A needs assessment is a systematic process that examines what criteria must be met in order to reach a desired outcome. For example, a marketing needs assessment might be used to build a business case for replacing software the company uses to conduct direct email campaigns.
The first step in a needs assessment is to conduct gap analysis that identifies the differences between the current state and the desired state. Once gaps have been identified, changes can be made to improve performance or fix a deficiency.
Various methodologies for conducting a needs assessment include:
- Conducting market intelligence research.
- Soliciting feedback from customers and non-customers though surveys and focus groups.
- Using customer data to analyze and predict customer behavior.
- Conducting a competitive analysis of similar products/services.
- Implementing a mystery shopping program.
- Conducting a SWOT analysis to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
A needs assessment allows an organization to understand how they can improve their products and services for customers and potential customers. The more comprehensive the assessment, the more tactical an organization can become in developing action plans to close specific gaps. Steps that can be taken to close gaps include improvements to products/services, enhanced communications to better set customer expectations, analysis of competitive offerings to better understand the current marketplace and changes to policies/procedures.
It is important that organizations refrain from attempting to close all gaps at once by boiling the ocean and increasing the scope of a project or task until it is practically impossible to accomplish. Instead, needs assessment initiatives should be prioritized to support key business initiatives (KPIs) and be carried out when it is economically feasible.