Customer Needs

A company can carefully define its target market yet fail to correctly understand the customers' needs. Clearly, understanding customer needs and wants is not always simple. Some customers have needs of which they are not fully conscious; some cannot articulate these needs or use words that require some interpretation. We can distinguish among five types of needs: (1) stated needs, (2) real needs, (3) unstated needs, (4) delight needs, and (5) secret needs.

Responding only to the stated need may shortchange the customer. For example, if a customer enters a hardware store and asks for a sealant to seal glass window panes, she is stating a solution, not a need. If the salesperson suggests that tape would provide a better solution, the customer may appreciate that the salesperson met her need and not her stated solution.

A distinction needs to be drawn between responsive marketing anticipative marketing and creative marketing. A responsive marketer finds a stated need and fills it, while an anticipative marketer looks ahead to the needs that customers may have in the near future. In contrast, a creative marketer discovers and produces solutions that customers did not ask for, but to which they enthusiastically respond. Sony exemplifies a creative marketer because it has introduced many successful new products that customers never asked for or even thought were possible: Walkmans, VCRs, and so on. Sony goes beyond customer-led marketing: It is a market-driving firm, not just a market-driven firm. Akio Morita, its founder, proclaimed that he doesn't serve markets; he creates markets.20

Why is it supremely important to satisfy the needs of target customers? Because a company's sales come from two groups: new customers and repeat customers. One estimate is that attracting a new customer can cost five times as much as pleasing an existing one.21 And it might cost 16 times as much to bring the new customer to the same level of profitability as that of the lost customer. Customer retention is thus more important than customer attraction.

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