Voice of the customer messaging—positioning your solutions in relation to your customer’s stated needs—seems at face value like a reasonable marketing approach.
Your customers know what they want and need, right? Who are you to tell them otherwise? Your messaging should conform to their interpretation of the market, not yours.
Or maybe not.
As we learn more about what actually compels buyers to take action, it becomes clear that a different kind of messaging approach may be needed to set you apart and defeat the status quo. And this approach has nothing to do with what your customers know; actually, it’s based on what they don’t know.
I’m talking about messaging to your prospects’ unconsidered needs--needs they’ve overlooked, underestimated, or don’t know about. Fresh research conducted by my company, Corporate Visions, in conjunction with Dr. Zakary Tormala, a professor at the Stanford School of Business, reveals just what kind of impact this kind of messaging can have.
Through our study, we discovered that introducing your prospects to unconsidered needs increases your messaging effectiveness in the areas of perceived quality and uniqueness, while having a positive impact in terms of attitude and choice. On the other hand, positioning your offerings relative to the known or stated needs doesn’t create any differentiation at all. Here’s how we arrived at that conclusion.
Four Conditions, One Standout
For our study, we recruited 400 people and divided them equally into four groups. We then developed a specific scenario, telling participants in each group to imagine themselves as business owners whose companies had enjoyed recent success but had more recently fallen on hard times as a result of a recession and are now struggling to stay open.
To deal with cash flow challenges related to slow sales and customer payments, their companies are seeking a $10 million line of credit from a financial lending partner. For the purposes of our study, this cash infusion represents the “stated need.”
We then delivered four different lender pitches to each group:
• Pitch 1 responded to the stated need as indicated in the situation above. It included a competitive offer for the money and typical corporate presentation content.
• Pitch 2 responded to the stated need with similar positioning and also introduced “value-added services” in the typical tactic many companies employ to create differentiation.
• Pitch 3 responded to the stated need with similar content as the first two, but then introduced an unconsidered need at the end of the pitch.
• Pitch 4 opened with the unconsidered need first, then responded to the stated need later in the presentation.
In the third and fourth pitches, the unconsidered need was based on the insight that 42% of businesses that take cash infusions during a recession actually fail due to underlying problems they didn’t know they had.
In both conditions, the lenders said they would come in and analyze the business to make sure there were no hidden problems that might hold the company back from maximizing its cash infusion. As part of their pitches, both companies made it clear they had the in-house expertise to handle this type of business analysis.
Which pitch came out on top? What made the most powerful impact on buyers?
In terms of uniqueness and quality, the study revealed a statistically significant effect based on presentation type, and it suggested that both of the unconsidered needs pitches outperformed the first two conditions. But get this: Pitches 1 and 2—stated need and stated need plus value-added services—did not differ on these measures.
Figure 1. Presentation quality ratings; scales ranged from one to nine with higher ratings indicating greater quality. Perceived quality was greater in the unconsidered needs-first condition (by 11.41%) than the other three, which did not differ from each other.
Figure 2. Presentation uniqueness ratings; scales ranged from one to nine with higher ratings indicating more unique and unexpected. Perceived uniqueness was higher in both unconsidered needs presentations (by more than 41%) relative to the others, with the value-added condition falling to last place.
When Tormala examined the choice and attitude measures—both so critical to influencing buying decisions—he found that the unconsidered needs first condition outperformed the other three pitches, which didn’t differ on these measures.
Figure 3. Attitudes and choice; scales ranged from one to nine with higher ratings indicating more favorable attitudes and more likely to choose. Attitudes and choice likelihood ratings were more favorable in the unconsidered needs first condition (by nearly 10.3%) than in the other three, none of which differed from one another.
By looking at the choice and attitude measures in conjunction with the uniqueness and quality findings, the data suggests that only when unconsidered needs come first do they enhance the persuasiveness of a pitch. According to Tormala, this aligns with uncertainty principles, which ascertain that when you include unexpected information into conversations, you can actually accelerate decision processing.
What do we make of this research? Well, for one, sellers can dramatically improve their customer conversations by introducing prospects to unconsidered needs. But this effect is maximized only when you inject that information early in the process. If its entry is delayed, you won’t achieve the level of differentiation and persuasiveness that you need to sway your prospects.