However good your product or service is, the simple truth is that no-one will buy it if they don’t want it or believe they don’t need it. And you won’t persuade anyone that they want or need to buy what you’re offering unless you clearly understand what it is your customers really want. Knowing and understanding customer needs is at the centre of every successful business, whether it sells directly to individuals or other businesses. Once you have this knowledge, you can use it to persuade potential and existing customers that buying from you is in their best interests.

Why Do Your Customers Need You?
Every business needs a reason for their customers to buy from them and not their competitors. This is called a Unique Sales Proposition (USP). Your USP can be identified by completing the phrase ‘Customers will buy from me because my business is the only
Your USP can change as your business or your market changes, and you can have different USPs for different types of customer or product. For example;

  • a stationery shop could offer a free same-day delivery service for its business customers within a local area – an effective USP for businesses that need fast delivery
  • the same stationery shop could offer a 5 per cent discount to businesses that spend more than kshs 500 a month – this would be a USP for cost-conscious customers
  • the stationery shop could also make sure it offers the most comprehensive stock of artists’ materials in the area – a USP for local professional or amateur artists

All of these USPs can be effective because they are driven by what the customer looks for when making a buying decision.

It’s a good idea to review your USPs regularly. Can you tailor your products or services to better match your customers’ needs? Consider asking your customers why they buy from you. This will tell you what they think your USP is – this may differ from what you think your USP is. It’s also useful to check constantly what your competition is doing. Remember – if your competitors are doing the same, your USP isn’t unique any more.

What Do You Know About Your Customers?
The more you know about your customers, the more effective your sales and marketing efforts will be. It’s well worth making the effort to find out:

  • who they are
  • what they buy
  • why they buy it
  • how they use your product

If you’re selling to other businesses, you’ll need to know which individuals are responsible for the decision to buy your product or service. For information on targeting decision-makers, see our guide on how to target the right people in an organisation. You can learn a great deal about your customer’s by talking to them. Asking them why they’re buying or not buying, what they may want to buy in the future and asking what other needs they have can give a valuable picture of what’s important to them.

Understanding customers’ needs and desires can help you tailor your product or service to better suit their needs. It may also highlight valuable developments you can make to your current offering, or indicate gaps in the market that you can fill with new products or services. See our guides on spotting market opportunities and how to develop new products and services. Strong sales are driven by emphasizing the benefits that your product or service brings to your customers. If you know the challenges that face them, it’s much easier to offer them solutions.

See our guide on the sales appointment.
It’s also well worth keeping an eye on future developments in your customers’ markets and lives. Knowing the trends that are going to influence your customers helps you to anticipate what they are going to need – and offer it to them as soon as they need it. You can conduct your own market research and there are many existing reports that can help you build a picture of where your customers’ markets – and your business – may be going. For information on market research, see our guide to market research and market reports.

Ten things you need to know about your customers
1. Who they are
If you sell directly to individuals, find out your customers’ gender, age and occupation. If you sell to other businesses, find out what industry they are in, their size and the kind of business they are. For example, are they a small private company or a big multinational?
Knowing this can help you identify similar businesses that you could target.
2. What they do
If you sell directly to individuals, it’s worth knowing their occupations and interests. If you sell to other businesses, it helps to have an understanding of what their business is trying to achieve.
3. Why they buy
If you know why customers buy a product or service, it’s easier to match their needs to the benefits your business can offer.
4. When they buy
If you approach a customer just at the time they want to buy, you will massively increase your chances of success.
5. How they buy
For example, some people prefer to buy from a website, while others prefer a face-to-face meeting.
6. How much money they have
You’ll be more successful if you can match what you’re offering to what you know your customer can afford. Premium, higher priced products are unlikely to be successful if most of your customers are on a limited budget – unless you can identify new customers with the spending power to match.
7. What makes them feel good about buying
If you know what makes them tick, you can serve them in the way they prefer.
8. What they expect of you
For example, if your customers expect reliable delivery and you don’t disappoint them, you
stand to gain repeat business.
9. What they think about you
If your customers enjoy dealing with you, they’re likely to buy more. And you can only tackle problems that customers have if you know what they are.
10. What they think about your competitors
If you know how your customers view your competition, you stand a much better chance of staying ahead of your rivals.

Obtaining Information On Your Customers
Once you have identified what you need to know about your customers you can start gathering the information together. There is a huge amount of market information available that you can tap into. Much of that information is available free of charge and is readily available. For example, your customer records will tell you which customers have purchased from you, what they purchased, when they placed their orders and how much and how often they buy.

If your current data doesn’t provide you with the information you need, it is often worth asking customers directly. You can do this in face-to-face or telephone interviews, online surveys or in group discussions.
Other sources of free customer information include:

  • business contacts
  • local business reference libraries
  • your local authority, Business Link or Chamber of Commerce
  • the internet
  • UK Trade & Industry for information on export markets

If you can’t find the information you require from these free sources, you might decide to buy the information you require. There is a huge amount of commercially published information that you can purchase direct from market information publishers. Alternatively, you might decide to employ a market research agency or freelance researcher to get the information you need. It can be more cost-effective to use the services of a professional, although you will need to ensure you draw up a clear brief and budget.

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