What Motivates a Buyer

People make their buying decisions based on a number of different motivations.  If you can discover what makes a buyer tick, you can craft your sales proposal to satisfy his particular needs. This makes all the difference when you are in a highly competitive situation.

When you are wearing your sales hat, a big part of your job is to understand the psychology of the buyer. Understanding the buyer goes a lot deeper than analyzing his business needs. It requires that you size up his personality. Some extroverts are driven by a desire to express themselves. Others buyers, who are more cautious, are motivated by fear making a bad decision and a need for security.

This may come as a surprise to you, but money is rarely the most important factor in making a purchase, even in B2B buying. Basing our buying decisions on dollars and cents is just too rational for a man’s or woman’s impulsive nature.

Of course, nobody wants to pay too much for a product. Buyers usually want to get the most value for every dollar spent. And I will concede that there are a few automatons among us that value money above all. In many cases, buyers with analytical personalities are involved in either engineering or finance. Here’s how to deal with them in a sales situation.

Usually the analytical buyer wants to know all of the minutia of your proposal, especially the financial aspects. Pragmatic buyers in many cases are also interested in dollars and cents. For these types of buyers, you need to provide them with a financial justification.

In selling fleet graphics I usually emphasized the lifetime cost of a graphics program, because I was generally the high priced vendor and I felt that I needed to justify my pricing. What lifetime cost represents is the total cost of owning a product.

When selling fleet graphics, lifetime cost is not simply the cost of the graphics alone and the longevity of printed vinyl markings. It also entails the cost of application. Let’s face it, some vinyl films are much easier to install than others. In costing graphics installation, many professional decal installers factor this into their pricing of a job, and, by all rights, they should.

Customers, who apply their own graphics will also need to consider the cost of application. While the do-it-yourself may seem economical, there is nevertheless a labor cost associated for their personnel to complete a job, in addition to the downtime cost for their trucks to be out of service.  When vinyl graphics are especially difficult to apply, the waste factor is another hidden cost, which can be significant, especially, if their workers are unskilled.

I cannot think any instance when it makes financial sense for a customer’s shop personnel to install vinyl graphics. My argument to someone motivated by money, is that professional installation is faster, so there is less interruption of the customer’s business. What’s more, a professional decal installer knows how to do the job right, so there is less chance of failure and the installed graphics will look better. That’s should appeal to the buyer who fears failure.

While the cost of application is important, the cost of removal is often ignored by many buyers. When I worked for fleet graphics companies, I found that some vinyl films removed from truck surfaces very easily with little or no adhesive residue. This was a big selling feature, because the graphics removal can be time consuming, unpredictable and expensive.

Many buyers also know the dangers of buying cheap. Who hasn’t heard that you only get what you pay for? The problem of buying on price is that you could be wasting money on something that doesn’t satisfy your needs. If you are a professional buyer, the problems resulting from a bad purchase go much deeper. Buying a product that is inadequate or that fails reflects badly on the buyer’s competence. These types of mistakes could be hazardous to a buyer’s career.  While money is important, the need for security is often greater.

If you can discover any dissatisfaction that a buyer has with his current graphics supplier, you have a great sales opportunity.  In fact, the bigger that a problem is, the better it is for you. This type of buyer needs a solution fast, especially if he is answerable to a superior. His motivation is pain avoidance and while his decision will be well thought out, it will be made without hesitation.

Many professional buyers will carefully analyze your proposal. My recommendation is to avoid these people if you can. When I had to deal with someone in purchasing, my proposals were thorough for a couple of reasons. In many cases, a professional buyer will screen you from the people actually making the final decision. When this happens, your only contact with the real decision makers and influencers is your proposal.

The first pages of the presentation are a summary of the program complete with pricing. More often than not, it is easier to get any discussion of pricing out of the way early in a proposal. Once you have done that, everything else is a detailed explanation of the program.

In the supporting material, you want to accomplish two objectives:

  1. Create doubt in the mind of the customer by alerting him to potential problems if the job is not done correctly; and
  2. Satisfy the customer’s need for security with an explanation of how your proposal avoids the pitfalls.

In explaining how you will handle your customer’s program, you will want to emphasize your experience in manufacturing and installation. Case studies of complex programs provide the evidence supporting your claims. The goal is to build the prospect’s confidence that you have the expertise to handle their program.

If your company has a long history of manufacturing excellence and financial stability, you should use this to your advantage, especially if you are competing with smaller companies. By stating that you are not a fly-by-night organization and have the resources to correct any problem in the unlikely event that some mishap were to occur, you raise a doubt in the mind of the buyer, whether your competitors are capable of the same support.

Fear and the need for security are not the emotions that can motivate a buyer.  For those business owners with a great sense of pride in their companies and their accomplishments, good looking graphics on their trucks and in their stores satisfying their need of expression and can bolster feelings of self-worth. I am not insinuating that there is anything wrong with a healthy ego.  Not at all! Just be aware that some buyers crave the attention and desire the best that money can buy. These people are usually easy to spot. You can tell what their tastes are by the cars they drive and how their offices are decorated. All you can do is to give them what they want.


While people would like to believe that all of their purchases are based on rock solid logic, what really triggers their behavior is quite different. You have probably heard that people make decisions on emotion and justify or rationalize their actions with logic. This especially applies to buying behavior.

Taking the time to understand the personality of your prospect is the key to determining his or her emotional needs. To better assess the personality traits and motivations of your prospect, the skills that you need to develop and hone are:

  1. Learn to ask insightful, open ended questions to best engage the prospect in a conversation. As self-help guru Tony Robbins says, “if you want better answers, ask better questions.” The same type of questions that I would ask when interviewing a business owner for a story, I would ask when having a conversation about a company’s graphics program.
  2. Improve your listening skills. While the words that the prospect utters are important, you also need to learn the art of reading between the lines of what is said as well as reading body language.
  3. Focus on the prospect. To gain a true understanding of the personality of the prospect and his motivation, you need to remind yourself that your sales interview is not about you, your company or your products. It should be all about your customer. Do you really think that a prospect wants to talk about you – of course not. He wants to talk about himself.