Do They Know What They Need?

    February 5, 2004

When visitors first come to your site, it’s important for you to anticipate how they are approaching your site.

Are your visitors thinking from the perspective of a general need, or are they looking for a specific solution?

Here’s the difference: Someone who is thinking in terms of a need knows of a problem he or she has, but does not necessarily know how to solve it. This type of person is looking for someone to suggest an answer for their need.

On the other hand, someone who is thinking in terms of a solution has not only identified their need, but they also already know what they are looking for in terms of how to answer that need.
They do not need you to suggest a solution; they just need you to help them get their chosen solution in a hurry.

For example: Suppose you’re a distributor for a piece of accounting software called “BizWhiz.” Someone who runs a small business might be thinking from the perspective of a need, such as, “I need help with accounting.” Or, they might have already decided on the specific solution they need, such as “I’m looking for a place to buy BizWhiz.”

In the first case, the message you must get across is, “BizWhiz can solve all your small business accounting problems!” In the second case, the customer needs to hear, “You can get BizWhiz here-and you can get it faster, easier, and less expensively than at our competitor’s sites.”

As another example, suppose you have an online electronics store. Your customers may be thinking in general terms (“I need a digital camera”) or in terms of specifics (“I’m looking for a
Sony DSC-F717”).

It’s your job to anticipate visitors who already know the particular solution they are looking for, as well as those who only have a vague idea of their need.

In some cases, it will be pretty clear that your visitors only fall in one category or the other. However, on most sites, you’ll have a mixed audience. You need to anticipate the different needs of each group and plan accordingly.

Here’s how:

1. If they haven’t figured out a specific solution…

…you cannot just present your product and expect your customers to buy it. They won’t know why they would want the product. You need to articulate their needs, then convince them that your product is perfect for satisfying those needs.

An excellent illustration of an industry that is terrible in this area is companies who provide gateways. Many people who want to set up an online store have no idea what a gateway is, even though it is something they need. Unfortunately, most companies who provide gateways assume that the customer will already understand what a gateway does and can simply pick the right one for their needs. This is not the case.

2. If they already know exactly what they want…

…you need to focus on helping them find it quickly and easily. Top priorities for accomplishing this goal include:

  • Really good navigation
  • A good search feature
  • Anything else you can add that would make it simple to locate a particular product.
  • The more products you have, or the bigger your site is, the more important these features are.

    A note of caution: Even if your customers already know they want your product, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk about the benefits of the product. Even people who know what they want still need reassurances that they’ve made the right choice. They’ll also need to know why they should buy from you versus your competitors.

    Does your site have the essential ingredients that make customers buy? Jamie Kiley can help you find out exactly how your site needs to be improved. Sign up for a site review today at

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