What motivates buyers is what motivates people—and it’s not shallow transactions

Buyers aren’t motivated by money/value. They’re motivated by the feeling that they will be part of something better.

In our experience, most marketers have a very shallow appreciation of buying motivation. They treat customers as wallets, rather than as people.

This is especially evident in what we call the “value fallacy,” which treats money as the basic unit of value in your marketing and sales efforts.

But it goes deeper than this—the value fallacy is just a symptom of a more general lack of thought that we as marketers put into buyers as people. We seldom spend time considering our customers holistically. What do their larger lives, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors look like? What does the whole person look like, as opposed to that little part of them that needs what we offer?

This is really just an extension of Jakob’s law of the web user experience. Just as people spend most of their time on other websites than yours, they also spend most of their lives doing other things than being your leads, prospects, or customers.

For example, people willing to spend resources on? What are they willing to devote their time to?

Well, one thing I’ve noticed is that they spend an awful lot of time doing things, and paying for things, in the hopes of feeling “bigger” than themselves. Of feeling like they are part of something better and more worthwhile.

Usually they don’t do this consciously. (If they did, they might rethink their strategies somewhat.)

But it’s certainly an unconscious goal: achieving what you might call a transcendence of sorts. Some would say this is a “God-shaped hole”—a kind of craving for something that mundane things cannot satisfy…yet which we shove all kinds of mundane things into, hoping for the best anyway. As Pascal put it:

What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.

I think this applies even to people who don’t “do religion,” aren’t “spiritual,” or really have no interest in anything but the day ahead, or the motorboat they’re saving for.

They still want more than they have

Not just for the sake of stuff, but for the sake of transcendence. Of being part of something bigger. (Even the crassest materialist tends to crave validation by something bigger than himself—peer groups etc.)

No one is satisfied with the way things are…or, at some level, with the way they are.

This is important when you’re thinking about how to make an offer. Your prospect is a person (hence I call him Sam). So you need to treat him as a person—as someone who desires and is made for transcendence.

I’m not suggesting that most offerings can somehow be turned into a quasi-religious experience.

But I am suggesting that transcendence works its way into our lives in unexpected ways.

For example, let’s say you’re someone who offers creative services—web design or whatever.

A great many web designers treat themselves as commodities.Their relationship to clients is purely transactional: money comes in, a web design goes out. Usually it’s not very much money, even though the web design might be of a high quality.

It’s not very much money because commodities are cheap. Not necessarily cheap in the sense that they cost very little; rather, cheap in the sense that people are only willing to pay enough for them to cover the cost of production.

And they aren’t willing to pay, at least in part, because by definition commodities lack transcendence. They are mundane. Boring. Without distinguishing characteristics or qualities that separate them from the rest of the pack. (Which is why when you add transcendence to a commodity it stops being a commodity—look at Apple’s success.)

You might be wondering, “How on earth do I add this so-called transcendence to web design services?”

I mean, what are you supposed to do—convince clients that the sites you design will bring them closer to God? C’mon.

No, nothing like that.

In fact, I don’t think the place to start is with the client (Sam) at all.

I think the place to start is with you.

Because what you’re selling, ultimately, is not web design—it’s yourself.

Transcendence always cashes out in terms of people, and since you’re a person, you’re well-placed to add a certain amount of transcendence to you as your own offering.

In other words, don’t offer to create transcendence in Sam’s life. That would be ridiculous for someone who sells web design.

Rather, offer to bring your own transcendence into his life.

Put another way, show him that partnering with you will create something bigger that he isn’t currently part of.

Show him that you have genuine expertise and insight into the problems that he thinks web design services will solve.

Prove to him that you have real authority over the outcome he wants— the end —rather than merely the means he expects will produce it.

Demonstrate, in other words, that you are not a commodity-provider; you are an adviser he can trust to guide him where he wants to go. You can take the burden off him of figuring out what commodity to buy, by using your wisdom to make a better decision for him than he could have made by himself—and then implementing it.

Easier said than done, of course, but that’s the general idea.