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When the Needs Analysis Process Should be Labeled a Fail

needs20analysis20failThis is the tenth and final in our series of blog articles related to the findings of our 2013 survey of media sales managers and salespeople. The complete report is available for download here. Some of the major findings simply confirmed what we—and most of you—knew already. But others were unlikely to have been on anyone’s list of guesses as to which challenges, from lists offered in separate questionnaires given to sales managers and salespeople, would have finished near the top once the numbers were crunched.

(By the way, we did not conjure up those potential challenges in a dark room, but rather they were the fruit of 65 lengthy, open-end interviews conducted by our professional staff prior to fielding the questionnaires.)

In this series, we’ve reported specifically on the top four finishers for sellers and their managers. Making the salespeople’s list at #4 was It’s difficult to nail down a clear assignment from the prospect. Would you have guessed that? It’s equivalent to sellers crying out, “Help! I’m not too good at the most important part of my job!”

Too Many Appointments, Not Enough New Customers

This candor from salespeople points to an ugly truth: too many needs-analysis appointments result in a pile of information but no clear expression of a marketing challenge to be solved or a marketing opportunity to be exploited. We won’t sugarcoat it: Such calls are a Fail. They leave the prospect wondering what it was all about—and they leave the hapless salesperson with no obvious reason for a return visit. Ouch. The purpose of the needs-analysis process is to get an assignment from the prospect… a specific need important enough to that prospect that they would gladly pay good money for a promising solution, and the prospect is looking forward to your coming back with one. 

When the process doesn’t reach that outcome, the likelihood of a sale diminishes sharply, and the likelihood of a good sale (one that could make that client a raving fan and bring them back for more) falls to near zero. 

Reaching a clear assignment is a collaborative process, requiring the contribution of important business information by the prospect and useful consumer-behavior knowledge and marketing insight by the salesperson. The prospect’s participation in the process will not be forthcoming unless he or she believes the seller is credible and trustworthy. If any of those four traits—consumer-behavior knowledge, marketing insight, credibility, and trustworthiness are absent, it should not be surprising that it’s tough to nail down a clear assignment. 

Talent, training, and experience all play essential roles in equipping the salesperson to perform the needs-analysis effectively. When the media seller brings all the required traits and expertise, the use of a disciplined needs-analysis process adds focus, clarity, and time efficiency.

The needs analysis is the tenderloin of all business-to-business selling. It is where the salesperson makes his or her single greatest contribution.

  • The better the assignment, the more likely the parties will be doing business.
  • The better the assignment, the more likely the order will be substantial.
  • The better the assignment, the more likely the client will be satisfied and will be back for more.

Salespeople who can do this well are valuable assets and should be treated as such. Those who can’t are a drag on performance.

Catch up on the ten-week series:

Download the "Biggest Challenges of Media Salespeople and Sales Managers" report.

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Topics: Management