The Three Basic Buying Motives


Three Basic Reasons Why Prospects Buy

In this article I will not be addressing why people buy essentials, such as food and medicine.  People buy food because they need to eat.  People buy medicine because they are ill.  This article is more about the three basic reasons why people buy non-essentials, such as furniture or jewelry.

The three basic reasons why prospects buy are: fear, recognition and self-actualization.  Let’s begin with the definition of each of these three motivators as applied in the case of buying motives.  Fear is the primary motivator in a purchase when the prospect is trying to avoid being damaged in some way; physically, economically, emotionally or otherwise.  An example would be that people buy home alarm systems to avoid personal injury or loss of property.  Recognition is the primary motivator in a purchase when the prospect is trying to gain attention.  The prospect may want to gain attention for many reasons, such as: ego gratification, career advancement, or even courtship purposes.  Self-actualization, as defined by Abraham Maslow (the psychologist who gave us the theory of “The Hierarchy of Needs”) is “a desire that could lead to realizing one’s capabilities.”  Another way to say this would be that a person who buys out of a “self-actualization” motive is not buying out of “fear of loss” nor out of “a desire for gain,” but, rather because it is simply the right choice for them at the time.  A nurse may buy a wristwatch with large numbers on the dial, not because of the fear of not being able to see the numbers nor to attract attention, but rather because the nurse can better “realize his/her capabilities” as a nurse.

As a professional salesperson it is imperative that we understand our product or service so well that we are able to identify what the buying motives of our prospects may be.  A person buying a child’s safety seat is most likely motivated by the fear of injury to their child.  A person buying a Rolex watch is most likely motivated by recognition.  A person buying a self development course is most likely motivated by self-actualization.  Some products or services may be capable of meeting two or even all three of the buying motives.  A person buying a wall to surround their home could be doing it out of fear, or they could be trying to impress the neighbors (recognition), or they could simply enjoy their privacy.

In practice we should realize that very few purchases are made by prospects that are self-actualizers.  There just are not that many people who have satisfied most or all of their basic needs, thereby freeing them to buy for self-actualizing reasons.  Of the two remaining motives, fear and recognition, it is wise to remember that fear is by far the more powerful motivator.  If you can structure your sales presentations so that they present evidence of reducing fear or providing gains, you will improve your sales.

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