5 Types of B2B Customer Needs + How to Identify Them
Finding out what customers want can have you reaching for a crystal ball. You may think, “Ah, if only I were a mind reader or could see the future.”
But we’re not gifted with supernatural powers. We’re salespeople trying to guide people through complex buying decisions to reach the right solution.
Understanding customer needs is the key to knowing what people want from your business and how you can offer it at all stages of the journey.
Let’s look at how you can proactively uncover your ideal customer needs and then discuss how you can take steps to give customers what they want.
Hey there! Seeking B2B growth? Our guide on the B2B Sales Funnel is your roadmap.
What Are Customer Needs?
For example, customers need to purchase a product that works reliably and is within their budget. In real life this could be a project management software salesperson needs a CRM that’s affordable and has integrations to their core tech stack.
If the CRM business doesn’t sell an effective product that’s in line with the customer’s expectations or better, then they might leave for a competitor that does.
The 3 Levels of Customer Needs
Selling to businesses doesn’t mean you’re literally just selling to a business. Other elements come into play. After all, a business is made up of founders, team members, and multiple departments.
In sales, you need to speak the language of the person you’re selling to. So consider their priorities and influence over the business before you pick up the phone.
I know what you’re thinking, though. “I don’t have unlimited time to sell to everyone. Selling to just one business is bad enough!”
But, ultimately there’s no way around it––selling to businesses is multi-dimensional.
Basically, when you’re selling to a business, you’re selling to three different levels:
- The company
- The department
- The individual person
Ideally, you’d focus on selling on all three levels. In the real world (where you’re operating with limited time and resources), you’ll often have to prioritize.
When you’re qualifying the buyer's needs, you’ll need to think carefully about whose needs you’re aiming to meet.
Do you learn about the company’s needs? The department’s needs? The individual’s needs?
Let’s look at these three layers in more detail.
The Company Level
These are the needs of the company you’re selling to. Needs on a company level are usually broad and focused on the big picture.
Here are some typical examples of company needs:
- Cost savings
- Big strategic initiatives
- Competitive game plan
- Total revenue numbers
- Launching a new product or major feature
- Large-scale marketing and brand campaigns
The Department Level
Specific department-level needs are usually more detail-oriented. They focus on meeting certain goals and solving problems.
Among these department-level needs are:
- Specific KPIs that the department is measured against
- Projects the department has to complete
- Strategic initiatives this department has to see through
- Company politics (e.g., company internal “wars” with other departments, competition for budgets and resources, internal power struggles, etc.)
- Potential changes in the management of that department
- Desire to solve particular problems the department is charged with
- Circumnavigating externally imposed constraints
The Individual Level
These are the needs of the actual decision maker—or the internal champion who will “help” the decision maker to make the right choice. These needs are personal and may not have much to do with the company or department.
The needs of this person often include:
- Personal career goals like getting promoted, getting a raise, securing their position, etc
- Deliverables that the person wants to be credited for
- Personal life goals
- Family goals (e.g., wanting to spend more time with their family, moving elsewhere, providing their kids with a better education, etc.)
- Getting hired by another company
While identifying customer needs is crucial, structuring the approach to meet these needs can be equally important. Adopting a systematic methodology, such as the waterfall approach, can be beneficial in this context. In the waterfall model, each phase of understanding and meeting customer needs is treated as a separate, sequential stage.
5 Main Types of Customer Needs
Customer needs come in all shapes and sizes. They’ll vary according to the individual and company.
That means there’s no one-size-fits-all customer needs guidebook. Instead, customer needs are based on your industry, competitors, and required customer solutions. You’ll need to perform in-depth customer and market research to better understand customer needs. (Don’t worry, we’ll cover how to identify customer needs later).
Most needs of your customers will fall under the umbrella of these five main types.
1. Functional Needs
Ever bought a subscription to a platfrom that’s really awkward to use? Yep, we’ve all been there. It’s super annoying to say the least.
It goes without saying that the customer’s purchase needs to work. However, functional needs go beyond just working.
- Functionality: Customers need your product/service to work the way they need in order to solve their problem
- Compatibility: The product or service needs to work well with other systems your customers use
Let’s say you’re managing the user-experience of a pet-sitting app. The platform needs to make life easy for both the pet sitters and owners by providing resources and information like pet insurance costs or nearby veterinaries. If it doesn’t work in the way both parties expect, they may churn and look to the competition.
2. Performance Needs
Customers need purchased products or services to perform in line with their expectations.
Clunky software interfaces, buggy apps, and slow load times are a big no for busy users!
Here are the key customer performance needs:
- Reliability: The product needs to work reliably as promised when the customer uses it
- Experience: It needs to be easy to use your product or service. At the very least, it should be clear––it shouldn’t create more work for your customers
- Design: A product or service needs a clean design so it’s easy to use
3. Information Needs
Picture this, you’re in deadline mode and need your browser-based design software to help you finish up visuals for a pitch you’re doing tomorrow. Then it crashes. You panic. When you can’t find the support chat, you doubly panic.
Customers require clear communication from the moment they make contact with your brand right through to post-purchase.
- Education: Customers want educational content like instructional knowledge bases or how-to tutorials on using your product
- Onboarding: A solid onboarding process should clear up any doubts about getting started with your product
- Accessibility: Customers need to be able to reach your customer support team on their channel of choice
- Options: Customers want options when they’re considering purchasing from a company. So provide a variety of subscription, product, and payment options
4. Strategic Needs
Every customer has unique selection criteria that go beyond simply finding a solution when they need it.
Keep these strategic needs in mind:
- Price: Customers have specific price points with which they can solve their problems
- Convenience: Your product needs to be a convenient solution to the issue they want to solve
Striking the right balance between an affordable price point and convenience for your customers is delicate. Getting it right is key to making your offering their first choice.
5. Service Needs
We all want to be treated with respect and feel that people understand us.
Rightly so, customers have expectations around service. To build a base of loyal customers, put excellent customer service at the heart of your selling process.
Here are some of the top customer service needs:
- Fairness: Customers expect fairness from companies. Whether it's pricing or contract length
- Empathy: When customers reach out to your team, they want understanding from the person they’re speaking with
- Control: People want to feel like they’re in control of the business interaction from start to finish. Don’t let customer empowerment end with the sale. Make it easy for them to change subscription plans or adjust terms in the future
How to Identify Customer Needs in B2B
Identifying customer needs can feel like finding a needle in a haystack. With so much noise competitor noise combined with customers who don’t know what they want, it’s not always super easy.
Luckily though there’s a simple remedy from one our all-time favorite founders.
“You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backward to the technology,” Steve Jobs famously said. “You cannot start with the technology and try to figure out where you’re going to sell it.”
Whether you sell cars, software or dog food, Jobs’ message is relevant.
If we decode the fundamentals of the Apple founder’s message, it means understanding:
- Their expectations for the buying process
- Why they’re choosing to make a purchase
- Where customers have come from
- The pain points they’re facing
Based on Jobs’ genius, here are a few strategies to help you identify customer needs.
Conduct Industry Research
Thorough industry research will help you understand what other companies offer and whether your customers’ needs are being met.
Start by analyzing your competitors and determine if there’s an overlap in your target audience.
Then, review how your competitors tackle their pain points and general issues. Are they able to find solutions? Are customers satisfied with their offerings?
If the answer is yes, it may be worth implementing some of their strategies. If the answer is no, then you can identify gaps to fill.
For example, a social media management software startup may currently only offer two different monthly subscription plans. But when they reivew their competitors, they find that they offer four or five for different business sizes.
Tap into Existing Data
Your business probably has access to plenty of customer data. If you already have a CRM, it’ll be easy to find, slice, and dice the data you need.
As you review your customer data, ask the following questions:
- Are there any clear pain points or problems?
- Why do customers come to your business?
- Are there major patterns between customer segments?
Let’s say you run a skincare tech startup. You know people use your app and product line because they want better skin. But you’re not sure of their exact pain points. When you go through your CRM, you see that nearly half of your existing customers suffer from acne and the other half suffer from dry skin. This data shows you customers’ pain points and what they want to solve using your product.
Use this data to get a better picture of why your existing customers chose your solution.
Gather Customer Feedback
When you want to learn more about your customer base, there’s no better way than to ask them directly.
There are several ways of collecting customer feedback, both virtually and in person:
- Focus groups: Gather several customers from the same segment and ask them specific industry and segment questions about their unique needs
- Customer interviews: Schedule one-on-one conversations with some long-term and newer customers
- Customer feedback survey: Send out customer surveys via email or leave them on your site
- Customer satisfaction survey (CSAT): Ask new customers to complete a short CSAT survey following purchase or onboarding
Map Your Customer Journey
Mapping your customer journey is a visual representation of how customers interact with your brand at every stage.
Let’s say customers usually see one of your Facebook ads before downloading your ebook. They then sign up for a free trial to your accounting software and three months later convert to paying customers.
Mapping it out helps you better understand what phase of the journey each customer is in and how you can best meet their needs at every stage. Also, doing this exercise helps you create a more customer-centric company that puts consumers first. Ultimately, you’ll build a more proactive customer support approach that can anticipate what customers want next.
Ask Your Customer Service Team
Your customer service team is on the frontline of your business.
They constantly interacts with existing and potential customers. So of course, they’ll have valuable insights into what customers look for and complain about.
Support team members can likely tell you about the most popular product features and the elements that receive complaints. They may even change your perception of how customers are actually using your product.
You may believe customers use your platform to collect customer data. But when you talk to support reps you find out they’re actually choosing your platform because of its integrations to their automation software.
This inside knowledge can fuel your product development and help you solve existing issues.
Ready to Meet Customer Needs? Take These 4 Steps
The key to meeting customer needs is to never lose sight of what it’s like to be in their position.
Think about it for a moment.
If you had a problem, what would encourage you to choose your product as a solution? If you had already signed up for a subscription, what’s getting in your way of achieving your initial goal?
Maintaining empathy and knowing the answers to these questions will help you better meet consumer needs.
Here are four steps to take to meet customer needs.
1. Map Customer Needs to Solutions
Start with your customer journey. Why do customers reach out to your company? What are they looking to solve?
So draw on your CRM data and initial customer needs analysis to better understand the why behind their purchasing decisions. Think about their initial expectations and whether your company consistently meets and surpasses them.
Then, identify any gaps between your offerings and customer needs. When you’ve got a clear idea, then develop a solution. Add new product lines, features, or service options to better meet specific needs.
2. Develop a Customer-first Approach
Everything should start with the customer. Remember, you can’t meet their expectations if you don’t align your strategy with their needs from the get-go.
So, dig into your customer feedback and figure out how to align your business processes and offering with what they want.
Understanding customer needs is not a one-and-done. Instead, it will constantly evolve. Don’t be afraid to shift your approach to be more in tune with what customers want now.
When you do this, you’ll be more likely to win long-term customer loyalty.
3. Customize Solutions for Individual Customers
McKinsey & Company found that 71 percent of customers expect companies to deliver personalized interaction, and 76 percent get frustrated when this doesn’t happen.
Businesses that don’t deliver tailored solutions to customers risk leaving money on the table. Personalized offerings are no longer optional––instead, they’re a key component of people’s expectations.
Start by tailoring specific offerings to segments of target customers. Then if your company has the resources, experiment with offering highly-personalized solutions to individual customers.
Personalizing your offering will act as a win-win situation. Not only will you be more likely to give customers what they want, but you’ll also have direct access to real-time feedback.
4. Measure and Evaluate Customer Success
It can be hard to measure customer satisfaction. But knowing which KPIs to track and then how to evaluate them is key to maintaining success.
Here are five metrics to get started with:
- Customer retention rate: The number of people who continue subscribing or purchasing products
- Customer churn: How many people cancel their subscriptions or stop buying your product?
- Customer satisfaction score: A good score sits between 75 percent and 85 percent
- Repeat purchase rate: If customers generally return to your business to buy more, that’s a strong signal that they’re happy
- Lifetime customer value (LTV): If the overall revenue per customer over their time doing business with your company is high, that shows they feel positive about your offering
Keeping a close eye on these metrics will help you make more informed decisions to improve customer satisfaction. If you notice any of these metrics lagging behind, it’s important to be proactive and figure out where you’re not meeting customer expectations.
Listen to Customer Needs and Deliver What They Want
Proactively listen to customer preferences, and you’ll be surprised by how much you strengthen your offering and see an uptick in sales.
It can take some work to get your framework off the ground, but fortunately, it’s well worth it. The key to success is to remember that customer needs aren’t static––they’re always evolving. So make it a habit to seek out feedback from your customers and adjust your offering to suit their needs.
Want to track customer needs and interactions with them? Look no further than a high-performance CRM like Close. Try it out for yourself to see how it can help your team pay more attention to customer needs, and deliver on those.