Key Learning Outcomes

  • Understand what motivates your customers and the impact of these motivators on repeat and referral business.
  • Learn about the key motivational drivers: need, greed, fear, pleasure, vanity, status and impulse.
  • Recognise that your customers may be motivated by a number of factors, so care should be taken to find the perfect solution for their needs.
  • Be aware that integrity and transparency are important qualities in a salesperson, for example, when advising customers that your products do not meet their requirements.


Motivation is what drives our potential customers to buy or product or service. Increasing our ability to understand what motivates potential customers will lead to higher sales and conversion rates. Understanding buyer motivation can also affect the rate of repeat and referral business we generate. If you can satisfactorily satisfy the customer’s need or desire they are likely to come back or refer your business. On the other hand if you don’t then they are likely to start looking elsewhere for someone who can.[wlm_ismember]

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

Buyer motivation can be linked to motivational theories such as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. You can learn more about this theory in the learning article in this section of the website. According to Maslow’s model motivational drivers are arranged by importance with the most important needing to the satisfied first. In Maslow’s theory the most important are the physiological needs of food and shelter, followed by safety. Social needs come next such as the need for relationships and love followed by esteem needs such as the need for recognition and status. The final level is self-actualisation, which is our desire for self-fulfillment. While the theory states that as humans we do not move onto a higher level of the hierarchy until the lower need is satisfied later academic studies suggest that this might not always be the case.

Key buyer motivators

You will find that most buyers will be motivated by one of the following motivational drivers. Use our article on questions based selling to help you determine which of these is driving your potential buyer. Once you can determine this it is much easier to position your product or service as a solution to their need, want or problem.

Need – When people are buying out of need they are usually well aware of their problem. The thing is that there may be several options open to them and our job it to ensure they see our product or service as the best possible solution. For example the sales person in the shoe shop may hear the customer say “I need to buy a new pair of shoes to wear to a wedding”. Any number of shoes may satisfy the basic need but the customer will be looking for the ones that suit their particular need and the salesperson will need to ask more questions in order to be able to solve this problem for the customer.

Greed – Whether we care to admit it or not, greed can be a powerful motivator as a buyer. Products, services or offers that allow the person to make more money or to save money can meet this desire. If you have a product or service that will boost revenue, increase profits, make people more productive or save them money then you are likely to be appealing to greed as their prime motivator.

Fear – This key driver motivates us to buy products such as insurance, alarms and even bottled water when we are travelling overseas. We are driven to buy by either a real or perceived threat. Insurance is a great example, we pay premiums year after year just in case something happens and are often to scared to take the risk of not having it even though we might not have made a claim for many years.

Pleasure – A desired state that many want to feel and this drives them to buy products or services that can satisfy it. For example, hotels spend a lot of money marketing how good you will feel when you stay in their hotel or resort. Industries that are appealing to our desire for pleasure are usually those that satisfy a want rather than a need.

Vanity – Many people have a desire to look and feel their best and want others to think they look good too. The beauty industry plays on this desire to look good and marketing is focused on products and services that will make you look and feel better. Other industries such as weigh loss companies are also playing to this motivation factor.

Status – Some buyers are driven by a need for status and recognition. Companies use programs such a VIP or preferred buyers to build this level of status and recognition and to make the customer feel special. Luxury brands also work to satisfy this desire through providing a higher quality shopping experience with sought after product selections offered in low volume.

Impulse – Sometimes people are driven to buy something just because everyone else has one. This is why trends and fads take off. There is no real need to be satisfied other than the one to fit in. These trends are usually short lived as purchases are made on impulse rather than being driven by a stronger motivator.

Be a motivation detective

When you look at the list you might think that people don’t always fit neatly into one category and you are right. If someone is buying a new car, often the need for transportation is the prime motivator, the need to get from A to B. Beyond that there is the type of car, how many people need to travel in it and which models fit in the affordable price range. Once the choice is narrowed down there are still probably many options to choose from and this is where some of the secondary motivators are going to come in. For one person they may want to take the car off road on weekends for camping, so pleasure will come into it. For another, owning a European car might be a non-negotiable and this is likely driven by a need for status and recognition.

The key to being a great sales person is the ability to be able to identify what is motivating your buyer and how you can sell your product or service as the best possible solution. Remember transparence in business is important and if after you investigation you know that your product is not the best one or perhaps you really do not have the solution then being upfront with the potential customer is likely to win you more business in the future.

We suggest you read our articles on benefit selling and questions based sales to further enhance your skills in this area.[/wlm_ismember]

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