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Three customer types


Disciplines > Sales > Prospecting > Three customer types

Three factors | The knowing customer | The solution seeker | The clueless customer | Two types of selling | See also


There are three needs in customers that sales people seek when prospecting. This leads to three types of customer that need different approaches.

Three factors

Although prospective customers have many different needs, there are three factors that the sales person wants to know.

Know problem

The customer may or may not know that they have a problem that they need to solve. The sales person needs to know so that the potential to make a sale that solve the problem is identified.

Motivated to solve the problem

When the customer knows that they have a problem, they must be motivated to solve it. If they see it as unimportant or not worth spending time and money on it, then the sales person has an uphill job.

Know what's needed to solve the problem

The customer may also know what they need in order to solve the problem. This can be good news for the sales person. It can also be problematic.

The knowing customer

The knowing customer understands the problem, wants to solve it and knows what they need. They approach the sales person with the question 'I need an X, do you have one?'

If the sales person has what is wanted, the sale is easy and quicker than the qualification, which may be minimal (and particularly when the customer makes the first approach).

This can be problematic if the sales person does not have what is wanted. They may need to question the customer to understand the problem and might offer an alternative solution, although this requires convincing the customer that what is being sold is better than what the customer initially asked for. This is a common situation in selling.

The solution seeker

The solution-seeking customer knows that they have a problem and are motivated to solve it, but do not know the solution. They approach the sales person with a 'Help me' request.

In many ways this is the ideal customer as the sales person is cast as a rescuer who helps the customer solve the problem and makes a sale in the process. The trick in qualification is to quickly find out whether the products being sold actually can solve the problem.

The clueless customer

Finally is a customer who many sales people avoid as they often require more selling. These prospective customers do not know they have a problem or are not motivated to solve it. They thus repel initial advances by the salesperson.

The dilemma for the sales person is that there are many prospective customers in this class, which is good, but the work needed to sell to them is significant, which is bad.

This leads to two types of selling that requires quite different attitudes.

Two types of selling

The points above lead to two types of selling, rooted either in the carrot or the stick.


The first type of selling seeks the easier sell. Significant prospecting is done in order to qualify out the clueless. A few early questions are used to decide this before spending more time with the customer.

The focus of this style of selling is thus on solving the agreed problem with the products the sales person has. It spends more time in creating pull for the carrot of the product.


The second type of selling qualifies out far fewer and is more common when getting to prospective customers is difficult or where relatively few customers know they have a problem.

This type of selling expects to start with convincing customers that they have a problem and this is thus a 'problem-creating' sales style in that the major breakthrough happens when the customer realizes that they have a problem. Although it may use later pull, it starts more with a push as it focuses on creating the discomfort of realizing the problem.

See also

Push principle, Principle of pull

Sales Books

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