“Shadow Needs” and Why Customers Don’t Buy

Every person you encounter will have a motivating value system — a shadow need, if you will, but they are not consciously aware of, but can be identified and used to help him or her be more secure in their decision-making skills, when you are sure your product will be valuable for them.

These are:

  1. Security — need for security
  2. Intellectual — need to be smart
  3. Membership — need to belong
  4. Freedom — need to escape being stuck in anything
  5. Self-Uniqueness — need to be special or different

Each of us has a shadow needs system, a unique values system, a special set of issues we feel are important. If your values and pet causes seem to be similar to those of your customer, your customer is 100 times more likely to listen to your message.

Although people possess all of the needs listed above, what they are trying to prove about themselves will predominate.

Have you ever noticed how some of your friends are always trying to prove how smart they are, how others are always have to be unique? Or how other people you’ve met know how to fit in with any crowd? These are examples of behaviors directed by shadow needs. There’s not a one-to-one relationship, but it would be a safe guess to say their shadow needs models are the Intellectual, Self-Uniqueness, and Membership, respectively.

Not only do these value systems influence what we do, they also influence who we trust.

To illustrate the point, think about situations when values don’t match society. During the 1960s in the United States, did the teenage population trust, or for that matter, listen to the generation that had come before them? No. The generation gap at its heart was simply a difference in values.

We basically do not listen to people who do not share our values. In order for your customer to hear your message, you must appear to have similar values.

Values are very important in human communication and our principal way we decide who we trust. In human history, we have constantly gone to war over differences in values. Even people who agree that God exists have gone to war over exactly how to worship.

You can show matching values by simply agreeing with the customer when he or she is making points about their fundamental beliefs. This isn’t foolproof and will not work if what you’re selling will not actually be of use to your client. This is not a way to scam people, it is a way to help people who would benefit from your product feel secure enough to make the decision to buy.

The way most salespeople manage to conflict with their customers on values issues is by not knowing when to stop talking.

You should be able to identify when it would be a mistake to tell the customer about the way you handle your kids, what religion you are, or what political party or affiliated with because it might cause a values clash.

Your mission is to know a great deal about your customer and to omit any comments that might make the customer think you differ with the basic beliefs he or she holds dear.

A completely ridiculous illustration: let’s assume sometime in the future it will be necessary to purchase oxygen. We all need it, but now we have to buy it. Even with this literally vital product, the salesman that conflicts with their customer’s values will lose customers in droves. Differing values leads to distrust.

We don’t buy from people we don’t trust.

After you know your product is a fit for your customer, your quick job becomes identifying what the customer needs to feel in order to make a decision. You will be able to assist the customer’s decision to buy your product if you play to their shadow need.

A final thought. Values are what people will actually trade their time, money, effort, and attention for… not what their ideals happen to be.


I want my upcoming posts to be really relevant for you.

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