4.2 Needs vs. Wants – Explanation (OBN-VL)

4.2 Needs vs. Wants – Explanation

Customers talk in “wants,” such as a lower price, faster delivery, or more services. However, if you only listen for what people say they want, you won’t get to the underlying needs to truly satisfy your customer, both long and short-term. 

Think about what happens – usually one of two things. 

Either: All suppliers work to the customer’s stated wants, and the sale devolves to a price discussion,

Or: The sale goes to a competitor who has discovered, gained agreement on, and prioritized the real customer needs. 


  • Lie on the surface of the discussion

  • Are often and most easily discussed
  • Are tangible, specific, measurable, and easily communicated
  • Can be satisfied in only one way, and 
  • Greatly narrow the range of positive outcomes

Wants are the “what.”

However, to truly create, shape, and sell value you have to get to the “why” beneath the “what.”

Once you discover why customers want a lower price, or faster delivery, or more services – you have the opportunity to provide innovative solutions that meet the real customer needs and thus differentiate you, your company, and your solution from the competition.


  • Lie beneath the surface of the discussion;

  • Are general, subjective, intuitive, hard to measure or vague; and
  • Greatly expand the range of positive outcomes.

Remember, in order to create, shape and sell value we must get to the why behind the what.

Needs fall into three categories – business, technical, and personal. Again, high performing salespeople know that to be truly effective they must take the time to explore all three areas before recommending a solution.

So why is it difficult for buyers to communicate their underlying needs?

In many cases buyers: 

  • Are concerned that you might take advantage of them
  • Needs are personal
  • Might not know what those needs are, as they are so focused on their wants 

Unknown Needs

There’s another category of needs that are even more critical when it comes to differentiating yourself, and selling value. We call them “Unknown” needs. 

Unknown Needs come in three varieties:

  1. Undiscovered: a need (as defined above) that the customer doesn’t know that he/she has.
  2. Unconsidered: a need that the customer knows he/she has but has not considered your company for a solution, so the customer doesn’t bring it into the conversation. They never considered you for that need. 
  3. Under-appreciated: a need that the customer “under-appreciates” the impact to the top or bottom line, or the achievement of specific goals, of satisfying that need. He/she assigns little weight to it and doesn’t understand the full consequences of how that need could affect his/her business.

A key point to consider: seeking out these unknown needs is essential because once discovered, they allow you to sell more value and to broaden the sales discussion immensely.

Story Time

Here’s the tale of how one technology company verified the importance of undiscovered, unconsidered, and under-appreciated needs. This technology company, even though it had been through a large divestiture, was still a Fortune 50 company. They decided to look at the deals they won and the deals they lost in their hardware division to determine the variables for success.

They had a pricing model that was 15% more expensive than their closest competitor.

They hired Gartner to study the business they both won and lost for selected deals – a total volume was about $6.5 million.

They won 2/3 of the deals, lost 1/3.

What do you think the key buying criteria was on the deals they won?

If you guessed “price”, you would be 100% correct. 

How about the deals they lost? 

Again, if you guessed price – ding ding ding – you’ve got it! 

The determining factor on whether the company won the deal or not was the number of buying criteria.

If the buying criteria was three or fewer, the competition usually won.

If there were four or more buying criteria, the company, our protagonist in the story, almost always won.

The moral of the story is this: if you are a premium-value, premium-price provider, the more buying criteria you get on the table, the greater the likelihood that you can differentiate you, your solution, and the relationship you provide yourself from your competition. The best way to do that is to establish, prioritize, and gain agreement on a depth and breadth of needs – so that you can generate more creative solutions and find new ways to provide value.