How to Motivate Customers Across the Entire Buyer's Journey

Motivation. It’s a word that comes up in various facets of life, from locker rooms to courtrooms to pop culture. Maybe the word makes you envision motivational speakers – such as Tony Robbins or even Chris Farley’s hilarious Saturday Night Live character Matt Foley.

The word can evoke negativity, too. “What’s your motivation?” a peer or spouse may ask you, trying to pick apart your argument.

But motivation – and understanding what triggers it – is a critical part of our jobs as marketers. It’s the thing that propels people to take action. Understanding your customers – from pain points to motivations – can help you better serve their needs. Knowing what motivates your customers can help you craft marketing campaigns and deliver products that they will want to buy.

What motivates you?

For just a moment, let’s press pause on marketing and get personal. Let’s consider what motivates us. I’ll go first.

Personally, I’m motivated by coffee.

But I’m also motivated by trust and autonomy. I’ve long sensed this intuitively – I’ve always been strong-willed and independent. But the realization fully hit me last year when I went through a rough career patch. The job wasn’t rough because the commute was bad and the hours were long. (OK, those things had something to do with it.) But the true roughness came from the fact that I didn’t feel trusted. I felt eyes watching my every move. I didn’t feel like I could breathe or experiment.

It was through this experience that things came into focus. I confirmed to myself that trust is a huge motivator in my life. It informs the way I behave. If you trust me – if you give me space to breathe and work – then I can create and flourish. But if you don’t trust me – if you question everything I do – I shut down.

This was a painful but important realization. It’s now helping guide my career and personal life.

Your turn. What motivates you? If you know right now, write it down. If you don’t know, spend some time thinking about this today and see what you uncover. Then use the result as your compass as you navigate life.

The role of empathy

Now back to business. As you may suspect, I had a hidden motivation for asking you to consider yourself and your motivators. The reason is because uncovering what motivates you is a great first step in recognizing what motivates others. Which gets you a lot closer to being able to empathize.

Empathy is a powerful tool, both in life and marketing. If you can feel others’ struggles, you can relate, and you can reach across the table to help them.

What motivation has to do with marketing

The ability to understand other people – i.e., your customers – is essential for us as marketers. We need to know what customers want and how they want it. And if we know what makes customers tick and take action, well, this knowledge may be the difference between making a sale or not.

Walk a mile in your customers’ shoes

As the adage goes, walk a mile in another man’s shoes and you begin to understand his struggle. And because of that, you can talk to him ‒ or her ‒ in an informed, tailored way. You can also serve up the right messages at the right time. This is where the notion of the buyer’s journey comes in to play.

The customer buyer’s journey

The buyer’s journey is the path a customer takes to make a purchase. If you know your customers, you know when they are just testing the waters, when they want more information, and when they’re ready to make a decision. Let’s dissect this for a moment.

The first phase of the buyer’s journey is discovery – i.e., the moment that customers learn about your product and research more about it. (Note that some variations of the buyer’s journey may also include an initial awareness phase – the moment customers realize they need something, and/or become aware of your product).

Next up is decision-making. This is a fact-gathering phase, where customers search your website and marketing materials to learn the bells and whistles. They’ll probably look at your competitors, too, to decipher who has the best option for their needs.

Finally comes purchase. This is the end-game of the buyer’s journey – the point where potential customers become actual customers.

If you’re not already thinking about the buyer’s journey as you create marketing materials, I’d encourage you to start.

Predicting and meeting your customers’ needs

Let’s go back to the “wear someone else’s shoes” concept. When you put on your customers’ proverbial shoes, you see where they go and what they go through. You begin to understand what motivates them behind their decisions.

Another cool thing can happen. You can get a sense of where they’re going to head next. And if you can predict their next moves and anticipate their needs, you can serve up your marketing and products accordingly.

Put the buyer’s journey, customer motivation, and predictable customer behavior together and you have a powerful combination of marketing data.

Where motivation comes from: tools for your marketing toolbox

So, how do you uncover your customers’ motivations? To find out, use the great tools you probably already have in your toolbox:

  • Data is a great starting point. You might look at demographic data of your potential customer base to learn details about their age, income, and interests. These give clues about your potential customers. Put on your detective hat and sleuth around to see what you can uncover. Another data point is past purchase history. If you’re looking at existing customers, look in your CRM database to see what they’ve bought – and when.
  • Eye-tracking is a mechanism used by web and user-experience developers to understand what catches eyes on a website. You could use this tool to see if customers are motivated by flashy ad banners or storytelling content pieces, for instance. Then design your website and campaigns accordingly.
  • Also, hearing straight from the horse’s mouth is a big one. In the future I’m going to write a post about some techniques you can use, but meanwhile the short version of the story is to talk with your customers using polls and panels.

Applying your knowledge

Once you have an understanding of your customers, now what? You need to put that information to work for you.

A great first step is to set up user personas. Make correlations between your customers’ behaviors and start bucketing them into a few short descriptions that include activity patterns, expertise, goals, and opinions ‒ and add a couple fictional details as well. Next, you can create tailored campaigns that are appropriate for your customer personas. You may even develop new products or services to assist their needs.

The more knowledge you have about your customers, the more you can assess when – and what – they want to buy. And if you can serve up exactly what they want when they want it, think of how much more likely these customers will be to make purchases. It’s like pre-qualifying sales leads.

Tying it all together with Monroe’s Motivated Sequence

There’s one final tool that I want to share, which helps you augment the buyer’s journey phases with motivational principles: Monroe’s Motivated Sequence.

Alan Monroe was a Purdue professor in the 1930s. He created a five-stage plan for making a persuasive speech. Monroe’s five steps are Attention, Need, Satisfaction, Visualization, and Action. Let me unpack these a bit more and show how you may use Monroe’s technique to motivate customers to make purchase decisions:


i.e. capturing your audience. For Monroe, that meant capturing the audience of his speech. In journalism, this is the story’s lead. In screenwriting, it’s the cold open. In all cases, the goal is to hook your audience and get their attention.

An oft-used method of capturing attention is to scare – or at least alert – your audience (customers) that Houston, we have a problem.

Data is your friend here. In much of the recent work I’ve done for clients, they’ve wanted contextual data to support their use case or product. I utilize this data throughout the materials I create, leading with the most shocking statistic that I can find.

Need comes next:

In this phase, the idea is to keep convincing the audience that there is a problem – and make it personal. You can use more data here to build the case.

Consider a hypothetical example. Let’s say you’re a marketer for a tooth-cleaning product. You might start your campaign with a staggering statistic such as, “One in three people lose their teeth by age 40.” (Psst – I made that up.) That’s the “Attention” phase.

Then, you add more statistics, like “99% of people don’t clean their teeth correctly” (another fact I’ve made up for illustration.) By this point your smart audience is probably starting to worry. This must mean I’m not cleaning my teeth correctly, either!

Boom: It just became personal.

Satisfaction is the middle phase:

By now, your audience (customers) should be thinking, “now what?”

Now it’s time for your “ta-da!” ‒ revealing your product as the solution to their problem.

Tactically, this is the time to bring out your marketing value proposition as well as features and benefits of your product. Be specific and detailed.

The Visualization phase is your final shot at drama:

Think of it as the what-if? Your goal is to help the audience (customers) imagine what happens if they solve this problem – or, even more effectively, what happens if they don’t. Put on your storyteller hat here and really bring it home.

Finally, it’s time for Action:

If you’ve done your job well, by now your customers have concluded that they’d better take action tout de suite. This is where you craftily insert your desired call to action and elicit the buy.

Used correctly, Monroe’s model provides a solid mechanism to present facts and elicit an emotional response – and a buy.

Do you feel motivated to give this a try?

What techniques do you use to motivate buyers? Share them here!