What do customers want

What do customers want? How do you find out what customers want? In 1954 Peter F. Drucker declared there is only one purpose of a business: to create a customer. Nearly 65 years have passed, and it still seems many businesses are struggling to understand this fundamental concept.

What do customers want? Even the savviest executives are asking this question more frequently than ever, and rightly so. Increasingly executives start realising that they are in the customer-experience business. They realise that just mentioning being customer focussed doesn’t work. They realise that HOW they deal with or interact with customers is to be even more important as WHAT it delivers.

I was hired as keynote speaker at an in-house sales and marketing event.  During the afternoon a podium discussion session was organised.  A bit of interaction never hurts, and quite frankly, these discussion often are rather interesting. At least I do think so. A little discussion and a lot of interaction is always great fun and at brings stories, experiences. That is what it is all about, experiences.
A young man was standing at the microphone. He introduced himself as George. George asked me two questions. What do customers want? And how do I find our what customers want?

Isn’t it a bit awkward? Imagine you’re a salesperson. Isn’t it your job to know what your customers want? Isn’t it your obligation to have an in-depth understanding of your customers?  How on earth can you help your customer to become better, to move forward and to make him better in serving his customers, to help him to achieve his goals, without knowing what he wants?

It isn’t awkward. Asking customers what they really want, is rather difficult. Just think about it. How often do we think we already know what customers wants?  Or we think to know what a particular customers wants, because others want or buy a specific product or service? This tenacious misconception that general target group characteristics are applicable to the individual customer. When we think we know, we don’t ask.
And is ‘What do customers want’ the right question? Shouldn’t we try to find the answer to another question, a much more fundamental question? Shouldn’t we want to know the answer on the question: What does the customer really need?

As salespeople we believe in what we sell, we believe in our products and our services. We are convinced those products are the right solutions. So, we like to talk about those products and services. In fact we talk about the gimmicks, the advantages, the selling propositions. What happens is, that as a result the customer joins the discussion talking about products, about gimmicks. This is what we are used to. So we limit ourselves to what is wanted. We neglect to ask what is needed.

There is another aspect to consider. When a salesperson asks what your customer really need, he may put himself in a risky position. What if the customer tells something different than he hoped for? Because if they do the salesperson looses interest.
There are two moments salespersons do loose interest in the customer resulting in no longer paying attention. The first moment is when they got the desired Yes. That is the moment when they have closed the order. The business is done.
The other moment is when they fear they may not get the business.  That is when the customer objects by saying things like: you’re expensive, we already have a partner or your solution doesn’t exactly answer to my needs. As soon as the salesperson thinks he may not get the business, he looses interest.

George asked me two questions. What do customers want? And how do I find our what customers want?  My answer to George’s questions was in fact also quite simple: “Ask! Simply ask your customer: Dear customer, what do you need? What makes you happy? What makes your customers happy? How can I contribute, so you can deliver a better service to your customers? How can I help you to exceed your customer’s expectations?”
George immediately came with the next question: “What if the customer doesn’t give a clear answer or doesn’t even know what he wants?”
So I told the old adage that people don't buy drills because they want drills, they want holes. In fact customers prefer to have holes and rather not buy drills, Instead of asking questions about what they want – drills –, we should ask questions about what they need – holes –.

Customers often do not give a clear answer. Sometimes customers do not even know what the actually need, sometimes they are hesitating to tell.  That is why customers often give drill-related replies rather than telling the salesperson about what they actually need. Rephrase the question and ask your customer what is it he is interested in, what he does want to achieve. Try to find the answer to the question behind the question. 
Peter Drucker made it quite clear: “What the customer buys and considers value is never a product. It is always utility, that is, what a product or a service does for the customer.”
The salesperson is the one who has to find out. The real question is not about what the customer wants, but what the customers needs to serve his customers. That is, when you are really interested in your customer’s well-being. Remember, the one purpose of a business is to create a customer and deliver value.

Klaas Meekma

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