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Don’t Sell Blind: The Importance of Understanding Buyer Needs

Virtually all companies claim to be “customer-centric” but set many of their sellers up for failure with the prodigious amount of product training they provide. Sellers’ “comfort zones” become talking about offerings rather than exploring business issues. While tolerated at low levels within organizations, it often shortens sales calls made on executives or abruptly ends them. Executives have neither the time nor the desire to be “educated” about offerings by salespeople.

Early in calls it’s important for executives to conclude sellers are sincere and competent (Steven Covey’s definition of being viewed as trustworthy). This conclusion is a pre-requisite for executives to share their desired business outcomes or problems with salespeople. Buying cycles only begin when Key Players share desired business outcomes they’re willing to spend money to achieve.

As with many things in life, a seller may want to step back and realize they have work to do before Key Players will be willing to share business goals. Most executives will share their business goals or problems with salespeople that they believe are trustworthy. It is a watershed event when goals are shared and once it occurs the buyer starts to realize there is potential value if a seller’s offering can address their needs.

Sadly, many B and C Players lack the patience to learn about buyer needs. Once a business outcome is shared they believe it’s permission to present their offerings and tell prospects how good it’s going to be. Some sellers have the audacity to begin product pitches with the words: Here’s what you need. In general, people don’t like to be told what they need to do, especially by salespeople. I believe sellers should earn the right to talk about their offerings by asking questions first. 


Taking a step back, let’s look at it from an executive’s viewpoint:


  • Understanding buyer needs - ExecutivesExecutives are unaware of the reasons they can’t achieve business outcomes. In my mind the first step in learning buyer needs is asking questions in an attempt to uncover barriers to achieving goals that can be addressed by capabilities within a seller’s offering. If buyers knew the barriers to achieving desired outcomes, they’d try to address them without a seller’s help.


  • Unless executives feel their needs are understood, they aren’t ready to have sellers tell them the solutions. Beyond that, unless sellers can quantify the cost of not achieving the desired outcome, prospects won’t understand the potential value of the offering being discussed.


  • Without first asking questions, the solution will be the seller’s opinion. Given previous experiences with sellers, how much credibility does someone trying to make a sale have with a buyer? Sellers diving into product run the risk of wasting time by offering parts of their offering that aren’t relevant to the business issue being discussed. If sellers could be more patient in doing diagnoses first, they could shine a flashlight on buyer needs. Without doing so they blindly proceed.


  • By asking questions first, sellers earn the right to talk about only those features that can allow the desired business outcome to be achieved. When done this way, sales can be viewed as a hurt (diagnose buyer needs) and rescue (offer relevant features based upon the way the buyer answers questions) exercise.


Executive buyers appreciate sellers that focus on business outcomes, help understand the barriers to achieving them and articulate the relevant capabilities that can be used to address them. Once compelling value has been established, buyers are incented to accelerate the decision process as they realize delays mean benefits are not being realized.

Simply said, the seller that best understands buyer needs is more likely to win the business.


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John Holland on sablinkedinJohn Holland on sabemail
John Holland
Chief Content Officer at CustomerCentric Selling®
John is the Chief Content Officer and Co-founder/Co-author of CustomerCentric Selling®. His primary responsibility with CustomerCentric Selling® (CCS®) is ensuring the core Intellectual Property remains in alignment with buying habits and behaviors. In co-authoring and helping launch CustomerCentric Selling® in 2002, John leveraged over 20 years' experience in sales, sales management and consulting.
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