Dan was considered a successful salesperson. He had an extensive list of customers and significant annual billing. Dan’s clients liked him because he always got them a “deal” with his company. Like most salespeople, Dan saw a dramatic drop in his business when COVID-19 hit. March was rough, April was terrible, and May looks awful. Recently, Dan learned that his biggest customer was now buying from Dan’s competitor. When he called to find out why the customer said they were making new plans and felt like the other vendor was more focused on their unique needs.
Profitable vendor-client relationships require a thorough on-going customer needs assessment. COVID-19 is changing the way business is done. One may wish for things to get back to normal, but the truth is radical change is happening right now. There is no more business, as usual. If you want to maintain your current customers, reengage inactive customers and start finding new customers for the future, you need to brush up on your customer need assessment skills and restart your customers need reassessment interviews right now.
The Customer Needs Assessment, also known as a client diagnostic interview, or the C.N.A. is the first step in building a successful vendor-client relationship. Selling is helping customers satisfy needs. If you don’t know what those needs are, you won’t be as effective as you could be, your sales won’t be as high, and you probably won’t earn the kind of income you desire.
There are two kinds of questions, closed-ended and open-ended. Closed questions can be answers with just a single word, “yes” or “no.” Open questions require a longer answer, “Could you tell me how you got into this business?”
Open questions are more powerful than closed questions because they get the customer talking, and that’s how you will learn new information. Closed questions are less powerful because you only get a short answer. You want to get the customer talking and talking. People feel a sense of fulfillment when someone listens to them talk about what they think is essential. As you review your outline and questions, make sure you focus more on developing new open questions.
One of the most influential books in my career is SPIN Selling by Neil Rackham. SPIN Selling taught me to organize my CNA questions using the acronym, SPIN:
- S = Situation questions
- P = Problem questions
- I = Implication questions
- N = Need / Payoff questions
Situation questions are questions about the business or the business owner, things we’d like to know about them, are they the decision-maker, or how long have they been there. The situation question helps you gather information and are more common in the early stages of your relationship.
Problem questions start the process of uncovering problems and needs with which you might be able to help, like, are they satisfied with their current provider, what are the pros and cons of what they’re doing now.
The high-performance salesperson can probe further than the situation and problem question and begin to ask implication questions like, what happens if the customer doesn’t remedy the problem you uncovered. The implication question builds up the problem to be severe enough to warrant your solution. Without the implication question, you don’t know how bad the problem is, what effects it has on the company, or if the customer wants to do anything about it. Customers have many issues they choose not to resolve because it’s not that big a deal. You want to identify those problems that the customer wants to address and find out how badly they want to solve them. The pain of the problem must outweigh the cost of the cure, your proposal.
The Need-payoff question helps you build up the positive elements of your proposal to solve the problems discovered in your investigation. In the psychology of human behavior, the benefits of your plan must outweigh the implications of doing nothing or taking another course. The need-payoff question asks the prospect if they see the value of your proposal in solving the problem.
You need to review your customer interviewing skills and investigation questions. Chance are you need to bring both up-to-date to reflect the new challenges your prospects are facing. Customer interviews need to be your priority, so you have proposals ready before your customers start to reopen.
The COVID-19 pandemic is causing a world-wide shift in business practices that will leave us with lasting change. The world of business will not go back to the way it used to be. It is different now, and it will change in the future. Your current customer need assessments you have on file for your customers are virtually useless, except as a point of reference for starting over. If ever there were a time for a thorough customer needs assessment interview, the time is now.
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