Needs-based selling 101

Needs-based selling: woman using laptop in well-lit office next to large window.
#WOCinTech Chat licensed under CC BY 2.0

In recent years, sales teams across the business spectrum have shifted toward a needs-based approach. But what is needs-based selling, exactly?

And more importantly, does your business need it? (Sorry, couldn’t help it.)

The short answer is yes. Needs-based selling results in more wins for your team by addressing the specific needs of each potential customer—something that larger businesses, perhaps including your competitors, often struggle with.

The long answer is, well, longer, and varies significantly depending on the industry you operate in, the size of your business, your goals and the type of customers you serve. In other words, although it’s a good idea in general, it’s more important and effective for some businesses than others.

Fortunately, we’ve broken down needs-based selling to help you determine how and where this customer-centric strategy fits in your sales toolkit, along with a few tips to get you started.

Table of contents

What is needs-based selling?

Most conventional sales methodologies are entirely transactional. A company develops a product or service, and then relies on its sales team to work their magic in convincing potential customers to purchase them.

Effective at bringing in a certain amount of business? Sure.

Effective at making customers feel like your solution was tailor-made for them? Not really.

Needs-based selling—which many refer to as “consultative selling”—is different. A needs-based sales strategy moves the conversation away from what’s being sold and re-centers it around each customer’s unique challenges. The goal is no longer to sell indiscriminately to whoever will take your call; it’s to offer personalized solutions to the people who need them most.  

Why needs-based selling is important for your business

Salespeople (and clockmakers) know that time is money. Every phone call, email, or conversation is an opportunity to close a deal. And every failed pitch is a moment of your day—and your prospect’s day—that could have been better spent elsewhere.

That’s why it’s crucial to reach out only to those prospects who are a good fit for your products or services—especially considering that at least 50% of the leads businesses generate may not be the right fit for those businesses.

Needs-based selling enables your business to work smarter, not harder when it comes to identifying the right potential customers. This not only sets everyone up for success but saves you time and money—precious commodities for businesses of all sizes.

Speaking of the size of your business, let’s take a closer look at how different operations can leverage the benefits of a needs-based approach:

Benefits for small businesses

Small businesses are anything but small when it comes to their impact on people’s lives.

Whether it’s offering legal guidance, repairing homes, providing medical treatment, finding home buyers, party-planning, pet-sitting, or any number of the millions of things they do every day, small businesses don’t just sell products and services. They create lasting relationships with the people they serve.

For that reason, a customer-centric approach is essential for any small business. Consider the importance of customer service:

  • 91% of customers say good customer service makes it more likely for them to return in the future.
  • 80% of people feel that the experience a company offers is as important as the company’s products or services
  • US companies lose an average of $1.6 trillion each year due to customers leaving over poor customer experience.

It’s no surprise, then, that a sales strategy focused on addressing the needs of their clients is the best fit for most small businesses. Needs-based selling takes the principles of great customer service and applies them to transactional conversations.

Benefits for midsize businesses

Great customer service is crucial for midsize businesses as well. But they also have other considerations when it comes to choosing the right sales process.

Like standing out in a crowded market.

Offering exceptional services and products is the best way for these companies to differentiate themselves from their competitors. And there are a couple of ways to go about it:

  1. Hiring a team of mad scientists to develop the next breakthrough.
  2. Listening to the needs of their customers and modifying their offerings based on that feedback.

Option 2 is far and away the more cost-effective (not to mention safer) solution. And that’s what needs-based selling is all about.

Midsize businesses benefit from greater flexibility compared to their larger corporate counterparts. By collecting valuable feedback gathered by their sales teams, these companies can identify gaps in the market and move quickly to meet the needs of new and existing customers.

3 tips to get started with needs-based selling

1. Do your homework.

The ancient Chinese general Sun Tzu once said: “Know thy customers and know yourself; in a hundred sales quarters, you will never be defeated.”

Or at least it’s something close to that. Either way, it’s great advice for today’s businesses.

Take the time to understand who your customers are, what obstacles they face, and what you can do to help. This may feel like additional work, but it can mean the difference between a forever-frozen lead and a lifelong client.

2. Ask (mindful) questions.

Salespeople love asking questions. They usually sound something like this:

“Are you happy with your current service?”

“How much are you paying for each delivery?”

“Did you know we offer discounts on bulk purchases?”

Questions like these can help your team take a prospect’s temperature and identify opportunities for upselling. But they can also make a conversation feel more like an interrogation than a conversation.

By asking more mindful questions, your salespeople create relational currency while identifying a customer’s biggest pain points:  

“What projects are you working on right now?”

“Which tools do you feel like you’re getting the most out of?” 

“What are you looking for in services like the ones we offer?”

See what we mean? These questions help your team identify opportunities without making your customers feel alienated by surface-level sales scripts.

3. Be flexible.

As we mentioned above, flexibility is one of your business’s greatest assets. Sometimes customers change their minds, and solutions that worked for them one week can end up frustrating them the next. That’s okay.

Remaining flexible and open to feedback helps your customers feel like their concerns are being addressed in real time. Once they feel like you’ve taken the extra step to solve their problem, your team can translate these moments of frustration into big wins for your business.

More resources to better meet the needs of your customers (and your sales quota)

Finding the right sales process for your business can be tough. But you’re not alone. Now that you know how needs-based selling can help your business, check out our resources on how your team can identify better leads, overcome objections, and reduce sales friction.

Oh, and capturing leads when your sales team is busy taking other calls? We help with that too.

Make sure to head over to Ruby’s small business resources hub for even more tips on growing your business. In the meantime, happy selling!