In pre-pandemic days, sales and marketing efforts focused on enhancing the customer’s total experience (e.g., brand assurance, strategic growth, ESG, responsiveness, and future enablement). But COVID-19 has flipped this paradigm, at least in the short term, as buyers keep retreating to more basic considerations.
Satisfy Foundational Needs First
According to Maslow’s classic motivational theory, people’s needs at the top of the pyramid are only important if those lower in the hierarchy are satisfied.
Eric Almquist, Jamie Cleghorn and Lori Sherer made a similar argument when they published their B2B Elements of Value Pyramid in Harvard Business Review in an effort to better understand buyer behavior. This understanding of needs is especially relevant today as individuals and businesses grapple with financial uncertainty, evolving health risks, and few insights into what the future holds.
As individuals, the pandemic is pressuring people to meet these lower level needs:
- Physiological. These basic human survival needs include food, clothing, shelter, and health, all of which are under threat due to the coronavirus and resulting financial stress. The pandemic has induced panic buying and stocking up on supplies as people strive to meet this basic need.
- Safety. Besides feeling safe from violence, all humans seek emotional stability and well-being along with good health and financial security. Job losses and furloughs are creating existential insecurity and fear of further loss. Add to this the peculiar experience of wearing masks and personal protective equipment (PPE) in day-to-day life for protection from COVID-19.
- Social. Human interaction is essential for health and happiness, but relationships with friends, family, and coworkers are strained by quarantines and shutdowns.
It’s safe to say that people are more concerned about satisfying these fundamental human needs than they are about Maslow’s high-level needs of Esteem and Self Actualization.
Redefine Business Value
Similarly in the business world, personal and professional disruption have refocused buyers on fundamental business value needs. The top three values in the B2B Elements of Value Pyramid (Inspirational, Individual, and Ease of Doing Business) are now less important than the basics (Functional, Table Stakes).
All sales pursuits should always include the primary building blocks such as economic justification, technical specs and regulatory compliance. In today’s environment though, taking these elements for granted can be at odds with buyers’ newfound focus on these elements.
Sellers focusing on higher order values could be perceived as tone deaf by buyers. Such buyers will raise objections because they currently don’t resonate to a sales message around higher order value. Not all buyers will respond as such, but it’s best to first cover the basics.
It’s more important now than ever to take care of your buyer’s lower level needs first. Sellers overlooking these needs do so at their own peril.
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