In 1975, Frank Watts created a sales methodology called ‘solution selling’.  The idea was that rather than selling features and products, people should start to identify the problems of the customers, and then offer their solutions. 

However, around the same time that solution selling appeared, management guru Peter Drucker said that customers are always more interested in their outcome than in your solution.

This is what he said:



“What the customer buys and considers value is never a product,” Drucker wrote. “It is always utility, that is, what a product or service does for him.”

In other words your offering (or solution) is always a means, a tool.  It is not the goal.  For example, going on a holiday is not the goal, buying a crm system is not the goal, going to the cloud is not the goal, using a project management app is not a goal. 

How can you identify the true goals?  And how can you convincingly link your offering with the desired outcome so your chances of closing that deal increase greatly.  

Both sellers and buyers are often too focused on uncovering the pains and needs, but forget the real drivers. 

The real insight is that even not all buyers are aware of the real goals… how about that, heh?

And to make matters worse, according to theory, buyers are striving to obtain the best business outcome and see it as a rational process. 

This creates 2 problems:

  1. It implies that most people think that buying is a rational decision, although research shows that most purchase decisions are emotional, not practical:

“fMRI tests have shown that when subjects evaluate products or brands, their limbic systems (where our feelings, memory, and value judgments originate) light up, while the data processing and analysis centers of their brains are left largely unstimulated. In other words, most of the purchase decisions people make are emotional, not practical.”

And we could even go as far as saying that people rationalise their emotions to justify their purchase.

  1. Both buyers and sellers can focus on the wrong aspects of the business outcome, because they focus on a limited area of the business goals.

Enter wants based selling.

Wants based selling helps exactly with that.  Traditional solution selling (and other sales methodologies) focuses on uncovering pains or needs and then building a solution towards that.  Wants based selling however, works by uncovering the wants of the customer. 

What is the difference?

Uncovering pains or needs only give an incomplete part of the story. 

Very often, while the pain or need is real, the customer tries to come with an outcome that is not optimal, or that is just plain wrong.  When they don’t know the real reasons or the source of the pain then it’s like patient telling a doctor that he has pain everywhere he touches so he needs painkillers. Only to realize later, when the doctor points out, his finger is broken, so everywhere he touches, his finger hurts…

I agree that the comparison is a tad silly, howeverit is valid.  By using painkillers, the pain subsides, but in the end the finger doesn’t heal, so the real (literal) pain hasn’t been handled.

The main advantage of identifying pains or needs, is that they can be quantified.  For example, when a customer tells you that their gross margin is decreasing with 5% which undermines their profitability then you have identified the pain, and when they say that they need to find ways to get their gross margin back up to previous levels , then you have identified a need.  However, although those 2 (real) examples are facts, they do not uncover the core reason of those drops.  Perhaps a competitor has come with a new product and sales is giving bigger discounts, perhaps the company is looking to increase their market share, perhaps the costs have increased… 

Since you can quantify the pains and needs, many sellers work with ROI calculations or TCO analysis to prove their solution is the most beneficial to the customer.  However, it should not come as a surprise that they tend to be inaccurate, as the results of these calculations lack information that is unknown to the supplier, and often to the buyer.

And so, it should be clear that this is only part of the story, and here plays wants based selling a role.  It  leads to dramatic results when we identify the wantsof the customer.  And once we have those wants, we can create the chain from want to your offering.

There are only a handful of wants, and I have created the wants-pyramid for you.  And just like Maslows pyramid, the higher on the pyramid the want, the more aspirational the goals are:

At the base of the pyramid, you have survival.  All resources of the organisation are (or should be) focused on the survival of the organisation.

A level higher, you have stability.  This is a period of consolidation, restructuring, a period during and after a merger…

The second highest level you have growing.  This is a period of expansion, and includes domination, periods before acquisitions, but also before an exit.

The highest level is the aspirational level. This is the period of creating a legacy. And this takes on many forms, whether it is building your organisation to have a bigger impact on society, or making your organiastion ready for the next leadership generation.

By identifying the wants of your customer and decision makers, you identify where you can create value.  And then the next step is to consider how your offering can fit in.

So then let’s go back to the 2 problems that arose:

  1. With wants based selling, we go to the core of the drivers, namely the wants.  When we know exactly what an organisation wants, and why, we can check if we can indeed offer something that helps our customer, and
  2. By asking the right questions and with the right people from the buyers, you can show that what you offer meets the real wants, and creates the right results (and returns) for the customer.  And yes, the right people are the decision makers, as high up as possible in an organisation.

For example, we had a customer who wanted to decrease the investments he has made for his campaigns.  However, based on the data we supplied, he understood he was performing worse than the market, after which he exclaimed he wanted to be bigger than his competitors (read: the want here is growing).  He followed our recommendations, and nearly doubled his investments leading to better results and the desired business outcome.

How can wants based selling help you and your organisation?  Let me know! As always, keep on jumping on the waves of disruption!