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How to Conduct a Needs Assessment

Posted: 9/2003

How to Conduct a Needs Assessment
Take a First Step in Creating a Customer for Life


By Dr. Christie Smith and Larry Montan

With competition in
telecom
as fierce as it has ever been, differentiating
yourself and the way you go to market is critical in retaining customer share.
Most telecom companies are working hard to offer integrated services and bundled
products as a way to entice customers to adopt a one-stop shopping
approach to purchasing equipment and services. The reality, however, is that
telecommunications sales are far from the experience of shopping at Wal-Mart or
Home Depot. In creating a sales approach that combines products and services,
sales representatives must become more than order takers. They must become business consultants to their customers. This
is what will differentiate companies in the marketplace. A needs assessment is a
key tool in achieving a consultative mindset with your customer.

A communication needs assessment is a series of surveys
conducted with potential or current clients on how they do business and what
role their communication systems play in their ability to sell and ultimately
deliver to their own customers. Needs assessment interviews can be conducted
with one person, such as the decision- maker, but ideally are conducted with
many employees in different departments to arrive at a broader view of the
companys culture, motivation, problems, needs and the types of communication
solutions that will be most effective.

Conducting a needs assessment shows customers you are willing
to invest time and effort to really understand their needs. It makes you a more
consultative, sales-driven partner and opens the doors to a bigger sale up front
and possibly winning a lifetime customer. Doing a customer needs assessment can
be the one thing that clinches the deal when competitive equipment and service
differentiations are not clear to the customer.

Producing a successful customer needs assessment requires
customer buy-in. Its important to let the customer know up front why its
worth his or her time and effort to participate. It takes time and effort on
their parts, so make sure executives understand the value to their companies.

Position the needs assessment as a valuable tool in delivering
strategic business consultative services that allow you to deliver exactly what
the customer needs to meet its goals. The customer must understand that
conducting a needs assessment will enable you to understand its communications
needs in all areas of the business and to make recommendations that will help
them be more successful and meet their goals in a measurable, definable way.

Taking the customer benefit a step further, telecom vendors
can put together a white paper on the customers communications needs and how
they can be solved with the proposed system. Decision-makers find it very useful to see on paper what types
of communication capabilities the employees in the various departments need in
order to not only do their jobs but also excel and contribute more significantly
to the bottom line. To be comprehensive, a needs assessment should include
interviews with employees in all parts of the company, from R&D and
manufacturing to distribution and delivery, but most importantly with
customer-facing departments including marketing, sales and customer service.

It is essential to have a broad understanding of the customers
needs when recommending a telecom solution that will affect their bottom line.
Its essential to identify where the communication system can boost the sales
organization, giving customers a clear-cut bottom-line return on investment. Being able to focus on the bottom line, both in terms of
improvements in productivity, reduced costs, and increased sales, is critical in
todays economy.

Projecting the positive impact of a new communications system
requires data about the business the customer is in, including the nuances of
its marketplace, company culture, norms, values, customer base and its approach
to marketplace. This helps sales people identify the companys strengths,
weaknesses, barriers to success and blind spots in how it reaches its
marketplace and, in turn, to customize solutions that are the best possible fit.
Like all other parts of a business, the communications system has to play its
role in helping the customer be successful in its marketplace.

In conducting a needs assessment, a customers tensions
become evident. One common tension is over who owns the business, whether
its the marketing, sales or customer service department. Understanding
concerns from each department can help the communications vendor create a
solution that will meet all departments needs and resolve issues and improve
efficiencies for customer-facing groups, both to their customers and with each
other.

One of the most valuable results of a needs assessment comes
long after the sale has been made and the system is in place. Going back to the
needs assessment helps identify the appropriate way to measure the systems
ROI according to whats most important to the customer. It also helps you
build a powerful incentive program for your sales and customer service teams to
help them meet the ROI, which ultimately means customer satisfaction.

After you have conducted a series of needs assessments with a
significant portion of your customers, you then have access to valuable data
that can be compiled to allow you to understand the demographics of your
customers. For example, this data tells you who your customers are, e.g. typical
size of the company, initial purpose for the new system, sales process, and how
the implementation of the communications technology has met customer goals. From
this data, you can identify the types of customers that make the best sales
targets and how best to sell to those types of targets.

Using the data from needs assessment surveys, you can segment
your current customers based on their needs, this allows you to invest the most
time and effort in customers that promise the biggest payoff over time. This is
called the customer lifetime value. For example, you can segment customers
by service requirements, delivering the appropriate level of service to each
segment. This allows you to concentrate the bulk of your efforts on customers
with bigger service requirements, such as those that purchase all their
communications services from you, i.e., voice and data communications. Customers that buy the whole enchilada typically demand
a much higher level of service than those that dont need such extensive
services. Conducting a needs assessment helps you understand the difference. Moreover, by understanding each customers needs and
expectations, you invest the right set and amount of resources most optimally to
each segment resulting in a bigger payoff over the life cycle of the customer.

Regardless of customer size or service demands, most will
require some level of customization. The communications business is quickly moving away from a
transactional sales model into a service model, where customization on the
initial sale can be just the first step in a lifetime commitment to the
customer.

Once the system has been installed, conducting a follow-up
survey will help assess the customers satisfaction associated with the
technology itself and its impact on the company, i.e., the adoption of the
technology to improve productivity and efficiencies, reduce overhead, and
increase profits. Following up in this manner also helps you point out new
communications needs and solutions as the customers business grows and
changes, enabling you to expand the customers communications solutions and
create a customer for life.

Dr. Christie Smith is principal for Human Capital Advisory
Services and Larry Montan, senior manager and practice leader for Performance
Management and Compensation at Deloitte & Touche, Technology, Media &
Telecommunications Group.


Key Questions to Ask

  1. What are your current communications services and product
    needs?
  2. What are your responsibilities for making communications
    decisions?
  3. What is the buying process in your company? Who will be the
    primary contact?
  4. What is the most important factor in choosing a
    communications vendor?
  5. How will your communications needs change in the future?
  6. Who are your current vendors/suppliers? Which one is the primary vendor?
  7. How would you describe the performance of your current
    primary vendor?
  8. What practice (pricing, account teams, service, etc.)
    really makes the difference between vendors, i.e., something that would qualify
    as a best practice?
  9. By contrast, what practice (pricing, account teams,
    service, etc.) has made you want to switch vendors or not sign a contract, i.e.,
    something you would qualify as a worst practice?
  10. What is your wish list that is, the thing
    you would like your vendors to do better or differently?
Links
Deloitte & Touche
www.deloitte.com

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