Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Selling Ideas

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Vesa Purho
Nokia

After you have done your stakeholder analysis (see my December 2005 e-newsletter article), it is time to think about how to communicate with the stakeholders. One way is to personalize your message according to the motivational drivers of the recipient. Although Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs has been used in many different ways, I discuss here how the motivational drivers derived from the Hierarchy of Needs can be used to sell your idea to different types of people.

Using the motivational factors in selling ideas to other people means trying to find out the reasons why they would buy your idea and modify your message accordingly. Clearly, people are motivated by different things and Maslow’s Hierarchy is one method you can use to identify different motivational factors.

The lowest level of the Maslow hierarchy is “Physiological.” People who have this motivational driver are mostly interested in how much your solution saves on costs. They are not that much interested in getting the latest and finest solution. They just want to get the basic functionalities with the least possible cost.

The second level of the hierarchy is “Safety and Security” which, as a motivational driver, can be seen as fear of failure. People at this level always analyze ideas from multiple angles and ask for more and more information on different options so that when they finally make the decision, they can be sure that all options have been covered. They may also be willing to take the safe route of using something that everybody else is using and are not so willing to take risks in implementing something totally new.

The third level of the hierarchy is “Love and Belongingness.” People at this level are very much interested in life outside of work. They typically have lots of family photos on their desks and totally switch off from work during their holidays and other free time. Talking about family, pets, and other issues not related to work helps you to establish a good relationship with them. If your idea can help them be more productive in a shorter amount of time so that they don’t have to work beyond regular working hours, they are willing to buy.

The fourth level of the hierarchy is “Self-esteem.” People at this level are motivated by job titles, recognition, and promotion. They use the word “I” a lot, and they have an opinion on every matter. They are also keen on showing their accomplishments by displaying certificates and awards on their walls and desks. Even though they may not be managers, they may act like one. Because these people are mostly motivated by what they themselves can accomplish, one approach is to try to sell the idea as something they have come up with. Even if you don’t do so, and they still buy the idea, you might find at some point they will present the idea as their own or at least mention that they contributed to it a lot. Additionally, if you can show that implementing the idea may give them an opportunity to be recognized in some other area, their interest in buying the idea can be increased.

The final level is “Self actualization.” People at this level are motivated by challenging jobs and being able to achieve something in the job. They are usually after the best solution for the company, as opposed to the best solution from their point-of-view, which might be the goal of the “self-esteem” persons. Showing that your idea brings good to the whole company and provides them with an opportunity to do some challenging work are good selling points with them.

This categorization is naturally only one of many. The main point is that especially when trying to sell a major new idea to different stakeholders who need to buy it before it can be implemented, you have to think about their different personalities and use different communication styles, and even different communication material, with them.

 

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