Being able to understand client needs is arguably one of the most important aspect of sales – unless you uncover a need (desire, one, hope, ambition) with a potential client, no sale will move forward. There are entire books that have been written about how to better understand client needs – simply Googling the term returns 186,000,000 results.

And our research at RAIN Group has clearly shown that buyers buy from sellers who understand their needs. Looking at the differences between the winners and the second-place finishers, “understood my needs” was the fifth largest gap .

In fact, the winners demonstrated they understood the buyer’s needs 2.5 times more often than the second-place finishers. On top of that, of the 42 factors, buyers said “understood my needs” was the fifth most important factor that second-place finishers should change in order to win their business.

But there is another, more subtle finding in the research: the ability to understand client needs is more important than the ability to diagnose needs. In other words, it’s not so much about providing an accurate diagnosis of “the problem” as it is about making your buyers feel understood.

People have a natural tendency to feel comfortable, positive and valued around others who understand them. In fact, your ability to make others feel like you understand has impacts many levels of the relationship.

Academic research On Feeling Understood and Feeling Well: The Role of Interdependence” reported that:

 “People enjoy social environments where they feel understood by others. According to self-verification theory, people prefer to interact with others who confirm their self-views, even when those views are negative (see Swann, Rentfrow, & Guinn, 2003 for a review). People also feel more satisfied and stay in relationships longer when they and their partners have similar affective responses to life events (Anderson, Keltner, & John, 2003Oishi & Sullivan, 2006) or similar interpersonal goals (Sanderson & Evans, 2001). These findings imply that people seek and enjoy social interactions with others who understand their subjective thoughts and feelings. This collection of research also presents an emerging perspective that feeling understood or misunderstood is an integral experience of our social lives.”

In other words, your ability to understand others (or at least make it feel like to understand them) helps not only your ability to uncover needs that you can resolve, but in fact helps you build and cement the relationship itself.

Really making people feel like you understand them – in truth – isn’t all that complex. It’s about taking some common advice in sales to heart, and executing on the basics. In fact, over time I have developed a simple five-step process that is designed explicitly to help others feel like you understand them – like a truly “get them”.

1. Ask insightful questions 

The first step in the process to better understand client needs is to ask insightful questions. Doing things like not asking yes/no questions, digging deeper and using the power silence are all important parts of the question process

2. Listen carefully

The second step is to listen carefully, by which I mean listening without looking for clues to turn around the conversation and start to talk about your products or services. When you listen carefully, don’t interrupt and simply absorb what you’re hearing, you’re sending a subtle message: I care about you, and I care about your views.

3. Play back & paraphrase

Playing back and paraphrasing are two important ways of confirming whether you’ve understood what the other person was trying to say. But the true value goes well beyond that: by playing their awards back to them, you confirm to the other person that you you’re not only listening, but – quite literally – understood what they were trying to say.

4. Listen for more

Almost always, when you play back and paraphrase, two things will start to happen. First, the person will correct your views in some way, and attempt to explain what they were trying to say in the first place. Second, they will often offer up additional information that builds on what they initially said.

5. Confirm your understanding

Often overlooked, the simple act of confirming that you understand now fully what they were trying to say is the final step in the process. By doing this you reassure them that you have a full understanding of their needs, and show them the respect and attention they deserve.

In spite of the volumes of research, books and blog posts (like this one …) dedicated to how to better understand client needs, in the end the simple five-step process above will get you where you want to be: in a place where your buyer feels like you truly, really understood what they were trying to say.

And remember this: of the 42 factors investigated, buyers said “understood my needs” was the fifth most important thing sellers need to do that in order to win their business – now and in the future.