The Sales Professional: Everyone's buying motives differ

*Pat Whidden has enjoyed a 40-year career in animal agriculture-related agribusiness, with experience ranging from the dirty boots to the boardroom. He is a consultant specializing in strategy development and execution, as well as sales and customer service coaching, seminars and corporate events. Visit Whidden on the web at, or contact him at (615) 719-2447 or Watch for his Sales Professional column in the first issue of every month in Feedstuffs.

ALL of us are buyers, but as buyers, we don't always say what we know, think or feel when we are being sold. Your customers don't, either.

This statement is generally true: Buyers do not always say what they mean.

Sometime in the early 1980s, Russell Watson was a speaker at a feed industry sales and marketing seminar. He asked the audience, "Do you know people who purposely do things just to annoy you?"

Boy, did that ever resonate! Watson went on to explain that those people couldn't help but annoy you — and you couldn't help but be annoyed. The good Lord made people as individuals, with their own hard-wired personalities.

Understanding the principles of that is hugely important to understanding customers. Understanding that you can't change who you are is important, but more important is understanding that you can choose to change the way you behave. This is a critical sales skill.

Most people reading this column have some experience or knowledge of personality profiles. It's likely that you have been evaluated or measured by participating in computer-generated statistical personality programs such as DISC, Myers-Briggs, Insights or Harrison.

To what extent have you paid attention and ultimately studied not only your profile but other types of profiles as well?

Because of our personality, we all have a "comfort zone," and we're quite predictable. Wouldn't it be a competitive advantage to know as much as you can about your own personality and how to interact best with other personality types?

Wouldn't it be an even bigger competitive advantage if you understood as much as you could about other personality types, how to identify them and how to best behave in interactions with them?

Wouldn't it be worth your time to ponder the various important people in your life — customers, fellow employees, friends, family members — and make a judgment call on their personalities? Then, plan a bit how you might best behave. Wouldn't life be better if you were able to avoid annoying them? How would you feel? More in control? As a result, could you and your business better prosper?

The biggest mistake we make in business is assuming that customers buy for the same reasons we would. Talk about tried and true!

Back in the 1950s, three Iowa State University professors (Bohlen, Beal and Rogers) studied the technology adoption process among farmers and demonstrated that technology or new product adoption occurred according to the demographic and psychological characteristics of defined adopter groups.

So, you've probably heard the terms innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards. Important decision-making factors for the first two or three groups tended to be fact or logic based. For the latter groups, the factors were more about emotion. The first two groups were bigger risk takers; the latter took hardly any risks.

Sure, the research was conducted with farmers, but farmers are people, right? So, this research has stood the test of time regarding how people adopt technology and new products.

How do you position and present your products to your various customers? Do you have different messages for the fact-based buyers and the emotion-based buyers?

Another way people differ in their buying behavior is based on their motives. Buying motives include need, profit, fear of loss, prestige, comfort and convenience, to name a few.

Of course, there can be multiple motives in play, so a one-size-fits-all approach to the reasons to buy your product doesn't fit here either. Again, the reason you'd buy is not necessarily the same reason somebody else would buy. It's yet another example of how customers are different.

How do you know about a customer's personality, or his psychological profile? How do you know if he's more of an early adopter or a late majority? How do you know what his primary buying motives are?

First, you could study this stuff further so you are better versed and more astute. Then, you could just ask the customer, and he'll probably tell you.

Just ask?! Sure, become a professional conversationalist with great customer relationships, and you'll get plenty of clues about someone's personality, adoption process and buying motives. You'll know.

Volume:86 Issue:22

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