Sales Prospect and Customer Behavior, Maslow-Style

Move your prospect up the pyramid, not through the funnel.

I’m a bit of a psychology nerd so whenever marketers or othercorporate communicators equate prospect or employee behavior with a psychological theory — I’m in.

Abraham Maslow is one of my favorites. His humanistic approach to behavior theory gives me the warm fuzzies. When I saw ScanCapture’s infographic about employee engagement I thought—Eureka! I can apply this in my content marketing work and also look deeper into the sales process and “what makes my prospects tick.” I started thinking about delineating the prospect’s hierarchy of needs.


Instead of using employees as an example, let’s break down what prospects need and what they want and how to fulfill these needs to make the sale.

Disengaged – This is an ice-cold prospect who “doesn’t know what she doesn’t know”. She will only approach you if her boss is bugging her. Or if her numbers are low and her job “survival” is on the line. For this prospect, you need to lead with the numbers and work on calming her down. That means lots of name-dropping and client testimonials. That content will move her up the pyramid to action.

Not engaged – This person wants to preserve the status quo. For this kind of prospect, don’t rock the boat. Emphasize how the product or service will protect things: market share, information, a percentage of growth that the executives have made clear that they need to see every year (minimum growth numbers sometimes work in a commodities conversation). But above all, be chill. Adopt the tone of a beloved professor or the conversational clarity of a scientist who is good at explaining complex topics—adopt these and your prospect may relax enough to move on up the pyramid.

Almost engaged – This is your referral prospect. They have a positive view of your company/product/service and feel like they already belong with your company, based on what a trusted person told them. For this group, reemphasize your brand promise and continue with the feel-good vibes. Use case studies that show how you have solved others’ problems. Rule of thumb? Provide context for the buying decision and try to emphasize the big picture and the relationship aspect of your transaction.

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Engaged – These prospects still need your love. The sales team must continue to hear every issue and listen for cues to close those loops. Motivate by using KPIs to outline product benefits and features—all will help your decision-makers get closer to doing the deal. Don’t drop the ball here. Use your best negotiator. Don’t assign the sales person who got you this far to another hot lead and pawn off this prospect to the B team.

Highly engaged – These people have already spent money with you! But all too often, once a prospect becomes a customer, they’re dropped into a completely different “bucket” in most organizations. Retention means everything to most companies today—believe it. Lowering your customer churn rate by 5% can increase your profitability by 25-125%– according to Social Annex’s blog that highlights the most important customer loyalty statistics.

One of the things I like about using Maslow to define the sales process is that when we work with this construct, we’re never losing sight of the “personhood” of the prospect. As Ekaterina Walter says — “All B2B is really P2P.” — person-to-person. Help a person, and you make a sale.

Patty Tomsky

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