Buying is a funny business. What we think influences our purchase decisions is often the least dominant factor. And what we hardly consider—well, that's where the battle for the sale often truly lies.
When assessing our sales performance and seeking ways to improve, it's easy to look primarily at our rational tactics. Do we emphasize features and benefits enough? Do we give every logical purchase argument we can? How about making the purchase path easy for our buyers? As easy as one click?
All of these are important considerations. They can deeply impact our sales reports and provide insight into why we're selling well (or not).
But they might not tell the whole story.
In fact, the real sales challenge might lie not in your rational tactics but in the heart and mind of your client. Our purchase habits are motivated by something deep within us, and if a sufficient motivational factor is missing, we're unlikely to buy no matter how good the offer. Your sales offers might be operating on an assumption about your client's motivation that has little to do with their felt needs.
The key to your sales strategy is discovering what actually motivates them, and speaking to that deeply felt need. As deep as you can possibly go.
Right down into emotions.
Buying is emotional
Buying is a funny business, not only because we don't know our own hearts, but also because we know them too much. The sales process often surfaces our deepest personal insecurities. You and your customers engage in a complicated dance whether you realize it at the time or not. And the outcome has emotional ramifications.
Yes, my friends: buying is a highly emotional process for both you and your customer.
No one wants to be ignored. No one wants to be rejected. As human beings, we desperately want to be heard and validated. For business owners this need becomes even more important. But in order to be heard, we must first give our audience a reason to listen.
When people have a reason to listen, they pause to hear us. When they pause to hear, they show that they care. When they care, they’re more likely to buy.
Which brings us to the central question: How do we motivate our audience to actually care about our message?
We've got to speak to their emotions. And their emotions are tied to their deepest, most primal human needs.
Wants vs needs
For some businesses, this is a no-brainer. Your products and services are so closely connected to our primal human needs that it’s a short walk to the sale. If you offer private coaching, say, to patients with diabetes who struggle to eat healthily, or help mothers communicate more effectively with a child who has autism, you may not find it difficult to convince your customers they need you. Your audience is already deeply motivated.
But what about if you create and sell jewelry, or consult professional women on their wardrobes? These are goods and services your audience would be more likely to consider discretionary. And thus . . . unnecessary.
While I firmly believe that everyone has as strong a need for beauty and self-expression as for health and wellness, most of us have been conditioned to consider these needs “second” to our more primal instincts like physical survival.
If you sell products or services that speak to beauty, life balance, self-expression, or other intangibles, you may find yourself struggling to convert customers, especially where snap buying decisions are concerned.
I struggled with this myself, years ago, in my first business as a story consultant for writers. My audience felt a stronger need for an agent to represent them (so they could sell stories and pay the bills) than they did for a sharp fellow writer to help them strengthen their work.
In reality, they desperately needed me to help make their stories so awesome an agent would actually take them on. But because I did not know to speak to their deeper motivation, I struggled to convert website visitors into booked consultations.
They were motivated, but not in the way that I had first assumed. I had to seeking their most primal human motivation and speak to that instead. Only by speaking to their deepest felt need (emotion) could I actually gain a hearing.
Closing the gap
So is there a way to do this in any brand? I believe the answer is “yes.”
Your brand, no matter what your product or service, can be traced all the way back to one of humanity’s root motivations. And that's the secret to marketing those easier-to-pass-up products and services. You've got to get past the surface rationale (and objections) and address that underlying root motivation.
The most obvious of root urges are physical—food, for example, or good health—which is why brands that touch on these desires are more obviously “needed.”
The less obvious are the emotional and psychological ones. We tend to go about our lives a bit more oblivious to what our heart wants versus our head. But it’s actually at this level that most of my clients have found the key to influencing their customers to purchase—right now.
We got to re-learn the language we use with our customers. And here's how.
Learning our language
The easiest way to begin finding your customers' core motivation is to look at your customer themselves. Start with the immediate level of purchase. What do they want from your product or service when they are highly motivated to buy?
Have an idea about that? Great! Now unpack it.
For example, if you create and sell jewelry, it’s likely that one typical reason a customer visits your website is to look for a matching accessory. Why? They love fashion. They've bought a new dress, and they want to look great at that party they’re attending this weekend.
But that’s not a core motivation. It’s a surface motivation: the immediate pain point. And this is the level of motivation most entrepreneurs stop—and fail—at.
So let’s take it a step further.
Why does your customer want to look great at that party? Likely she wants to be perceived as beautiful, either by a particular individual or by the entire group (or both). Beauty has layers of both individual expression and group conformity. So your customer probably wants to stand out while still fitting in.
And now, why does she want each of those things? Why fit in? What stand out?
Take time to run down both of those questions in depth.
We won’t do the entire exercise, but I think you get the idea. By asking “why” about each deeper motivation you uncover, you’ll gradually find your way back to rock bottom. When you can’t ask yourself “Why” anymore, you’ve probably hit on a core human motivation.
Here's a handy list I love to use.
The big five
Genevieve Bell, one of my favorite anthropologists and long-time thought leader at Intel, identifies five core human motivations at the emotional and psychological levels. She believes that in speaking to these core needs, we can in fact drive buying behaviors.
Need 1: Staying connected to friends and family
Need 2: Belonging to a community we can call our own
Need 3: Finding meaning in life
Need 4: Providing ourselves with objects that represent who we are
Need 5: Keeping secrets and tell lies
It’s easy to look over this list and make snap decisions about which motivator our brand touches on. But in numerous instances, I’ve seen clients actually discover that their core motivator was different from the one they first identified. So don't short change yourself. Dive deep before you decide which core motivator you should be speaking to.
In future posts, we’ll look at each of these motivations in depth and how it can revolutionize the way we talk to our customers, whether or not they listen, why they care … and ultimately whether or not they buy.
What about you? What needs and desires do you think drive your clients' buying decisions? Have you found it challenging to tie your messages and offers into this core motivation? I'd love to hear your thoughts below.
Until next time, speak freely.
Why do you customers buy your type of product or service? Where can you go to get more insight about them and from them? Comment below!
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