Sales Best Practices

How to identify and solve for customer needs

Serena Miller's Avatar

Serena Miller

Editor, Sales Best Practices

For sales teams across every industry, keeping up with high customer expectations is a seemingly constant challenge. On top of executing their day-to-day sales activities, managing their pipeline, and ensuring they hit their targets, salespeople must also properly identify and solve for their customers’ needs — or risk falling behind their competitors.

In today’s hyper-competitive global market, customers expect ease, convenience, and intuitive services and products. They expect businesses to keep up with their expectations, regardless of the platform they use to interact with that business. But if sales organizations and their sellers don’t understand customers’ fundamental needs, they cannot offer the tailored solutions that meet and exceed those needs.

A lack of foundational knowledge surrounding customer needs often leads sales teams on a wild goose chase in their attempts to offer solutions that adequately serve their customers. This means wasted time, resources, and, ultimately, missed revenue.

Here, we’ll walk through the process of identifying the most crucial aspects of customer needs, and how to build upon them to craft sales strategies that pinpoint and solve consumer and prospect pain points.

What are customer needs?

Customer needs include all of the expectations, demands, and requirements (both specified and unspecified) a buyer has as they seek out a solution. In some instances, the customer may not even be fully aware of their own needs, so sellers must interact with each prospect and client with acute awareness of their potential expectations.

While each buyer is unique — and thus so are their needs — sales organizations can begin to identify some commonalities among them by conducting thorough research and collecting feedback. Then, they can tweak both the sales process and their offerings so as to better serve those specific needs.

For instance, an organization that sells B2B marketing solutions might gather customer feedback at every stage of their sales process to determine whether or not they’re meeting client expectations. By digging through relevant social media posts, online reviews, and customer feedback forms and conducting deep user research and more, they uncover two key findings:

  1. Their marketing automation software is difficult to use, so customers are struggling to ensure team-wide adoption and justify their investments in the technology.
  2. Their prospects feel that the customer interactions they’ve experienced are generic, pushy, and disingenuous.

Using this information, the business decides to prioritize product development to improve their software’s usability and to adjust their sales strategy to become more customer-centric and personalized. Over time, they're able to better meet their customers’ expectations to build brand loyalty, increase client satisfaction, reduce churn, and boost their profitability.

The different types of customer needs

While customer needs vary greatly (depending on industry, company size, current environment, objectives, and more), they typically fall into two categories: product needs and service needs. There are several different types of needs within those two groups, each of which requires a different solution.

Product needs

Product needs refer to the customers’ expectations of a business’s actual offerings. These included (but are not limited to):

  • Functionality - Customers need the products they buy to function in a way that suits their needs and resolves their pain points. When they invest in a product, customers want the offering to fulfill its promised capabilities and include all purchased features.
  • Performance - A product is not of any use to the customer if it doesn’t operate successfully and consistently. Clients expect that the solutions they purchase are in working order and perform properly so they can achieve their intended outcomes.
  • Price - Each customer has a specific budget, and thus an established amount they’re willing to spend on a product. They need to find a solution that resolves their pain points and supports their goals while also remaining within the parameters of that budget.
  • Compatibility/Integrations - More often than not, customers already have an existing ecosystem of tools and technologies that support their operations. They expect any new products they purchase to be compatible with those current tools, so as to get the most out of their tech stacks.
  • User Experience - As customers evaluate potential solutions, they look for products and services that offer convenience and intuitiveness. They don’t want to invest in something that will require complex training or will go unused due to poor usability.

Service needs

Service needs are all the requirements customers have surrounding interactions with a solution provider and the business as a whole. This might include:

  • Transparency - Today’s customers are quick to identify a business that’s trying to pull the wool over their eyes to make a sale. They expect complete transparency into what they’re being offered, how it will impact them, how much it will cost, and how the company from which they’re purchasing will handle any unforeseen issues.
  • Options - Customers want flexibility when it comes to the products and features they purchase, so offering rigid, one-size-fits-all solutions won’t inspire them to buy. They want to know that they have several options from which to choose (each in varying functionality, price points and payment options, and more) to feel confident that the solution will meet their unique needs.
  • Accessibility - When a product breaks or the customer has a question, they need unfettered access to support. They expect to reach customer service and support teams quickly and easily, so businesses should offer several avenues of access (e.g. social media, email, phone, self-service portals, etc.).
  • Empathy - Buyers want to know that the businesses from which they purchase truly understand their challenges and goals. They want to interact with sellers and customer support reps who lead with an authentic, empathetic, and consultative approach, rather than a pushy or promotional edge.
  • Information - Modern buyers are smart. In fact, 94% of B2B buyers conduct online research before making a purchase, so it’s fair to assume that information impacts their decisions. They want the solutions providers they’re considering to offer in-depth, valuable information about their products and services (both before and after a purchase is made), so they feel comfortable buying and using the solution.

How to identify customer needs

"If you build it, they will come," doesn't apply to product, service, or sales process that meets customer needs. Actually, the exact opposite rings true, as 66% of buyers expect a sales rep to tailor solutions to their individual needs. They don’t want providers to develop and pitch solutions they think buyers might need. They want them to build their solutions, sales processes, and experiences around their unique pain points, objectives, challenges, and needs.

But identifying those needs upon which a successful business (and its sales strategy) relies isn’t as easy as ticking expectations off a predetermined list. Each organization’s customers are different, and they should take the time to uncover which expectations are most relevant to their buyers, then meet — or exceed — them.

Below are several methods by which a business can identify their customers’ specific needs.

Customer feedback

Collecting, analyzing, and acting upon customer feedback can give a company a serious leg up against their competitors. It may seem like an obvious approach, but while 89% of customers feel an organization should give them an opportunity to provide feedback, only 47% believe that most brands take action on that feedback. It’s a clear opportunity for companies to demonstrate their commitment to listening to their customers and making adjustments to better meet their needs.

Customer feedback can take the form of social media posts, on-site prompts or chat boxes, on- and off-site reviews, and more. Regardless of how a business requests and collects feedback, it’s essential to ask buyers open-ended questions about:

  • Their experiences with the website
  • The product and service information that’s available to them
  • Their interactions with sellers, customer service/support teams, etc.
  • How their products or services solve (or fail to solve) their pain points
  • How their products or services could be improved to better meet their needs

Then, the organization should analyze their customers’ responses on a regular basis to identify key trends and patterns. If they do make subsequent adjustments to their products, services, sales process, or customer service strategy, they should be transparent with buyers about the change, citing customer feedback as the catalyst for their decision. This will help them establish trust with customers and illustrate their willingness to adapt to their clients’ needs.

User research

If your product and/or service teams aren’t already conducting user research, now might be a great time to start. There are myriad excuses for foregoing user research (e.g. lack of time, resources, or budget, assuming that customers don’t know what they want, etc.), but a proper mix of qualitative and quantitative user research can affect several revenue-relevant metrics, including:

  • Customer acquisition - By conducting user research that gleans insights into how your audience interacts with your sellers, your website, and your overall brand, you can begin to tweak your messaging and engagement strategies for increased conversions.
  • Customer retention - Retaining an existing customer is much more cost-effective than acquiring a new one, but how do your existing clients feel about your business, your products and services, and the support they receive? User research helps your teams identify clients’ specific pain points, goals, and any issues they may be having and course correct before they jump ship to a competitor.
  • Referrals - A whopping 92% of people prefer a word of mouth recommendation over any other type of referral; but customers recommending your company must be willing to put their own reputations on the line to do so. By conducting user research, your business can unearth and resolve any product, service, or other issues that may be preventing them from referring your brand to their peers with confidence.

Don’t forget that user research can be costly and incredibly time-consuming if you don’t adequately plan for the process. Be sure to choose a research method that’s relevant to your industry, products and services, and intended audience, get stakeholder buy-in early on, and align your research with broader business goals to ensure success.

Customer surveys

While customer feedback can help you collect longer-form, detailed responses, surveys can enable your team to quickly gain insights into specific areas for improvement. They’re helpful for evaluating overall customer satisfaction to predict retention and product or service purchases. It’s vital to remember that customer surveys are only truly valuable if they include the right questions and are utilized at the right time, so be sure to:

Keep customer surveys short and concise

Eliminate unnecessary questions that aren’t directly tied to what you want to know

Send surveys during key moments in the buying journey (like directly after a demo, immediately following a purchase, or prior to a potential subscription renewal)

Use consistent rating scales (e.g. 1-10, wherein 1 represents extremely dissatisfied and 10 equates to extremely satisfied) to avoid confusion

Skip the leading questions, which can irritate customers and skew your data

Offer incentives (like discounts or entry for a giveaway) for customers who participate

Your team can implement in-product surveys, send them via email, or use on-page popup surveys on the company’s website. Don’t be afraid to play around with different methods until you find one that garners high levels of participation.

Sales team and service team interviews

Several members of your sales and service teams likely have their ears to the ground when it comes to customer needs. They have constant interaction with customers and prospects, and their insights are incredibly valuable — so put them to use.

Interview these team members to learn which problems, needs, or desires they frequently hear from customers and potential buyers. If they’re doing their jobs properly and leading with empathy, they’ll already have deep knowledge around your customers' biggest pain points, your company’s shortcomings, and the changes they’d like to see.

Competitive research

Researching your competitors is a vital part of understanding your own offerings, establishing benchmarks for growth, identifying your company’s unique differentiators, and making intelligent decisions that help you exceed customer expectations.

This should go far beyond scouring their social media profiles or Google Ads: It should also include a deep look at the companys’ histories, their largest customers, and where they’re thriving or failing to meet customer expectations. Dive into the strategies they’re using (and whether or not those strategies are successful), and consider implementing them yourself, if necessary. Don’t be afraid to study their weaknesses and capitalize on those shortcomings by filling in the gaps at your own company.

Keyword research, search landscape analysis, and social listening 

Buyers turn to search engines like Google for their every whim, so it’s essential to understand the keywords and phrases they use when looking to solve their pain points. After all, they can’t make a purchase from your business if they can’t find you first.

Start by conducting thorough keyword research and identifying how your competitors position themselves. Compile a list of all the keywords that are relevant to your industry, products, services, and business, and measure their monthly search volume (a keyword research or online ranking tool can help!) to determine which ones are worth pursuing.

But don’t stop there: Take a close look at the search engine results pages (SERPs) for each of those keywords to uncover the users’ intent or motivation for typing it into their search bar. If, for example, a user searches “marketing software,” the SERPs should tell you what they’re likely looking to find. Are the majority of results product pages geared toward selling marketing software, or are they informational pages regarding how it’s used, its benefits, and why a company may need it?

Once you’ve analyzed the results, you can begin creating valuable content on your own site that targets the user needs attached to your most relevant keywords. This will help your business get in front of the right audience and demonstrate its position as a thought leader in the space. After all, customers want content that resonates with their needs, shows them you understand those needs, and delivers the information they need when they need it.

How to solve for customer needs

Once you’ve identified your customer’s most pressing needs, you can begin prioritizing the ones that will make the greatest impact on their experiences. Let’s look at the same example we used earlier, wherein a B2B marketing software company discovered two pressing issues:

  1. Their customers are struggling to use their marketing automation software because it’s unnecessarily complicated.
  2. Their prospects are underwhelmed and irritated by their sellers’ engagements, which are generalized and insincere.

They’ve also identified some other potential areas for concern (like a lack of payment options and a new feature request), but they’ve decided to first focus on the problems above because they’re likely to significantly impact retention and acquisition.

To solve for these needs, the business decides to work solutions into their product roadmaps. They adjust their product vision, strategy, and goal to align with improving the product’s usability so that their customers can more easily implement and utilize their software. They invest the proper time, resources, and funds into UX research and design. Once they’ve improved the product, they send an email announcement to existing and potential customers and publish a blog post on their website to address the changes.

On the service side, they decide to tweak the sales process to include highly personalized interactions. They offer unique touches (gained by data, customer feedback and surveys, buyer sentiment analysis, and active listening) in sales emails, curated online and virtual events, and more to let their prospects know they’re in tune with their needs and preferences. They tailor each interaction to their customers’ liking, including the cadence, format, and style with which they’re delivered.

The company measures their progress over time, too, using feedback and data to evaluate their efforts. They adjust their strategies as they go to ensure they’re fully meeting their customers’ expectations and providing the best possible experiences at every turn.

Powerful technology for identifying and meeting customer needs

It’s clear that uncovering your customers’ needs, desires, and objectives is absolutely crucial to offering competitive solutions. But the process can be time-consuming, costly, and fruitless if your business doesn’t have the proper tools for support.

Outreach Engage helps sellers turn insights into actions and takes the guesswork out of uncovering and solving buyer needs. It uses AI-driven buyer sentiment tools for understanding and acting on customers’ emotional responses, and uses key data to help your team make smarter decisions about the sales process and buying journey.

Learn more about how to understand your customers’ needs and preferences and improve your approach, or request a demo today.