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Can you differ between wants and needs?

Knowing what your “customers” want is one thing, understanding what they need is another

In last week’s newsletter, I listed a series of questions that you need to have crystal clear answers to in order to succeed in business. I also described the first question.

The six questions are:

  1. Why and for whom do you exist?
  2. What does this “who” need and want?
  3. What do you need to do to meet these needs and desires?
  4. How will you do this work?
  5. What tools do we need to do this work?
  6. What skills are needed to do this work?

Continue here with the second question.

What does this “who” need and want?

Based on your answer to the first question, you know who you exist for. These “somebodies” can be one, or several types of people, with their individual wants and needs.

You need to move on to really understand this “someone”, that is, your “customer”. You can call the customer different things, such as guest, traveller, property owner, user, student and so on. However, the umbrella term when we work with value-creating flows is customer. It is the person who wants something out of your business and is prepared to pay for it directly, or indirectly.

In order to do a good job of satisfying the customer, you also need to understand what the customer wants and needs. This can be done in a number of ways; for example, through surveys, interviews or through your own experiences of those who work directly with customers.

Here, however, there is a very important difference between desire and need.


Eliciting the desire of customers is quite simple. Just ask them through the above mentioned ways. Customers are often happy to tell us what they want. Desire can vary greatly between individuals, but you’ll soon see a pattern.

However, desire does not always indicate wholeness. What I wish for does not show the depth that really exists. There is something more under the wish. There is a depth that you don’t get by just asking what someone wants.


Then we come to the need. The need is somewhat more difficult to identify. There is more to it than that, and many times the customers themselves are not aware of their needs. It has not sat down and analysed what they really need.

There is a quote wrongly attributed to Henry Ford; “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said ‘faster horses'”.

Regardless of the fact that it is not a real quote from Mr Ford, we can use it anyway. Because it tells us that our customers have a hard time really seeing what they need. Those who travelled daily by horse and cart had no idea what a car was and what it could do for them. They didn’t understand the possibilities, but thought that the mode of transport they had was fine as it was, although it might have taken a bit long.

It also becomes very clear if you look at the difference between what a student wants and needs. Or your children if you ask about dinner. There is a difference between what they want to eat and what they need to eat.

And it’s not just children, really, but the rest of us too; that we want things that may not be what we really need.

It is beyond the fulfillment of need that the real satisfaction lies.

You know more than I do

It’s hard to know what I need if I can’t imagine what you can really give me. You know more than I do, because you have a deeper understanding of what your possibilities are. In addition, you have the advantage of having a wealth of customers to gather knowledge from.

An example of this is Apple’s introduction of the iPhone as the first smart phone with a completely new user interface. We had pretty smart phones before the iPhone, both from Eriksson and Nokia, but they lacked the openness and the ability for us users to choose apps to install. We only had vendor-developed apps, such as calendar, camera, notes and the “snake” if we wanted to play games.

But we have another need; to be able to choose freely ourselves and to be able to create something more individual, and also to be able to manage our phone more easily. Swiping your finger and talking to Siri is obviously easier than fiddling with tiny buttons.

Your customers’ needs?

So you need to do a deep dive into understanding your customers’ real needs, whatever you call your customers. They have a need that they don’t easily see for themselves, and that you need to help them find and understand.

For it is only when you find the real need that you can reach your true potential to satisfy your customers.

So ask yourself during the week:

  • What do our customers want?
  • What are our customers’ real needs?