8 Easy Ways to Uncover Your Customers Wants and Needs

Wants and needs can be completely different! What I want for a car (fast, high horsepower, flashy) is far from what I need (gas efficient, low maintenance, dependable). Similarly, what your customer wants and what they really need can be worlds apart.

The success of your business depends on you understanding this difference and working with the customer to ensure what you provide meets or exceeds their expectations!

I wrote in a previous post about when I was brought in by a client to redo engineering work that another contractor had outsourced overseas. The contractor was looking to reduce project costs by sending the bulk of their engineering to a lower cost country. Unfortunately, they did not control this work close enough. When the engineering was submitted to the customer, not only did it not meet expectations, it caused the client to loose so much confidence in the contractor that the contract for the work was pulled and awarded to another engineering company.

The customer mentioned above wanted a low cost solution but they needed a safe, high quality, low maintenance facility delivered in a timeframe that allowed them to take advantage of low feedstock prices and high end product prices.

The original engineering contractor made a huge mistake . . . they focused on the want rather than the need and it cost them their reputation and millions of dollars!

How Do You Find Out What Your Customer Wants and Needs?

There are many ways to get to the bottom of what your customer wants and what they need. I have listed a few ideas below:

  1. Start by building strong relationships. Don’t expect that buying your customer a business lunch or taking them to a sporting event will result in a strong relationship. Spend time and build a long standing and strong relationship with your customer. Add value at every opportunity and don’t expect to get paid for everything you do.
  2. Don’t just rely on a bid document to understand the wants and needs of a customer. A bid document is written in a way to level the pricing of multiple bidders. This means that it is usually quite generic and does not get to the root of the customer want and need.
  3. Look at the customer’s past purchases, products and facilities. Are these in alignment with what they are currently asking for?
  4. Look at their reputation in the marketplace. Is their current want/need in alignment with this reputation?
  5. Find a “sponsor” with influence inside your customer’s organization that likes your business and is willing to be both an advocate for your business and an “interface” between you and their employer. This is not someone who will be giving you illegal insider information or favor, rather, it is someone who will coach you through hurdles that you may encounter.
  6. Ask! Sometimes it is just that simple. Ask your customer what they want. Continue to ask questions so you “peel the layers of the onion back” and get to the real customer need. This becomes easier and more transparent as you build stronger relationships over time.
  7. Hold a workshop with key customer representatives and your experts to work through the details of their wants and needs.
  8. What are your customer’s pain points? Understanding what is causing your customer pain is key to understanding their wants and needs. Refer to a previous post “Are Your Customers in Pain?” for more details.

Spend time with your customers to really understand them. Differentiate between what the customer wants and what they need and uncover ways to deliver on both expectations!


When a company can comprehensively assist customers to reach their highest goals, it has built a deeply engaged relationshipChip Conley

Leave a comment below on your experience with customer wants and needs.


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