The 8 Buyer Motives Every Salesperson Should Know

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September 1st, 2020.
The 8 Buyer Motives Every Salesperson Should Know

I'm pretty torn on whether having telepathy would be cool. I generally err on the side of, "I'm good. It's a bit too invasive."

At the same time, it could be fun to do small stuff like never lose a game of rock-paper-scissors or finish people's sentences. And creepy as it might be, it would probably be incredibly practical — particularly in sales.

If you could know exactly why a prospect was looking to buy, you'd have no problem tailoring an effective sales strategy to suit their interests and inclinations. If you could always understand your buyer's motivations, you'd never lose out on a deal.

Even though telepathy isn't real (as far as we know), there are still ways to get a feel for the underlying buying motives that drive most purchases.

Here we'll explore some of the most prominent and important buying motives you need to consider when conducting your sales efforts.

1. Need

Need might be the most immediate buyer motive. If a prospect has a problem that you can solve, they're inherently motivated to consider your offering. There are a few ways to capitalize on your buyer's needs, and they generally hinge upon how aware they are of the full spectrum of potential issues that can stem from their situation.

If you approach interactions with prospects assuming they already have a comprehensive understanding of everything they need when they talk to you, you're selling yourself short.

Steve Jobs once said, "A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them." The same principle applies to need. Prospects don't always have a need until you inspire one.

Some buyers have a clear-cut picture of their problems, your product or service, and the potential solutions it offers. But others might need a little guidance.

You have to raise their awareness of an issue, explain how it applies to their situation, and walk them through the ways that you — specifically — can solve it better than anyone else.

2. Acceptance

Acceptance, as a buyer motive, is essentially the byproduct of consumer FOMO or "fear of missing out." It's when prospects are interested in buying a product or service because everyone else around them seems to be buying it as well.

That's why acceptance is the buyer motive behind most fads. Certain products or services catch steam, generate quick interest, and develop followings that rapidly expand.

Prospects don't want to miss out on the movement, so they make a point of buying in and showing off. Acceptance is a powerful motive for salespeople to play off of. It's hard to avoid a bandwagon when everyone else is piling on.

3. Fear

Fear is a powerful catalyst for action in almost any situation, and sales is no exception. No one wants to let problems they're afraid of go unaddressed. That's why so many companies lean on scare tactics — subtle or overt — to create urgency behind their messaging and sales efforts.

For instance, Volkswagen ran an ad in 2006 featuring a realistic depiction of a car crash, backed by the tagline "Safe Happens." It was a campaign that played on real consumer anxiety to accentuate the value of its cars' safety systems.

Playing on this buyer motive might seem cheap or unethical, but it can still be very effective. And the process of doing so is similar to that of the first point on this list. In the same way you can highlight certain needs your prospect might not be considering, you can raise fears they might be ignoring as well.

4. Health

Many consumers are interested in taking steps to protect their personal wellbeing, so if you can create the impression that your product or service will make them live better or longer, they'll be inclined to learn more — at the very least.

The key to selling based on health has to do with offering some legitimate demonstration — showing and proving. You need to have some sort of concrete, compelling evidence to establish your product or service's clear-cut benefits to consumers' wellbeing. If you can show that your offering addresses a relevant, urgent health concern, you'll be in a good place to sell effectively.

5. Impulse

People don't always give a ton a thought to the purchases they make. Everyone is guilty of falling under the spell of this motive at some point. A lot of consumers will get caught up in the heat of the moment and buy for the sake of buying.

Impulse buying is rooted in excitement, and capitalizing on the motive is a matter of creating it. Generating flash in the pan urgency can help facilitate purchases on that basis.

A particularly compelling deal might get you there — promotional pricing tactics like flash sales can often be powerful starting points for potential impulse buys.

Acceptance and impulse can often go hand in hand as well. If buyers see their peers collectively embracing a product or service, they might be inclined to get on board without giving too much thought to whether they actually need what they're buying.

6. Pleasure

By and large, consumers don't strictly buy the bare necessities. Sometimes, they make superfluous purchases that are less than essential. People like to enjoy themselves, so they buy products and services that suit wants — not needs — from time to time.

Generally speaking, you should only try to sell by this motive when you're selling a product or service that can easily be cast as a luxury. It's up to you to discern if that's the case with your product or service, but it's generally fairly obvious.

If someone is shopping for home decor or a new pair of designer sandals, their first priority is probably pleasure. The same can't be said for someone looking for insect repellant to deal with their house's ant problem.

7. Financial Gain

Several prospects — particularly in B2B sales — are spending money to make money. Their primary motive is to leverage your product or service to improve their business operations. They might want to boost employee productivity. They might be looking to generate revenue. They could be trying to shed unnecessary expenses.

If you're selling to a prospect with this motive, you have to demonstrate authority and cite real results. Show — don't tell. Reference similar businesses or current customers that saw marked financial gains as a result of leveraging your product.

Prospects motivated by financial gain typically have more at stake than ones buying products to avoid missing out on a hot new trend. That's why you have to convince them they'll be in good hands if they invest in your product or service. Put them at ease with legitimate results and show them what they can expect if they do business with you.

8. Aspiration

Some consumers are buying based on aspirations for self-improvement. They want to change for the better and are leveraging that dollar to help support those efforts.

Purchases like gym memberships and subscriptions to online courses generally aren't made out of fear or the pursuit of pleasure — they're the result of sincere ambition.

If you're selling to a buyer motivated by aspiration, the key is to stress what they could be if they stay the course after their purchase. If you're selling online coursework or paid online certifications, let your prospects know about how your product can help bolster their resumes and what that can do for their career development.

Self-improvement requires determination. If you want to capitalize on this motive, show them something to be determined about.

Emotional vs. Rational Buying Motivations

Buying motivations typically fall into two overarching categories — emotional and rational. That being said, it can be hard to classify every purchase buyers make as being in either one of those buckets, specifically.

Buying decisions are most often a combination of both sides of that token. Still, even though it's not usually clear cut, most purchases usually err towards one side of the spectrum set by those two qualifications.

The Car Buyer Example

The primary difference between the two types of motivation has to do with the degree to which an individual buyer prioritizes practicality in the context of their purchase.

A rationally motivated purchase is made, first and foremost, based on need and utility. Let's imagine a consumer looking to purchase a new car. In this case, the buyer spends time conducting extensive research on factors like fuel economy, safety, and durability.

They identify a specific used vehicle at a local dealership that meets their ideal specs and budget, and they purchase it despite its lack of features like power windows or a stereo. That would be a borderline-exclusively rational purchase.

Now, let's consider another prospective car buyer. This consumer already owns a car, but goes to the local dealership to look at a new line of convertibles in person. Once they get there, they see what they immediately decide is the car of their dreams.

They take it for a test drive and love how it rides. They imagine how cool they'll look driving along the Pacific Coast Highway with the top down, wearing a scarf, aviator sunglasses, and leather gloves.

That image and the excitement that comes with it prompt the consumer to buy the convertible in cash — on the spot. That would be a near-purely emotional purchase.

Obviously, most purchases fall between those extremes, but those examples capture the essence of both categories. Emotional motivations can include qualities like pleasure, vanity, comfort, or prestige. Whereas rational motivations tend to be based on factors like budget, safety, and durability.

It's important that you take the time to understand the underlying buying motives that can influence your interactions with prospects. If you have a grasp on why they're considering buying, you can better understand how to approach them.

There's a reason for every purchase, it serves you to be able to identify it.