Some companies defy convention to become great. Stories abound of businesses that excel through innovative solutions that meet needs buyers did not even know existed. Think Microsoft or the Sony Walkman, for example.

There are, of course, ways to assess buyers’ needs. Market research and reviews are a formal means of teasing out buyers on their requirements, while everyday sales dialogue serves as an informal source.

Perhaps surprisingly, however, the answer to developing a strategy to incorporate the needs of buyers rests not with them but in something that happens before they have this need. In advance of the need for a product or service, there is usually a problem. A need without a problem often goes unmet.

Here is an example from Despite some limitations, we had been getting by with our small PABX telephone switching system. We read the brochures sent to us from PABX suppliers from time to time, spoke to salespeople and even enjoyed the canapes at a product launch.

Yet we didn’t buy. The pain of action (dollars and distraction) exceeded the benefits being offered (enhanced features and better customer service).

With four new staff members coming on board, however, we soon faced a problem. The old PABX simply did not have enough extensions to support this growth and it could not be upgraded.

We’d always had a need, but now we had a problem. So we acted: the decision to purchase a larger PABX took one day and it was installed within a fortnight.

The story shows that the problem faced by the buyer – not their need – is the tipping point. There are four steps to incorporate the buyer’s problem into a marketing strategy:

  1. Start with your assumed strategy. What do you intend selling, to whom do you intend selling it, and through whom do you intend selling it? These are your product, market and channel strategies.
  2. Consider the problems behind this strategy. What problems do your buyers face, what problems is your channel good at flushing out, and what problems does your product or service set solve?
  3. Break this list down to the ‘best’ problems and subject them to rigorous analysis, determining which will reward you the most (if you solve them) and for which you are best positioned to act. Based on this analysis, choose the one problem that underpins your strategy.
  4. Now ditch your strategy! If you’ve chosen the right buyer problem, you should let it guide your future strategy. Consider which businesses suffer the most from this problem and whether they would be prepared to pay money to have it fixed; this is your new market. Consider which channel best uncovers this problem; that is your new channel. And consider what form a complete solution may take; that is your new offering.

What began as:

  • What do you want to sell?
  • To whom do you intend selling?
  • Through whom will you reach them?



  • What best solves the problem?
  • Who is most affected by the problem?
  • Who best can help buyers accept this problem?

Your revised strategy centres on solving a problem for your buyers. It should look similar to your present strategy, but will often differ to a meaningful extent. Now you can select tactics to help these potential buyers recognise that they have this problem.

Your strategy goes from implicit to explicit via the buyer and you can now execute a solid B2B marketing strategy that will get results.