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What do our customers value?

Module 1: Five questions every CEO must answer

When you’re trying to sell your product or service, you first need to know what your customers need and want. But it's also incredibly important to understand their aspirations. If you can figure out all three (needs, wants, and aspirations), you'll have a better understanding of what customers value – and you’re likely to have more successful sales.

Needs, wants and value

There are three aspects to every decision:

  1. What solutions will best address the problem (need)?
  2. What solution do I like best (want)?
  3. How will that choice reflect on me, the decision maker (aspiration)?

In the 1970s there was a common saying, “DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation) had better, less expensive computers, but nobody got fired for buying Big Blue (IBM).” Even though a company may have said it was looking for the best computing power at the lowest price, IBM’s brand association, customer service, networking opportunities, and other purchasing perks meant that decision-makers used more criteria to make purchase decisions than simply which company had the most powerful or least expensive computers.

If you’re looking for a car, you have a continuum of choices from a Mini or Ford Fiesta to a Maserati or Tesla. How do you choose?

The car you drive can be seen to say a lot about you as a person. It can signify who you are, how much you can afford, and what your personal values are. The small, entry-level can suggest that its driver has less to money – or it can be, that in line with their values, it’s not a high priority to spend much money on a car. The Tesla can suggest its driver is concerned about the environment, is tech-oriented and they value something more than a set of wheels to get from here to there. There’s also a certain amount of status that the difference in the price of the two vehicles can imply.

Aligning with your customers’ values

When we ask what the customer values, we are asking a question that goes much deeper than what that person needs or wants. We need to understand their aspirations. When a sales team says the prospect is going to make a decision based on the lowest price, you should probe deeper and ask questions such as:

  • Do we know what the company needs? What the prospect needs and wants? Have we asked them, or are we making assumptions?
  • Do we know whether the prospect will be making the decision, or whether someone else will decide? If someone else, do we know their needs, wants and aspirations?
  • What’s likely to happen after the decision is made, assuming the project goes well?
  • Are they looking for a transaction, or a longer-term relationship?

It’s up to the CEO to make sure that the sales team probes deep enough to understand what prospects and customers value

It’s up to the CEO to make sure that the sales team probes deep enough to understand what prospects and customers value. And it’s up to the sales team to explain and make sure that those prospects and customers fully appreciate how your goods or services align with their needs, wants and values.

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