In B2B Marketing 101, we all learned the key to turning prospects into customers: discovering their needs and helping them see why yours is the best solution. In crowded target markets, doing this in a way that differentiates your brand can be a challenge. Chances are your prospect’s fundamental needs could be filled by any number of providers in your field, so your brand differentiators come down to the details of how you do what you do.
But what if you could present yourself as a solution to an unmet need — a problem that no one is even talking about solving? It might be a situation that your targets simply live with because they don’t know a solution exists. It could be a challenge they’ve attempted to solve multiple times and have given up on. Or maybe it’s a need that they didn’t even know they had.
Unmet needs exist in every sector, and if you can find out what those needs are in your target market and present your product or service as a solution, you’ll differentiate yourself in a way that will leave your competitors scrambling to catch up.
How to Uncover Unmet Needs
If unmet needs were easy to discover, they would have been found out — and met — a long time ago. Discovering your target market’s unmet needs takes time, effort, a little intuition and a lot of strategic thinking. But for the brands who do find them, it’s like discovering gold. Here are a few proven tactics to jump-start your discovery efforts:
1. Mine Your Intent Data
A few decades ago, when people had a problem to solve, they turned to friends and colleagues for advice. Now they turn to the world wide web. And by leveraging intent data, you can pick up on the trail of their problem-solving efforts.
A robust intent monitoring platform will let you see which topics the users in your target market are researching through search engine queries, content downloads, email clickthroughs, and other online behaviors. By looking through your results on topics related to your product or service, you may discover customer needs that you’ve never considered, and those needs could spell new opportunities.
In the quest to discover unmet needs, intent data offers an array of advantages:
• You can discover the needs of targets who aren’t even on your radar yet.
• You get current information (not data that could be months or even years old).
• You can be alerted to spikes in activity that tell you a target is getting serious about finding a solution.
2. Consult Your Sales and Support Teams
Your sales team is out there every day talking to prospects, and your support team has daily interactions with your current customers. They listen to problems all day long, most of which are reiterations of the same basic needs. But every once in a while, a new question comes in to your call center, or a new topic pops up in a sales conversation. Those outliers could represent unmet needs, and the best way to discover them is to sit down with your sales and support reps on a regular basis.
When you talk to your reps, find out as much as you can about these outside-the-norm questions and comments. How badly does the customer/prospect need a solution to this problem? How long has it been a problem? What have they done to try to fix it?
It’s a fairly common occurrence for a customer or prospect to say, “I just wish your product did X,” and for the rep to respond, “It does!” If your reps have stories like this to share, you’ll know you have an opportunity to highlight the feature in question. What you’ve been considering a run-of-the-mill facet of your offering could wind up being the key to satisfying an unmet need.
3. Map Your Targets’ Processes
Sometimes satisfying an unmet need is not so much about what you do as how you do it. Uber, for example, delivers the same basic service as taxi services (driving you from Point A to Point B), but they way they do it is what makes them a game changer. To hire a taxi, you have to call the cab company, speak to a dispatcher, wait for a car to be dispatched, get a rough estimate of when your car will arrive, and hope you’ll have enough cash to cover the ride plus the tip. Uber shrank the whole process down to a few taps on your smartphone, while delivering precise information on when your car will arrive and how much the trip and tip will cost — and you don’t even have to pull out your credit card.
It’s possible that your targets are trudging through processes that are the business equivalent of hiring a taxi. If you can eliminate even one or two of the steps they’re taking to accomplish a particular task, you could be looking at an unmet need — one that can differentiate your brand in a way you never even considered.
4. Conduct Surveys
Of course, the simplest way to find out what people need is to ask them, and a well-planned survey can reveal new insights on the problems your prospects are looking to solve. When you’re digging for unmet needs, you have your choice of two different surveying approaches.
A basic online survey is easy to create and deploy (and, if you use a tool like SurveyMonkey, free). You can email the link to everyone on your list and share it via social media; remember to offer some kind of incentive, either a small gift (such as a $5 gift card) or an entry into a drawing for a larger gift (such as an iPad). The downside of this approach is that you’re mostly limited to targets who are already on your list or who follow you on social media, although social and PPC ads can broaden the scope somewhat.
If you want to bring in a larger respondent base, Google Surveys will (for a fee) post your survey across a network of sites and invite visitors to respond in exchange for access to premium content.
When crafting your survey questions, remember to lean on your respondents a bit to get to those tough problems they don’t even talk about. Go beyond the standard survey entries and ask questions like “If you could wave a magic wand and create the perfect X, what would it look like?” and “What do you see as the biggest waste of time/money/effort in X process?”
5. Do a Competitive Analysis
Another tactic for discovering unmet needs is to look at what your competitors are doing, and see if you can identify gaps that your product fills. Gather as much intel as you can about your competitors’ offerings. Your competitors’ own websites and collateral are good places to start, but remember to tap other sources as well — your customers who used to work with a competitor, for example, can be fantastic sources of information you won’t get anywhere else.
Once you have a good grasp of your competitors’ features and benefits, create a spreadsheet and review it carefully. Do any gaps jump out at you? Is there something you offer that everyone else in your market is missing? If you can identify two or three major gaps, do some research with customers and prospects to see if they represent real needs, then capitalize on the ones that do.
Crossing into the Unmet Needs Frontier
For B2B marketing teams, it’s easy to fall into the habit of talking about the same five or six customer needs over and over again. But dig a little deeper and you’ll often find a whole new set of unmet needs that nobody’s talking about, least of all your competitors. By using the fact-finding techniques presented above, you can identify the problems that represent some of your targets’ biggest headaches — problems for which they have yet to find a solution. By differentiating your brand as the answer they’ve been looking for, you’ll stand out from the competition and demonstrate how you can deliver value on a whole new level.