I posted an article last week that highlighted Abraham Maslow’s theory of motivation. The problem with theory is that it isn’t always clear how that translates to real world application.  Lately, I’ve been following the Presidential debate and listening to the candidate’s plans to secure our energy independence, so let’s use the example of a company providing green energy as an example of how this theory can be applied to real life interactions.  How could a sales consultant use an understanding of motivation to improve their ability to sell?  By talking to prospects about what interests them.

I like the topic of green energy because it is a nice to have, it isn’t something required for survival and it isn’t a low cost option.  This certainly increases the difficulty for a successful sale to a prospective client and because it costs more than energy from traditional sources it takes the bargain shopper out of the equation.  If a person is operating in the bottom two layers of the pyramid and is focused solely on their personal survival or financial security, convincing them why they should buy a more expensive energy option would be a tough sell.  Should you manage to sell them, keeping them as a customer will be equally taxing, as they continually look for less expensive options.

The first group of customers that can be effectively targeted for a sale is on the third level of Maslow’s pyramid, which is reserved for people looking to simply belong to the “Green Energy Movement.” Because they are looking to belong, but not necessarily stand out from the crowd, they typically would be interested in buying the minimum amount of green energy necessary to claim being green. They might see the benefit of being able to put the green logo on their advertising, website and invoices.  They want to make sure that others know they are associated with a particular ideal such as: saving the environment, creating jobs, or ensuring our national security, without spending an unnecessary amount of money in the process.  As a sales professional, these are the motivations that need to be focused on during the proposal: how their business can benefit from the association, how it will attract new clients and how those benefits will outweigh the additional costs of choosing green options.

The next level up the pyramid is reserved for those who are not content only being part of the group, but want to be considered a green leader.  These individuals will not be motivated by a conversation about purchasing the minimum percentage of green energy; they are looking to separate themselves from the crowd.  The way they view their status as a “leader” could come from a perspective of self-respect or from the acknowledgement of others.  If people are concerned about how they are seen by others, motivating them will be on your ability to show them the ways they can advertise the fact that 100% of their energy comes from renewable sources and how they can demonstrate that they are out performing their peers.

For those who view their position as a leader with self-respect, or for those business owners who might have reached the tip of the pyramid, motivating them to take action will result in their belief that it is simply the right thing to do, whether it is for national security, saving the icecaps, contributing to cleaner air and water, or stimulating the economy.

When I say talk to them about what interests them, I mean that if you were to talk to someone who is motivated by the higher level concerns at the top of the pyramid about how 25% of their energy could come from green sources without raising their monthly bill too sharply, it is likely that you will lose them.  They aren’t motivated by money or only buying the minimum percentage of energy from renewable sources; they want to talk about doing the right thing.  The same applies if you were talking to someone looking to “belong” about how their purchase could have fill higher order needs, they will not be motivated to act by those words.

Targeting Interests Is About Answering The Right Question

For a proposal to be effective, your product must answer a question that the prospect has already asked.  This question is the way that a person acknowledges a need that isn’t being satisfactorily filled.  Clay Christenson has said, “Questions are places in your mind where answers fit, if you haven’t asked the question, the answer has nowhere to go.  It hits your mind and bounces right off.” What motivates them to ask that question in the first place is the wording that you must find to talk to them about their interests.  Targeting the wrong motivations is like answering questions that haven’t been asked yet; it will not stick in the mind of a prospect and the proposal will not be strong enough to close the deal.

How do you identify if a person is motivated by higher or lower order concerns?  During the beginning part of the conversation, talk about topics that are related to what you are ultimately there for.  Listen for cues that would lead you to a hypothesis and then test it out.  As you test their motivation at a specific level, look for changes in their body language that would lead you to believe you have made them comfortable or caused you to break rapport with the person.

From Sales To Security

I use the example of a sales consultant because as a profession, they face many of the same challenges that security professionals face when trying to gather intelligence, but the results are more easily measured.  Neither group can do their job until the people they are trying to engage open up and start talking and neither group will be successful unless they set the conditions for their own success by targeting the interests and motivations of the client.

Here’s a video on Maslow’s and how it affects what leaders should consider when motivating subordinates, check out: http://www.fastcompany.com/1603043/want-motivate-people-get-them-out-maslows-basement