Svyatoslav Biryulin
How many needs do you have? Sixteen
So do your customers
Customers' needs is the topic that pops up regularly in our strategy games and meetings. That's not surprising because the only way for any company to survive and thrive is to fulfill these needs. Yet many misconceptions exist concerning human needs.

  • Imagine that you're a CEO of an IT company. Do your customers need, say, user-friendly software? No, they don't.
  • If you work for a processing plant – do your customers need, say, products of high quality? No, they don't.
  • If you are in a hospitality business – do your customers need excellent service? No, they don't.
We live in different cultures, speak different languages, and worship different gods (if any), but we are all human beings. And we all have some things in common. One of them is the set of sixteen basic needs. And while thinking about your business strategy, you must take them into account.
If a building becomes architecture, then it is art
Sixteen basic needs

Our brains are a result of meticulous work of evolution. For thousands of years, it polished and improved our grey matter to make us better survivors in a world full of danger. But it is very slow work – humans' brain evolves almost imperceptibly. So, biologically your brain is the same as one of a medieval peasant several hundred years ago, and the only difference is that you train and use it more intensively.

Why do we want things? Why do we like to be successful, visit new places, and spend time with friends? Nature needed to make homo sapiens do some things (which were supposed to be helpful from the point of view of evolution) and avoid the other things (that were dangerous for a species). This is a significantly simplified explanation, but nature created a system of stimulation - needs that motivated us to act and a set of fears to refrain from some actions. If you are afraid of empty dark rooms, it is your ancient hairy ancestor staying terrified in front of a dark cave's entrance that says hello through the ages.

Steven Reiss, an American psychologist, studied human needs for years. He and his team carried out a massive survey - more than 6.000 people from four continents were surveyed. He found out that all the people, regardless of their race, language, religion, beliefs, and place of living, share the same set of sixteen basic needs:

  • Power
  • Independence
  • Curiosity
  • Acceptance
  • Order
  • Saving
  • Honour
  • Idealism
  • Social Contact
  • Family
  • Status
  • Vengeance
  • Romance
  • Eating
  • Physical Activity
  • Tranquilit
But if we all have the same needs, what makes us different? Reiss and his team claim that everyone embraces the 16 basic desires, but individuals prioritize them differently. For instance, a need for independence may be important for some people and less critical for others. So Reiss worked out a method helping create an individual profile of desires for any person; it is called "Reiss profile". You can see an example of this profile in the picture. Reiss's experiments were repeated many times by other scientists. For instance, Marshall Rosenberg, another American psychologist, believed that we have around forty basic needs. But all the scientists agree that:

1. We all share the same set of basic needs.

2. All the other needs (for example, a desire to buy a new car or a smartphone) are derived from these basic wishes.
What does it have to do with business strategy?

Every company makes money by satisfying its customers' needs. It sounds like common sense, but why do so many companies fail in doing this job? There may be many reasons for that, but from my experience, the most common cause is misconceptions about the customers' genuine desires. For example, entrepreneurs believe that their customers need new software, a smartphone, a piece of furniture, a mobile app, or pair of jeans. But consumers don't think this way.

• A user-friendly software means comfort and a feeling of safety for a user
• A product's high quality may mean an ability to do one's job without taking risks to fail at their jobs
• Excellent service also means comfort or a feeling of being exceptional, belonging to a wealthy minority, etc.

Diving deeply into customers' basic needs is exceptionally valuable because it widens the spectrum of possible strategic solutions. For example, imagine your typical client, a decision-maker, is a procurement manager working for a processing plant. During a negotiation, she tells you she's interested in "fast delivery service," meaning that she'd like to have your products in her warehouse as quickly as possible after placing an order. If you follow her words, the only solution you can offer is fast delivery.

But what does she really want? Maybe she wants to do her job without worrying about out-of-stock situations, being at the same time squeezed by the procurement budget and the warehouse capacity. So what can you possibly suggest to her and her company?

• A fast delivery (or "just in time" supply) service

• A sophisticated software helping her analyse and forecast demand for your products

• A warehouse full of your products close to hers

• An inventory management service

In my strategic workshops, we dive deeply into customers' basic needs. Of course, we don't try to understand every customer, which doesn't make sense. But, using my methods based on Reiss's theory, we try to walk in a typical client's shoes and imagine their desires, fears, superstitions, beliefs, convictions, etc. It is one of the most efficient tools I know to awaken the team's creativity. Certainly, preparations are required - all the team members go to see customers beforehand and try to learn how they live and work.

If you work for a company, you and your customers see your products and solutions from different points of view. Therefore, believing or even knowing that your product is perfect is not enough. You won't be able to persuade your clients to buy your product until you start looking at it as they do.

Send me a message if you need help understanding your customers' basic needs.

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