Drive More Sales By Learning What Drives Your Customers

In the 1990s, social psychologist Steven Reiss was in the hospital. He watched the nurses work and wondered what motivated those who loved their work. That turned into an interest in what motivates humans.

That’s how Reiss and his team ended up surveying 6,000 people and determining that there were 16 basic desires that encompass the entire human experience. He argues that satisfying each of these desires, what Reiss dubbed “intrinsic motivations,” is what makes up a satisfied individual.

The desires are:

  1. Power
  2. Independence
  3. Curiosity
  4. Acceptance
  5. Order
  6. Saving
  7. Honor
  8. Idealism
  9. Social Contact
  10. Family
  11. Status
  12. Vengeance
  13. Romance
  14. Eating
  15. Physical Activity
  16. Tranquility

There are a couple associated theories that are very important in the practical application of these desires in marketing.

The first is that each of these desires is a driver of performance and is a motivator for an individual.

These basic desires are either strong or weak for the individual. Both strong and weak desires in a given area are equally important in determining an individual’s motivations.

These basic desires all work in concert, they never exist in isolation.

Not all of these motivations are relevant from the perspective of a B2B marketer, however. This post outlines the relevant desires, how they can affect the judgment of a potential buyer, and how you can use these desires in your marketing efforts.


The strength of this desire will tell us whether someone wants to be a leader or is content to be a follower.

Depending on your offering, your targets could either have a strong desire for power or a weak, regardless of whether or not they hold a leadership role.

Maybe you are selling something to CEOs. They have a strong desire for power or else they wouldn’t be leading a company. But the IT manager may not have that same desire for power and might be more of a team player.

Make sure that your marketing materials appeal to these groups by playing up either individual or team aspects. To those seeking power, deciding represents that power and might even increase it. For those who don’t seek power, deciding should be the result of the group consensus.

Make sure that your content appeals to either the singular person looking for power or the group that the person not looking for it will turn to when making a decision.


The strength of this desire will determine how a person forms relationships and how autonomous they are.

If a buyer persona you are targeting has a strong desire for independence, your marketing materials need to reflect this.

How? Maybe this person feels they can make decisions without consulting other potential stakeholders. That means you only need to convince them and not others. That means you can rely on them to decide based on objective facts, not the wills of others. Give them these facts and you will find it much easier to convince an independent potential buyer.

If a person has a weak desire for independence, you will likely find them interdependent. In leadership role, this means that they will need a consensus of others to decide. This means that you need to make sure that your argument is compelling to a larger group, not just the primary decision-maker.


This trait determines how much knowledge a person seeks out in life and why they choose to acquire knowledge.

Those with a strong tendency for curiosity have a strong need to think. They are rational, but also are open to new ideas. That means that they do their research when they are thinking about buying a product.

Make yourself accessible to this type of buyer by providing a plethora of information on as many channels as possible.

It’s always important to ensure that your website is SEO optimized, but it is even more so when you are trying to appeal to these types. They will extensively research you, your product, and your industry before even considering purchasing.

Feed them long form, educational content to convince them further along the pipeline. This sort thirsts for knowledge and will often consume content just for the joy of knowing. Make sure your brand is attached to some of that learning.

On the flip side, those who have a weak desire for curiosity might want to get to a solution as quickly as possible. They are practical and efficient and don’t overthink decisions.

This is the type of buyer that might discover your company and purchase from it in the same day, if only they believe it suites their needs.

This is the type where short, punchy content is most effective. You want to keep your business top of mind with this sort of buyer.

Send them emails, hit them with retargeting after they visit your website. The practical sort will buy your product if they need it with very little fuss.


This trait determines who or what a person uses to construct a positive self-image.

If someone has a strong need for acceptance, they will seek recognition, shun criticism, and have a strong need to “belong.”

For those buyers that fall into this area, it is important to write to the fact that they will be a hero if they buy your offering. Make sure that they feel justified in purchasing too, therefore reducing the risk that they will get criticized for their actions. Educational content that is easy to digest and share is a good fit for this type of person.

For those who have a weak need for acceptance social recognition is not important. They are unafraid of failure and so are unafraid to take risks. This type will make a purchase, despite the wants of their peers, if they think it will makes things better in the long run.

Those with a weak need for acceptance will need less justification for a purchase, as they are less likely to consult with others. They simply need to be convinced on their own, making them a great candidate for short, informative content.


The strength of this desire shows how much structure or flexibility a person craves in their life.

For a type with a strong desire for order, everything is better with routine and with structure. Ensure that they are fulfilled in this by providing them with well-organized facts, like spreadsheets and graphs. Making clear, logical arguments to this type is the only way that they will be convinced that your product is for them. Bonus points if you can sell a feature of your product that will make their world more orderly.

But for those with a low desire for order, flexibility is a must. Interactive content and options are a must for this type. They feel that order is constraining. Make sure to not make this type feel trapped with too much structure. They must feel that they are choosing your company or they will not make a purchase.


This trait determines whether a person is goal-oriented or stays true to their principles.

Those with a strong desire for honor follow the rules, uphold standards and traditions, and are very loyal.

They don’t want anything that might mess up the status quo, so describing your product as disruptive to this type is not be the best strategy. They will enjoy traditional forms of content, like a good blog post. Doing anything too unique might scare away this type, as they really just want to maintain the good thing they have at their company.

Those with weak honor are much more likely to shake things up. They want disruptive, they want unique. Your brand can be as edgy and snappy as it wants to appeal to this type.

Go with unique content, make humorous videos and fun interactive quizzes. This type just needs to know that in the end, your disruptive solution will work for them. They are goal-oriented with very little consideration as to what the status quo is.


The strength of this trait considers morality and the altruistic element of it. It also covers responsibility when it comes to fairness and social justice.

Those with a strong idealist trait will respond VERY well to cause marketing. They want to know that their money is doing something besides just lining your pocket. Giving them a cause will ensure that.

This type wants to make a change in the world and they will often do that with the money in their budgets. They want to know you are a socially responsible company, not just the one accomplishing the job.

On the flip side, those with weak idealism are more practical. You can stick to traditional marketing tactics with this group, as putting a cause behind your brand will not soften their feelings towards it.


Status can manifest in different forms depending on the strength of this desire. A person can want to fit in or can want to stand out.

Win those who with a strong desire for status by using influencer marketing to your advantage. Those who desire status enjoy prestige, want wealth, public attention, and respect.

By either having your brand become a powerful influencer or become closely tied with them, those on this path will see your brand as a way to gain status in the industry. They are likely to respond to others that have what they want, which is why influencer marketing is so effective on these types.

For those with a weak desire for status, modesty is a must. They are not interested in public perception and attach little value to their title and possessions.

This type wants the simple, logical reasons that your product is a good fit. They are practical and aren’t interested in gaining status for making a decision.
Learn about your customers and what drives them by creating a profile of their desires. Then use that to tailor your content to them. You’ll find your marketing efforts are much more successful for it.

Do you know which desires push your customers? How do you fuel these desires? Do you use any other desires in your B2B marketing that we didn’t include?


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