The Hierarchy of Needs

Your potential buyer is an individual human being. Buyers bring with them their own motivations but they also have motivations inspired by their business. The business, as a corporate entity, will have its needs and these are not necessarily identical to the buyer’s needs.

You may have to try to satisfy both needs - perhaps flagging up different benefits.

And if that sounds complicated enough, people’s needs change so you may have to push different benefits each time you try to sell to the same buyer.

A psychologist, Abraham Maslow, famously suggested that there are only five reasons why anybody ever does anything. He expressed this theory in what he called The Hierarchy of Needs. Some of these needs are pretty basic – to eat, sleep, have sex, excrete etc - so we need not concern ourselves with those. Instead, we’ll simplify the important ones into two groups of needs.

1. People buy to save

  • Time - speed of delivery; availability; ease of use; punctuality; deadlines
  • Money – cheapness; low cost in use; quality giving long life; quantity discounts; economy
  • Labour - you have skills they don’t; you can work faster; you can work for a fixed time or longer hours
  • Worry - simpler to use a well-known and well-tried supplier; a strong brand name

2. People buy to gain

  • Prestige - quality supplier; well-known; brand name
  • Respect – high-quality work; speed, a well-known product
  • Reward - in business this is usually financial; but it can also be public recognition or recognition by their boss; cost savings bringing them in under budget; quality
  • Fulfilment - Usually related to a quality service where recognition is the main aim; quality materials; examples of supplying similar products in the past; knowledge of materials
  • Profit - cost in use; cheapness; quality; special offers; large discounts; demand; scarcity
  • Comfort - pleasant to use; easy to use; tried and tested product or service; sensory satisfaction
  • Love - in business, this usually means appreciation: appreciation of work, people, and from the supplying freelance

If you can identify the need that is uppermost in the customer’s mind, and demonstrate that you provide a particular benefit that will satisfy that need, it is likely that the customer will buy from you.

Let me give you real examples. I can produce highly researched financially literate articles including serious numerical analysis. I can also produce articles that have very little of that (or even none) but will be controversial. I have sold both to the same customer. With the first they will gain respect from running it - it will lend them an air of gravitas and enhance their reputation. The second I sold to them on the basis that it would wind up their audience and provoke a storm of comments, ensuring widespread engagement with their readers.

I have sold other pieces to the same customer on the basis that I am prepared to be available during anti-social hours or that I can turn round an article much faster than my competitors.

If someone is motivated by low cost, it may be possible to offer them a discount if they agree to one piece of work from you every month. For many freelances not knowing when the next pay cheque is coming, a regular monthly gig, even at a discount, can be enough to keep the wolves from the door.

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