The importance of understanding what prospects want

Getting more business is essential for your growth and one of the ways to get more business is through bidding for a job by creating a proposal. Richard Walker, director at Walkerstone explains to Talk Business the importance showing understanding of your prospects.

The need to submit a proposal focused on a prospect’s needs and wants is almost too obvious to mention. I say almost, because it’s surprising how many proposals submitted even by the largest companies don’t manage the obvious.

A key element of proposal writing is customer focus. Yet many sellers focus on the features of their offering rather than on how their offering may satisfy buyer “needs” and “wants”. Of course there is a big difference between needs and wants, but sellers need to know both.

Wants may be aligned to what the Americans term “hot buttons” – topics and issues which generate buyer emotion. Some “wants” may be unachievable but it is important for you to know what they are. Knowing them enables you to position your offering for emotional appeal, at least in part.

Positioning is key. It is the process by which you create an image over time through selling, marketing and reputation. Positioning is the comparative competitive status of your offering as perceived by your market.

A Rolls Royce, for instance, is positioned differently from a Smart car, even though both are classified as cars. It is probable that a Rolls Royce could deliver a greater number of “wants” than could other saloon cars, but not necessarily. Cost may not be a consideration to the buyer.

Instead, easy city driving and parking, and a reduced chance of vandalism when the car is unattended may be of greater consideration than luxury. So positioning the car, product or service to encompass both needs and wants is crucial for buyer attraction.

When it comes to organisational buyer behaviour, Philip Kotler – one of the great influencers on marketing theory – says that it is influenced by four main forces:

  • Environmental
  • Organisational
  • Interpersonal
  • Individual

Environmental forces relate to demand and economic outlook. Organisational relate to policies, procedures, systems and structure. Interpersonal relates to age, education and position. Individual relates to the harmony – how they all get on – of the buying group.

From your perspective, knowing these influences, and some of them will be “wants” may give you the edge when positioning your offer.

The next stage is for you to define the features, benefits and advantages of your offering. People buy benefits. People do not buy features and so whenever proposing a product, service or idea, you need to focus on the benefits of the offering and then support those benefits with features.

In case of doubt, a feature is “a powerful micro-processor”. The benefit is that your applications – Word, Excel and PowerPoint etc. – run quickly.

Advantages are your opinion of how a product, service or feature can specifically help the buyer. Your opinion needs to be based on your understanding of the buyer’s needs and wants. Advantages are specific to the buyer.

From this point, you need to produce a unique selling proposition (USP). It is one of the basic elements of effective marketing.

It is the seller’s differentiator and the reason why the seller’s offering stands out from the competition. The USP needs to be prominent because it is the reason why people should buy from the seller. Without a USP, the seller become a “me too” which means that the seller’s message becomes:

“You can buy these products from lots of places and we sell them too.” That would be a great reason why not to buy from the seller.

There are five steps to identifying your USP.

  1. List all the main features of your product or service such as quality, delivery, price, functionality and or technical capability.
  2. Take each feature and convert it into one or more benefits. Some benefits will be more important than others. That is why it’s important to know your customer and their needs and wants.
  3. You need to think of your service and product benefits in the context of the market. Evaluate each benefit in turn and decide whether it’s common or unique relative to your competitors.
  4. Create a list. See how your company stacks up against your competitors. The answer will reveal your particular strengths – your USPs.
  5. Now you have the collateral to develop the features which are not provided by your competitors – into benefits that are not provided by your competitors.

Understanding a buyer’s needs and wants, or not understanding them, is the difference between winning and losing.

By Richard Walker, director, Walkerstone