Understanding Customer Purchasing “Triggers”


Mary Minnick, the former CMO of Coke, liked to talk about 10 primal “need states” (e.g., hunger and thirst, health and beauty, etc.) in understanding the triggers around a customer purchasing one of Coke’s products.

It was not anything new per se (think of segmenting by needs, need payoffs, Maslow’s hierarchy, etc.), but I like the hypotheses that could come out of the thought process, which could be tested with any prospect/customer in any industry.

It gets to the question of why people (B2B or B2C) purchase anything. Most people say it’s to satisfy some need. However, we also know that people have “wants,” like a new Lexus (or to retain the pre-eminent strategy firm), which goes beyond a need for transportation.

But if we drill-down even more, we find that the “want” is really around certain ego needs, like wanting to impress people or to show off one’s “success.” Ultimately, we can probably get down to a primal need state with each “want.” A lot of people talk about needs and wants, but it seems that it’s just a matter of layers and peeling-the-onion to get to a real need.

Anyway, I think each business can probably identify, isolate, and intensify the various need states that its prospects/customers have, similar to Coke. I know there are a finite number of meaningful “buckets” that apply – it’s probably less than 20 and more than 1.

Then, each need state discovery process can be used to identify unmet needs, new need markets, and new offerings to satisfy some latent or unfulfilled needs. Getting better “health and beauty” (think green tea or an antioxidant-rich juice drink) out of a beverage begins to seem reasonable and aligned to our basic, fundamental needs. Even on the business-to-business (B2B) side, a sales opportunity is often won based on political factors and relationships, which may not directly relate to the offering being sold, but more around the needs of the buyer to buy from people they like, trust, and that are capable.

In the end it’s just the “find a need and fill it” adage with some added overhead and process. Nevertheless, becoming a “need state” analyst is probably time well spent, as adages and platitudes are great to say, but you still have a lot of work to do … MP

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2 thoughts on “Understanding Customer Purchasing “Triggers”

  1. Michael, thought provoking, thank you.

    …a couple more to throw in.

    1. The need for affiliation is a strong one – think SUV’s, Soccer Moms, Volvos and mountain bikes. Many of us don’t ‘need’ these things, rather we identify the type of person we believe does actually need these things and out of this pull of affiliation we adopt the need as our own.

    2. Don’t forget about old Maslow, when basic needs are satisfied we look for higher-order stuff 🙂

    In the end, when it comes to actual buying triggers – particularly in the B2B sales space – I say they’re all emotional – fear, greed, lust, jealousy, etc.


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