I’m going to share something right off the bat that most people in sales do not know. And that is that every salesperson talks about what a prospect needs and in reality, that prospect wants to talk about what they want. So what’s the difference?

Well first, let’s talk about needs. Every sale has five basic obstacles: no need, no money, no hurry, no desire, no trust. It’s clear that you can’t foster a lot of sales giving decision makers what they don’t need. You can’t sell landscaping services to someone who lives in a high rise or financial planning to someone with a net worth of two cents.

The decision maker’s Needs are, obviously, a vital part of the sales process and of the buying decision.  So Needs are related to the “application” of your product or service. For example, a homeowner might need to lower heating costs and the installation of your solar screens will do the trick. The owner of a small business might need better cash flow, and applying your Accounts Receivable collection program could get the job done.  Whatever Needs decision makers might have, there’s no mystery about them. They’re not a secret to anyone. When a decision maker tells you what his or her Needs are, you’re not hearing anything that gives you a big edge over your competitors. Every salesperson in your industry has heard the same story and has the same information.

Decision makers are very aware of their Needs and will talk about them openly because those needs are directly related to their buying decisions.  It’s rational for the decision maker to satisfy his Needs. It makes sense to lower heating costs or to improve cash flow. All decision maker Needs are objective. They’re not based on theory or conjecture, and given enough information, any intelligent person can figure them out.

Of all the Needs decision makers have, some of them are related specifically to the type of product or service you and your competitors are selling. Does your product solve their immediate problem?

So the trap that most salespeople fall into is that they talk only about the decision makers Needs which you gain absolutely no differentiation from your competitors. Guess what? Every salesperson talks to the decision maker about the same set of Needs. Think of it this way. Every salesperson hears from the decision maker, “I need X.” When the time comes to say what you can do for the decision maker, you say, “I can give you X.” which the decision maker has heard from not just you, but all of your competition as well. You all sound the same, boringly and predictably similar. And since there is no real differentiation, the decision maker starts to hammer you on price. Who can blame them? They have no other basis on which to make a buying decision, so they choose price. If everyone can give you X, you might as well pick the cheapest one. Why not, any rational person would do the same thing.

Now let’s talk about the other side of the coin, the one that no one ever deals with. Wants. How do they differ from Needs?

In contrast to Needs (which are application-related), decision maker Wants are personal in nature. For example, our business owner earlier that had a Need for better cash flow and was considering the Accounts Receivable collections program actually Wants personal independence, so she can keep collecting a respectable paycheck and have no boss attached to it. That’s great for the entrepreneur, personally. Wants are personal, very personal.  Which explains why Decision makers chose to reveal their Wants to the salesperson less than 2 percent of the time. They just don’t talk about them the way they talk about their needs. It’s not a big conspiracy. The reason is that most decision makers have no real idea how much their Wants influence the buying decision. As a result, they ignore the subject of Wants because they perceive it as irrelevant to the purchase. It isn’t. By understanding this fact, you have an opportunity to gain an advantage over your competitors.  This should get you excited!

Wants are big emotional issues for decision makers and, in most cases, have very little relationship to rational priorities or concerns. To go back to that entrepreneur, she values personal independence over almost everything else, money, power, prestige, security, and so on. Instead of being fact-oriented (like Needs), Wants are tied into the decision maker’s perceptions. And Wants are not product or service specific. Think of them as the “emotional baggage” decisions makers carry with them into every sales interaction and every buying decision. Consider the entrepreneur again. The entrepreneur’s Want-personal independence, so she can collect a respectable paycheck and have no boss attached to it – can be applied to every product or service in the world.  So let’s boil this down.  What you’re looking at is the decision makers’ buying decision. Both Needs and Wants are present and both are crucial, because Wants have as much influence over the buying decision as Needs do. The Salesperson who understands that has the key to the fundamental principle of successful selling: Decision Makers are most eager to buy what they need from salespeople who understand what they want.

There is a subtle but important difference between fact-finding and information gathering. Fact-finding is what traditional salespeople do most of the time. They ask for specific information to determine the prospect’s need for their product or service. Information gathering is a tool of a successful salesperson. If you ask questions that give you the big picture of the prospect’s business, you start to act as a consultant rather than a pusher of products or services.

One of your best tools as a salesperson is your mouth and the ability to communicate. Being able to ask the right questions in the right way is paramount. Questioning is such an important communication skill which actually simplifies the sales process. Well-phrased questions help prospects reveal their thoughts and feelings which gives you tremendous insight into their needs, motivations, business climate, and fears. The conversation stimulated by your questions will smooth the way for the building of a business relationship and will help you manage tension, build trust, uncover a prospect’s needs and wants, and identify behavioral style.

Asking questions is similar to painting a picture. If you were to set up a canvas to paint a breathtaking vista, what would you paint first? Using a large brush you’d paint the background. Then you move to smaller brushes to paint small details, and as time went by you would keep reducing the size of your brush to paint smaller and smaller details. Questioning begins the same way. You start with a broad brush, that is, an open-ended question. An open-ended question is one that requires a narrative for an answer. The question gets the prospect involved in the conversation immediately.

  1. What are some of the ways you would like your office to be efficient?
  2. Tell me about your present billing system?

When you have finished painting the background, that is, gathering information with a broad, open question or two, it is time to be more specific. Ask more focused open, closed or clarifying questions at this point. Learn to be flexible in your questioning (this is driven by the answer your receive and how you adapt your next question) which results in more information and a better grasp on how you can help your prospect or client.