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Retail education: Wants vs. needs

by Kelly Kramer

Just about every educational sales trainer writes about wants, needs and means. Wants are what a person would ultimately like to have, like a Porsche. Needs are what I consider to be the bare minimum, like a mop head. Means are what the average person can afford, usually somewhere in the middle.

The idea is to find your buyer’s true motives, and find an answer in the product you prescribe for her. The problem most sales clerks have is focusing too hard on the means part. Unlike most sales trainers, I have never told a training class, “Start selling at the top because the customer deserves the best. Show her you think highly of her capabilities and deserve the best life has to offer.”

That might be the right way to treat the Trumps or Rockefellers but to the rest of the world, it shows you don’t know a thing about them. In my sales career I’ve prided myself on matching two things for the other 99% of the world: Their wants and needs.

Don’t get me wrong about selling the best. I have sold flooring and wall tile designs to the richest people in America. Living in Southern California near the coast put me in front of a very wealthy clientele. But guess what happened when I worked with that upper end? The sale was made on about 90%, a much higher number than my more middle-income clients. Even when I knew my customer had a $10 million home, I gave the same customer interview. Just because a customer looks to be dripping with money does not mean she wants to spend as much of it as she can. In my experience, wealthy people did not get where they are by blowing money. Sure, they can spend big but it is normally after much research. My closing ratio is high with this group because the people in it have never had someone try to sell them down. When I take them through the customer interview and deliver my favorite catch phrase, “From what you’ve told me, this moderate to high quality floor will do the job,” it sets them back for a second. They are so used to someone trying to make the big score that they instantly trust me. Very often I’m asked to see something in a higher category of luxury and I oblige. But now they are pushing me, not the other way around.

In one case, a world-renowned heart surgeon said, “Kelly, you are the first person to not treat me like I was rich and stupid.” I told him the guesthouse that only his mother-in- law stayed in did not need the highest end flooring, and in this case I worked toward his wants and needs, not his means. What we put in was nice, but not too nice for the mother-in-law he disliked. Story made short, I asked and listened.

One simple question

“Tell me what you are trying to achieve,” is a statement when asked and listened to will give you all you need to direct your buyer to the right product for her given situation. It asks the buyer, “What do you want? What do you need?” After that it is your job to fit into their means.

Like I said, most sales clerks work toward the means but go about it the wrong way. The average buyer will spend more than she anticipated if you prove she needs to for her situation. On the other hand, if you prove she can spend even less you have built trust and made a buyer for life. Work on the needs and then wants and the means will fall in place. Of course, my books will teach you how to get there. You might say the increase in my means will increase yours even more.

Thanks for reading.