Monday, April 15, 2013

Motivating Action Based on Needs

One of the most natural things in the world is to take action on a need. If thirst kicks in--the need for water--we take a drink. If we need to release fluids (perhaps after too much water!) we go to the bathroom. In fact, Abraham Maslow theorized that most of our behavior is need based, i.e., just about everything we do fulfills a need of some sort. And as everyone who has ever taken an Intro to Psychology course knows, his famous "Hierarchy of Needs" systematically categorizes these needs.

However, as Maslow noted in his 1954 book Motivation and Personality, some needs are more powerful than others and must be met before higher order needs kick in. So the need for breathable air or drinkable water will be more powerful than our need to feel good about ourselves, because they are survival needs.

The need I've been thinking about a lot lately is the need for communication training. Since starting my consulting company I have become acutely aware of potential clients' need for help, especially in public speaking and listening. When I first started out I was taking different approaches to marketing my services, Sometimes the message was "you are pretty good now, but could be great with my help". And one time it was as strong as "I witnessed your sales presentation last night and it was dreadful, for the sake of your bottom line, PLEASE let me help you".

Unfortunately for both of us, neither approach motivated them to avail themselves of my services. Especially in the latter case, the need is clearly evident--to me anyway. But how could I get them to feel the need to a degree that it will motivate action? Many of you who offer a good or service might struggle with the same question.

I have found the answer lies in what I teach my students about persuasion and it is two-fold. First, get them to FEEL something by creating psychological dissonance, and second appeal to multiple layers of needs.

The term dissonance comes form music and refers to notes that are not in harmony to each other. If you have ever heard that one voice in the choir that couldn't hit the proper notes, you know it is an unpleasant listening experience. You literally cringe at the cacophonous sounds. Psychologically, dissonance refers to that strong feeling that a particular situation is disturbingly not right. Seeing a starving child on television while you chomp away on a pizza, or a report of a child suffering with terminal cancer would cause dissonance.

In the case of the bad sales pitch above, clearly my blunt honesty about the lack of quality in their presentation was insufficient. Perhaps a video of a portion of it would have been more powerfully undeniable. Video is starkly honest, which is why it is a staple of my training sessions. Quite honestly people often think that they have been an effective public speaker if they have managed to not poop their pants. The video forces them to hold themselves to a higher standard,

You see the thing about dissonance is it will motivate us to action. It is so unpleasant that we will usually do something to make it stop. That may mean writing the check to help feed the starving child, or more likely simply changing the channel. But we do something. In my case I hope that it means securing my services.

Second, rather than just appealing to one of the levels of Maslow's Hierarchy, it is better to appeal to several, if not all of them if you can. So not only is the "bottom line" appeal important, but also safety and security ("this may save your job") as well as the need for belonging (" imagine being one of your companies top producers, being among the best in sales, month after month"). The esteem needs can also be used by stressing how good the client will feel about him/herself when she is closing deal after deal, and how great it will feel to have the respect and confidence of their superiors, etc. Even the need to Self Actualize can be appealed to as we assure the potential client this will help fulfill his or her potential not only professionally, but personally.

So there you have it. We know our potential clients have needs, and that those needs drive behavior. We just need to really use them to motivate the action we want them to take. Play around with these ideas and see if they can help your sales pitch.

Be well and speak well.

And as always, thanks for reading!

For more information about Dan Leyes and his consulting services visit Semiosphere Consulting.