Business buyers in today’s complex market are short on time and long on information. Chances are, they’ve already leveraged their own tools and technology to research and identify what they believe is their desired solution before they ever directly engage a seller.

These buyers are like the patient who has self-diagnosed before entering the doctor’s office: they think they’ve singlehandedly solved their medical mystery, thanks to some Google searches and a few optimistic pharmaceutical ads. But the fact remains that doctors learn more in medical school than their patients can glean from the Internet. We still need doctors to assess our symptoms and apply their expertise, reaching informed diagnoses and suggesting suitable treatments.

Similarly, world-class sales professionals can’t take a prospective customer’s expressed need—or the solution that will meet that need—at face value. Instead, they need to engage customers in conversation, questioning and listening until they understand why their customer is exploring new solutions. Identifying the need behind the need puts sellers in the best position to deliver value to their customer when it matters most, becoming a trusted advisor rather than a mere agent of the transaction.

Dynamic discovery: Knowing the buyers’ pain points

There’s no doubt that buyers today are groomed for instant gratification. But sellers have a rich, tech-fueled toolkit at the ready to enable them to discover buyers’ pain points and make an informed approach.

Social networks shed light on everything from issues to interactions and open doors to deeper connections with customers. Research engines employ predictive analytics to help sellers focus on target-rich territories. These tools can, for example, track companies’ keyword searches, noting spikes that indicate an increased readiness to buy. Sales analytics platforms like Scout inform sellers’ next moves according to where a buyer is in the sales cycle, shedding light on what information resonates with each decision-maker—and when. And, as artificial intelligence evolves, the precision of these tools will only sharpen.

If sellers use these tools to engage in a more dynamic process of discovery regarding their customers’ business, they’ll be able to conduct more meaningful conversations that deliver mutually beneficial results.

The customer-centric conversation: Uncovering customer needs

Let’s take a closer look at what one of these conversations might look like.

Byron Matthews, Miller Heiman Group’s president and CEO, loves to illustrate the importance of knowing the need behind the need with a simple but powerful example. A guy walks into a hardware store to buy a hammer, and the store employee starts asking him questions to explore why he needs this tool.

Store employee: “Why do you need a hammer?”

Customer: “To put a nail in the wall.”

Store employee: “Why are you putting a nail in the wall?”

Customer: “To hang a picture.”

Store employee: “Why are you hanging a picture?”

Customer: “I’m renovating our bathroom as a surprise for my wife, who is out of town.” [This is the aha moment!]

Store employee: “Let me show you to the hammers, and also introduce you to Bob, who assists with home renovation projects.”

This brief Q&A exercise reveals an underlying motivation that is considerably broader than what it appeared at first glance—and the hardware seller was able to introduce solutions that the customer hadn’t yet realized he needed. Now the buyer has access to more than just a hammer—he also has an advisor who can help guarantee that the surprise for his wife is a happy one.

A new map for the modern sales landscape

The market moves at a blinding pace, which means that buyers often have a world of information at their fingertips—but that doesn’t mean they know how to navigate it. Great sales professionals provide buyers with the map that keeps them from getting lost in the sea of information that threatens to lead them astray from their original buying goals. That’s because top-performing sellers offer perspective—insights and expertise that expand their customers’ understanding of their business issues.

Knowing customers’ pain points before engaging allows sales professionals to give their customers a frame of reference for their buying decisions—and a chance to see things differently. Buyers might have an easily identifiable threat or opportunity that is prompting them to consider taking action. But, like the customer who needed a hammer, there’s almost certainly a need behind the need that, when uncovered, can allow broader and more impactful solutions, leading to win-win solutions for both the buyer and the seller.

Taking a customer-centric approach to every interaction and digging deep to identify hidden needs rather than accepting the customer’s statement at face value: that’s how to have a needs-based conversation that leads to true solutions and greater value for both parties to the deal.

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