Defining your customers’ unmet need can be one of the trickiest parts of developing a strong positioning statement. Especially since it has to be a need your customers know they have. It hurts me every time I hear someone say “we just need to educate our customers,” because that’s a pretty good indication that the speaker has never stopped to consider whether the customers actually want to be educated about that particular topic.

In fact, there’s almost nothing more expensive in the world of marketing than trying to convince someone that they have an unknown need.  Especially in the world of B2B, people generally don’t buy what they don’t need. Oftentimes, the key is to figure out how to articulate the need in a way that aligns with how your target customer is really thinking about their business problems.

It’s also way too easy to try to force words into your potential targets mouths. Too many times, people are unrealistic about what their target might truly say in “real human words.” I’ve actually had a client suggest that the unmet need their customers have is that They wish they had an efficient and effective packaging system that aligns with lean principles.

When I’m teaching positioning, I ask my students to start by thinking about both the needs their target has and how they might actually articulate that need. For example, they wake up in the morning and they say: I wish there were a way to ______. Or they’re talking to a peer at work and they say If only we could _____.

This challenge is what makes some of Bain & Company’s most recent work around customer needs so exciting. The Bain customer insights team conducted extensive B2B research to identify 40 “elements of value.” The elements are organized into 5 hierarchical categories modeled after Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. 

There was a great Harvard Business Review article in the March/April 2018 issue about Bain’s B2B Elements of Value and you can read a summary of it on the Bain & Company website. While the research itself is fascinating, the value pyramid tool Bain has created is a great way to explore the real  customer needs your current B2B product or service fulfills. One of the most basic ways to use the framework is to go through each of the elements of value and identify which ones your product/service genuinely delivers on. This is a great way to jump-start your start thinking about the options you might have when it comes to determining the best unmet customer need to use in your positioning statement.

Better still, this B2B work was a companion piece to Bain & Company’s previous research around consumer unmet needs in the B2C space. That article and its companion infographic was first published in the Harvard Business Review in September 2016.