What affects customer motivation?

Typically, when I'm at Safeway, you'll find me in the cereal aisle, checking to see if Cheerios are on sale. I have four kids, and cereal is pretty expensive, so I almost always buy what's on sale.

If I get to the checkout and I've saved $5, I feel like I've succeeded.

But today was different.

It was the night before Valentine's Day, and like twenty other men, I was in the floral section looking for the perfect bouquet.

I've made a special trip. I'm walking around with intensity. It's crowded; I'm jostling for position as other men scurry around. I'm not looking at price tags, but rather which arrangements "feel" right. I'm highly motivated to find the right flowers for someone I love.

Buying flowers is a lot different than buying Cheerios.

What's different is the emotion behind the purchase. On Valentine's Day, price is no object. Lovers will spend significant amounts on flowers, dinner, and gifts. Why? They're motivated to show affection to their partner.

It's incredible how motivation can change behavior. Even a price-conscious customer will jump over hurdles, bypass objections, and get to the sale faster when they're motivated.

How motivated is your customer?

If you're selling Cheerios, and they're not on sale, maybe I'll buy oatmeal instead.

But if you're selling the last seats to a Valentine's Day Symphony, and my spouse wants to go, you better believe I'm motivated to get those tickets (and pay whatever it takes).

This principle also applies to selling software. I see many developers selling apps to unmotivated customers. If you're tugging, pulling, and begging people to try your product, you have a motivation problem.

The smartest founders look for people already in motion, who are highly motivated to find a solution for an obstacle in their life.

A story: Stripe

Getting a merchant account used to be hard. You would have to fill out lengthy forms, fax them in, get background checks, and pay high applications fees. The crazy thing? People were doing it! That's how motivated they were to accept payments online.

The Collison brothers noticed this and formed Stripe. They targeted a highly motivated group and made it easier for them to get what they wanted.


I really want to get this store online. Oh, damn, I need to fill out this 40-page document, and wait six weeks to get a merchant account?


I really want to get this store online. Oh sweet! All I need to do is sign up for Stripe, and 30 seconds later, I'm accepting credit cards!

The customer is still highly motivated, but Stripe has just made it easier for them to make progress.

What affects customer motivation?

Here are a few factors to keep in mind:

  • Societal context: YouTube beat iFilm, even though iFilm was first. The problem? iFilm launched in 1997 when most consumers were still using dial-up (the 56k modem came out in '97). YouTube started in 2005, right when broadband was exploding. Over the next year, high-speed internet grew 40% in North America. The time was right for online video.

  • Personal context: As we go through different phases of life, our motivation changes. In this textbook, the authors observe that "when you were a child, the last thing you probably wanted as a gift was clothing. As you became a teen, however, cool clothes probably became a bigger priority."

  • Reference groups: If all your peers are on Snapchat, you'll be more motivated to be there too. And, if everyone leaves for Instagram, you'll likely follow. We tend to mirror the people we identify with. It's also true in business: notice how many startups moved their blogs to Medium, or have started using live chat on their homepage.

Timing is crucial. You don't want to offer a product too early, and you don't want to be too late. It's usually best to be a bit ahead of the curve.

How to find motivated customers

Look for people in motion!

  • Are they searching for answers on Google?

  • Are they asking for recommendations in Slack?

  • Are they sharing hacks and workarounds in private groups?

  • Are they hiring contractors and employees to get the task done?

  • Are they willing to jump through hoops, just to make the progress they desire?

Don't waste your time trying to convince unmotivated customers.

Instead, focus on folks who have a strong inward urge to get what they want.

Justin Jackson

Published on February 23rd, 2018
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