. This will cause your deals to stall or, worse, fizzle out into no decision. And, should your deal survive, the discussion usually shifts to price instead of value, destroying whatever claim to uniqueness you might have and shrinking your margins.

Thinking as a marketer and salesperson, you need an alternate approach – one that will assert your differentiation, generate urgency and advance your deals on the basis of value instead of price.

The experiment with Dr Tormala affirmed that the selling approach that can do all of these is one based on identifying and introducing your prospect’s “unconsidered needs”. These are the challenges or missed opportunities in your prospect’s current situation that make it unsafe and unsustainable.

There are three ways to think about incorporating this messaging approach into your selling strategy:

Consider three types of unconsidered needs

There are really three kinds of unconsidered needs you should look to identify in your prospect’s status quo situation.

(1) Undervalued needs are rapidly approaching trends or problems whose speed of approach or impact has been underestimated by your prospect and could threaten their most important business goals.

(2) Unmet needs are those your prospect doesn’t realise they have because they’ve papered over the problem with stopgap measures and other workarounds to temporarily conceal the nature of the pain.

(3) Unknown needs are usually longer-range issues that surface when a vendor has a fix for a problem the prospect didn’t know they had. You can enhance the value of your deals by bringing these issues into the life cycle of the buying decision.

Rethink insights

To reform the way you develop, deploy and deliver your message, you may need to reform the way you think about insights—which serve as the foundation of the “unconsidered needs” approach. No longer can you afford to deliver insights that provide what I call “true but useless” information. Your insights should aim to be original, provocative and forward-looking, revealing inconsistencies or uncertainties in the way your prospect’s doing business today. The best insights will include a surprising data point, a disruptive perspective and a provocative question.

Connect the unconsidered needs you identify to your unexpected strengths

This is the step that allows you to effectively transition from the “why change” story to the “why you” one. It’s not enough to just tell your prospects why their current situation will prevent them from reaching their objectives; you have to link their challenges to your solutions to show how you’re uniquely qualified to resolve them. To testify to your value, conclude with a story that highlights a comparable scenario in which you helped another company find a “new safe” with your solution.

Unexpected urgency and uniqueness – that’s what it’s going to take to convince prospects to pursue a pathway to change. You won’t be able to take them there if you’re telling prospects the same things as your competitors. You will if you can expose prospects and customers to the problems and missed opportunities they didn’t know they had.

Tim Riesterer is the chief strategy and marketing officer at Corporate Visions.

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