Many people make the mistake of trying to sell their products or services before fully understanding their prospects’ most pressing challenges.

This is similar to your doctor handing you a prescription before taking the time to fully understand your symptoms.

Can you imagine that happening? Of course not.

Following the same logic, you would not promote your products and services to customers before you have a clear idea of what they need and what their problems really are.

Assess your prospects’ needs

You can carefully diagnose your prospects’ symptoms by creating a needs assessment.

This is a checklist or diagnostic tool to use with your prospects.

Just as a doctor would examine you before prescribing medicine for your cold, or a mechanic would examine your car before estimating repair costs, you need to assess your prospects before selling to them.

The needs assessment is a benchmarking tool that compares your prospects’ process or how they are doing things now, to what you, as the expert, consider to be the industry standard or best practice.

It provides a snapshot of the performance of a prospect’s business and helps them to understand where they are in relation to a particular standard.

And you set the standard. The assessment results often make the case for improvements. That’s where you come in.

Challenges and solutions

You might be wondering what types of questions should appear on a needs assessment tool.

Here’s a great question to start with: “What specific challenges are you facing?”

Simply ask this question, listen and take notes. People are more than happy to share with you what is not working and what their problems are.

Because very few people even ask this question, you will come across as a professional and as someone who genuinely cares about them.

Next, you want to ask your prospects what they have tried that worked.

You know something must be working, so what is it?

The things that are working are pointers to what else you could incorporate in your solution — perhaps something that works better, faster, cheaper or differently.

I also find it useful to ask people about what didn’t work.

A good question is: “What did you not like about that solution?”

Or, “What do you think would have made it work better?”

These are really thought-provoking questions that help your prospects get their minds around how to better fix the problem and what their desired outcomes are.

Their answers help you to start crafting the ideal solution for them.

Identify your goals

Another important question to ask is: “What are your goals?”

You will find that some prospects are prepared to answer this question. They have a very clear sense of their goals and what they are hoping to accomplish.

You will find that other prospects have no clue. Your job here is to help them formulate and articulate their goals.

Ask them questions about their goals for last year or what they achieved last year. Compare those responses with what they say they would like to accomplish this year.

Focus on your approach

When creating your needs assessment, it is useful to start by taking a close look at your offering, your approach, your philosophy and your process. How do you do things? What is your system?

My system, for example, is packaged as the Soho Sales Fundamentals methodology.

Everything that I do is based on the 21 components included within that approach. My coaching, my book and my needs assessment are based on that approach.

Your needs assessment can be in the form of statements rather than questions. And each statement could be based on your approach.

I ask my prospects, for example, to assess themselves in 21 different components of their sales strategy. These 21 components are benchmarks that I have developed over the past 10 years.

When I am delivering sales coaching and training for small and medium-sized companies (SMEs) and multinational corporations (MNCs), I point out that a needs assessment is not only useful for determining the needs of prospects.

It is also useful as a sales tool because it positions you as knowledgeable in your field.

How many of your competitors are using either a self-assessment tool or needs assessment tool with their customers?

Having this tool could be one of the ways you differentiate yourself from your competition and position yourself better as the ideal solution provider.