In the 1989 movie, Field of Dreams, Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) hears a voice that tells him, “If you build it, they will come.” After many adventures involving metaphysics and baseball, Ray plows down the corn crop on his Iowa farm to build a baseball field, literally in the middle of nowhere. The Black Sox of a bygone era do come to play on his field (visible to only believers), but that doesn’t pay the mortgage. His neighbors and even relatives think he is crazy for destroying most of his crop, but he doesn’t look so foolish for obeying the voice when the prediction of his friend Terrence Mann  (James Earl Jones) comes true:

People will come, Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway, not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door, innocent as children, longing for the past…. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball…. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again. Oh people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.

It makes a great Hollywood movie, but in real life, “building it” is no guarantee that anybody will actually “come.” Even if you “build a better mousetrap,” you’ve still got to build a business to effectively market and sell it.

An essential key to marketing that is often talked about but less-often practiced is the importance of defining what your prospective customers and clients actually want and need. Ultimately, a successful business is not about you and what you do, but it’s about being a contribution to your customers. It’s about giving them what they want, meeting their needs, and serving those who buy your products, programs and services.

How do you know what your prospects and clients want and need? You could hypothesize all day long, study trends, examine the competition, and analyze data (all of which can be informative). You can even do what Ray Kinsella did and rely on your intuition (also important, but by no means infallible). But the best way to know what your clients want and need is to simply to ask them. It’s not only the simplest way, but it’s essential.

Follow these tips to gain a greater understanding of your clients… and greater success for you:

  • Find their big pain point.

What’s their top-of-mind concern? What’s their biggest problem or their most burning desire? What one need, if met, do they think would make their lives nirvana – heaven on earth? As an expert, you may know that’s not necessarily the case, but be willing to get into their shoes. Think how they think, feel what they feel.

  • Dig deeper.

Find out what their struggles are and what it means to them, not just intellectually, but emotionally and financially. Find out what it costs them to have this problem or pain, and what it would mean to have it solved. Explore the impacts of the problems and potential solutions, both quantitatively – numbers and measurable facts – and qualitatively, in terms of life.

  • Make asking questions of your prospects and clients a habitual practice.

Ask questions formally – through surveys, questionnaires, and customer feedback forms – and  informally – through conversations. Ask questions of your “raving fan” clients who have been successful why they did business with you, and ask those prospects who chose not to do business with you why they didn’t.

  • Make it worth their time.

To acknowledge the value of their feedback, give them a reward, such as a discount coupon, a gift certificate, a free training or bonus product or service. Enter them in a drawing for a prize give-away. Reward them unexpectedly with a thank-you note or coffee card. Or use any combination of rewards.

  • Interpret your results.

Look for the pain issues that respondents report in common. As the provider of the solution, do they make sense? Can you craft a program, product or service that addresses the pain points that your survey has identified?

You have to understand specifics and nuances. For example, if you are a business coach and your clients say their biggest problem is “more cash”, does that mean they need more clients, or do they need to lower their expenses or raise their prices? And if they need “more clients,” does that mean they need to attract more prospects, or that they’re not converting the prospects they have? Dig for specific information, don’t assume.

  • Ask what they’d like to buy.

An excellent question is sometimes a blunt one: “What’s a product, program or service that we aren’t currently offering, but if we offered it, you’d buy it?” You might get some surprising answers…

There may be a real distinction between what they say they want and what they actually need, and you’ll want to understand both. When a prospect says they “need” something, it means they “want” it. Whether having their perceived “need” met actually solves their problem is a different matter. You may be able to see that what they need is something in addition to or instead of the thing they believe will solve their problem. And just because they say they “need” something doesn’t mean they are necessarily ready to invest in it or commit to it! But it gives you a good place to start.

Master the skill of understanding what your clients want and need, and build that understanding into your marketing messaging, then people will most definitely come!