Needs Assessment and Qualification Are Not The Same Thing

BY Deb Calvert
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I've noticed that there’s an increasingly blurred line between the discovery process and the buyer qualification process. Discovery, also known as needs assessment or needs analysis, is meant to be about the buyer’s primary needs. By contrast, qualifying questions are about the buyer’s needs for you and your product, plus their ability to buy at this time.

The shift to calling this part of the sales process “Discovery” instead of needs assessment or needs analysis may be the root of this confusion. I’m encountering a lot of sellers who believe discovery is all about qualifying the buyer. It’s not.

Needs Assessment Vs. Qualification

Qualifying questions are somewhat self-​serving. They benefit sellers. They are not engaging for buyers. And they do not reveal a buyer’s primary needs.

For example, if your buyer has budget and authority and uses your product or some product like it, that does not give you any indication of their overall needs. It only tells you that they may need and may be able to buy your product. But you don’t know what would motivate them to do so.

Similarly, even if the buyer is in the market for your product, that doesn't tell you their overarching needs either. Is the buyer willing to sit through your demo? Unless you ask more than qualifying questions, you still won’t know what their needs are, you only know that they could have some interest in your product. That interest might be as inconsequential as wanting a comparison price they can use to negotiate a better price from the vendor they’ve already chosen to do business with.

What's Your Buyer's Motive?

These qualifying signals are only clues that there might be an ability to buy. You need more. You need to understand the buyer and the bigger issues in the background. The needs of the buyer always run deeper. Get to the underlying motive. Is it fear of lagging the competition? A problem with their own customer satisfaction? An internal shake-​up that has everyone reviewing their current solutions?

Don't skip needs assessment just because you have the shallow clues from qualifying the buyer. When you conduct a true needs assessment, a full discovery, it will reveal business and personal motivations, why that deeper level need exists, how big the need is versus other needs the buyer may have, what it will take to win the business, and how to create a shared vision that will inspire the buyer to take action.

True discovery also magnifies the need in the buyer’s mind. It builds trust and relationships. Asking really good, purposeful questions during this process of analyzing the needs creates value. In an instant, good questions alone can create value out of thin air. What's more, true discovery can provide an awesome connecting experience between the buyer and seller: an experience that is relevant and meaningful to the buyer, one that makes the seller stand out with positive differentiation. With thought-​provoking, high-​value questions, buyers view sellers in a way that they don’t view other sellers. That’s why they prefer and more often buy from sellers who conduct solid needs assessments.

If you're leapfrogging over discovery, you have less chance of closing the sale. Haste makes waste. We know this through buyer research. Buyers want very specific behaviors from the sellers they choose to do business with. Buyers want a two-​way dialogue during the needs assessment process. They want a dialogic conversation versus a diagnostic set of questions.

Can the canned question. Know the purpose of questions that you're asking and then drill down. Ask additional questions until you get what you're looking for.

Typically, in a needs assessment, what you're looking for are the buyer’s underlying, driving needs that will cause them to consider your solution. To get to this, you need to remain open and curious.

Buyers also want sellers to ask questions that will help the seller understand the buyer’s needs. Buyers want these questions about them. They don't have much patience for qualifying questions because they are uninteresting and obvious in their focus to rapidly advance the sale to a pitch and close.

Buyers do place high value on the conversations and the questions that bring their needs to the surface. These two behaviors, asking questions about buyer’s needs and engaging in two-​way dialogue, rank near the top when buyers are surveyed about the behaviors they want to see more from sellers.

Lead Your Buyers to Where They Want to Be

These behaviors position sellers as leaders. When you conduct a good, thorough discovery that reveals buyer’s primary needs, you'll be able to guide your buyers from the place they are now to the place they want to be. But you can't take them to that place until you know what it is. And you'll never know what it is as long as you're making assumptions and substituting true discovery questions with qualifying questions.