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I watched “Hustle” on the BBC iPlayer yesterday.  The ‘mark’ was a greedy football agent who forced a small club into administration.  This agent was, in his own words, “the best salesman in the business”, and he proved this by repeating his favourite 1980’s sales training mantra: “Find the need, Sell the want!”…WHAT A LOAD OF RUBBISH.

This was never relevant, and it never will be – people rarely buy what the need, and they rarely buy what they want. Unfortunately the Need/Want language is engrained deeply in  sales culture and sales terminology.  The constant use of these terms fatally lulls the unsuspecting into false expectations of glory.  I am constantly reminded of this when speaking to my technical consultants who tell me what my customers NEED to do next, or when I speak to my customer directly and they tell me what they WANT.

I can illustrate this with a couple of examples:

To get to work everyday is a fairly short commute either to the office or a train station, and therefore all I need is a 15 year old ‘banger’ with a reliable engine –  any £1000 car will do.  What I want however is the new Maserati GranTurismo – the £80,000 auto will do just fine.  In reality neither is what I am going to buy.  I can afford a nicer car than the old banger, but because I’m not a footballer, I can’t afford the Masser.  So it doesn’t matter how great the car salesman is, they could not close the sale for what I ‘want’ or what I ‘need’.

And the Need/Want language works in reverse too.  My typical customer wants a software system that fulfils 100% of their business requirements, is very simple to install, configure and operate, and of course, costs less than a laptop.  What they need is a system that delivers 80% of their requirements, is massively complex to implement and costs slightly more than my annual quota.  Just like my car example, neither of these situations is going to closable.

So to bring the 1980’s sales training into the twenty-teens, I use the terminology Need/Want/Demand, where the ‘Demand’ represents the compromise between Need and Want.  I think of this in the same way as a ‘Demand Curve’ as used in economics to depict price v quantity, but in my sales, I substitute quantity with complexity of solution, or the percentage of business requirements addressed.

To many experienced sales people it is blatently obvious we need to sell the Demand – some use a different name for it and some don’t know they are doing it.  Yet in most organisations, especially those selling complex products or services, there are many  people involved in the sales process – the majority of whom are not professional sales people.  And I hear on a daily basis the Need/Want words from these people – but rarely about any kind of compromise.

The way to be successful is to ensure everyone involved in the sales process  – both on the customer and vendor sides – are aligned, and conscious that they are moving towards the demand together.

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