Understanding their basic needs will help you thrive
Do your customers need:
• Attractive price?
• High-quality products?
• User-friendly interface?
• Attentive customer service?
No, they don’t.
What they need is to meet their basic subconscious needs. Understanding these desires can help you improve your products, service, and strategy. And you need it to beat the competition. In this article, I will offer you a couple of tools to help you do it, with free templates to download.
Many years ago, I was a CEO of a company in a B2B market. The competition was tough. So we constantly looked for ways to offer our customers new services or product features. Once I gathered my team in a distant hotel by the lake. We had two days to generate new strategic ideas.
And there were plenty of them. I liked some more than others, but they all have one thing in common — they didn’t work. We spent a year building new features and solutions, including online service (it was 2007 when it was not must have yet). But the effort we made didn’t influence our bottom line significantly. Thinking back, I see that the things we suggested to our customers were perfect. But customers simply didn’t need them.
That was the first time in my life that I thought deeply about customer needs.
Look at the list below and say what of the items on it are customer needs:
• To buy a hammer and nails
• To go to a restaurant
• To get a discount
• To buy a fancy coat
• To buy spare parts for an excavator
• To open a bank account
• To receive education
• To send a message to a friend
None of them is a customer need.
They are tools to satisfy deeper needs behind them.
Let’s consider a couple of examples.
Why does a person need a hammer and nails? For instance, she wants to hang a bookshelf on the wall. Why does she need the bookshelf? To put some books on it. Why does she need this? To make her room or office look nice or to put her books in order.
Why does a person buys excavator spare parts? To make it work. Why does he need it? To perform the tasks for which the excavator was bought. Why does he need that? To earn money for his business. And why does he needs this? If he is the company owner, he needs it to make a profit, pay the bills, and strengthen his business. And if he is an employee, he may want to do his job correctly and meet his targets.
Many psychologists tried to discover what motivates us and makes humans want the things they want. One of them was Steven Reiss. His research found out that all the people on the Earth, regardless of their race, language, religion, beliefs, and place of living, share the same set of sixteen basic needs:
Reiss claimed that we all share the same set of needs, but we prioritize them differently. And that makes every one of us distinct.
His colleague, Marshall Rosenberg, created another list of basic desires. There are more than 40 items in it, and several versions of this list exist. But what both scientists’ works have in common is that:
1. The number of basic human desires is limited
2. These basic needs drive all human behavior, including consuming preferences.
So, whatever a customer purchases, either for personal use or for an organization they work for, they fulfill one or several of their basic needs.
There are many ways to walk in a customer’s shoes. The CJM, Customer Journey Map and its varieties are among the most popular. They help a team discover what difficulties and pains a customer has by using a product or service. Eliminating them helps improve customer experience. But they work well for incremental improvements. They can’t help much when we try to launch a completely new version of a product or create a new one. Or when we need fresh ideas for our strategy.
I developed a simple tool based on Riess’s and Rosenberg’s ideas. I use it for strategic and creative workshops. I will talk about this tool by example, and at the end of the article, you will find a link to a free template for this tool. It is not the tool for decision-making. But you and your team can receive many valuable insights into your customers. It is a good solution for idea generation. It is for creative use, not for analysis.
This method lets you vividly imagine your typical customer psychology, motives, fears, superstitions, and beliefs. But you need to do your homework and undertake preparatory work. I usually ask the teams I work with to conduct as many customer interviews as possible before we start using this tool. All the team members need to visit several customers and talk to them about their life and work routines.
This tool is only a form, and the possible outcome depends on the content you put in. If the content is wrong or incomplete, you will find yourself in a situation that analysts call “garbage in — garbage out.” Try learning about your customers as much as possible before using these forms.
Let’s imagine that your company sells spare parts for excavators. And, say, you sell them to four different types of clients — small, average, and large enterprises (local and international). In any company, several employees take part in the decision-making process. So, first, we must define whom we will concentrate on in our work.
To identify core decision-makers, I use the so-called stakeholder map. This is a tool used in design thinking. It looks like a target.
I divided this target into four sectors, each for one customer segment. Then I used yellow cards to spread all the decision-makers across the sector. The more a stakeholder influences purchasing decisions, the closer their card is to the circle’s center.
The target in the picture is only an example; it is not a real-life case.
For instance, in small companies, a CEO is the one who has the last word when it comes to spare parts procurement. But in large international enterprises, CEOs are too far from this process, so I didn’t even mention them.
How to use the target?
1. Use the template by the link at the end of the article
2. Divide your target into as many parts as you have customer segments. Use two or three targets if necessary
3. Use the yellow cards on the left side of the template. Write job titles on the cards and put them on the target
4. Involve your team in the discussion
5. Ensure your final target corresponds to the actual situation in the companies buying your spare parts.
You may have many customer segments. Moreover, inside these segments may be different firms with distinct business processes. You don’t need to research them all. Instead, focus on the most typical cases.
In the second part, we will concentrate only on stakeholders you put in the first circle of the target –core decision makers.
Follow the steps:
1. Create an imaginary person like one of the core decision-makers. Refrain from using real persons, your customers, for this exercise. First, it seems unethical. Second, it can lead you astray. Instead, create a fictitious character with much in common with the typical stakeholders. If your key customers are too different, develop several characters for each market segment.
2. Give this character the fictitious name, age, and job title.
3. Use the table at the link.
The table consists of unfinished sentences describing this person’s features. Try to finish as many assertions as possible. It will make your character’s portrait vivid and plausible.
Please don’t forget about some crucial aspects of this work:
- It is an exercise for teamwork, don’t do it alone.
- It is a creative tool. It doesn’t aim to create portraits of all your direct customers. Several vivid examples will be enough. You will derive valuable insights into your clients and generate many new ideas. Use them for strategy and product development.