2.2 Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Example: Natural Disasters

A weather satellite image of Hurricane Katrina
A weather satellite image of Hurricane Katrina ” from Defense Visual Information Distribution Service, Public Domain

When Hurricane Katrina hit the United States on August 28, 2005, the Gulf Coast was devastated; the 2011 tsunami affected the entire Pacific Rim, and the Gorkha earthquake that hit Nepal in April 25, 2015 left 3.5 million homeless. With natural disasters like the three examples above, people are stranded for days, some without food, water, or shelter due to overwhelming flooding and destruction. During the horrible days and in the aftermath, those who were affected by any of these catastrophes do not care what kind of car they drove, what anyone did for a living, or if they forgot to sign up for French or scuba lessons. They were focused on the basics: food, shelter, and clothing.

Tragedies like these are a demonstration of exactly how Maslow’s hierarchy of needs works. Abraham Maslow is among the most renowned psychologists of the twentieth century. His theory explains human behaviour in simple terms: a hierarchy of needs that begins with the most basic of physiological needs (e.g., food, water, warmth, rest) motivates people, and when the lowest-level needs are satisfied, they are no longer motivators (Mcleod, 2020). Maslow (1954) in his popular “Hierarchy of Needs” theory suggested that needs could be categorized into two sets. The first set comprising of the four levels can be called the deficiency needs and the top level can be referred to ask growth or being needs.

Deficiency Needs

Deficiency needs, as the name suggest generally come into force in case of some deficiency of any kind. The basic needs like food, sex, sleep, and also some needs for safety like security (of all kinds), freedom etc would be included here. When these needs are activated (generally due to the lack of something) they act like a means to an end. Deficiency arises when there is some need that is not fulfilled and that acts as a motivation for people to do something to fulfill that need. E.g. if a person who is hungry is does not get food, he/she will become hungrier. That will generally push him/her to do something to to be able to eat so that the hunger is satisfied.

Growth Needs

Growth needs are more concerned with the concepts of realization of one’s potential and “self actualization.” These needs are more intellectual in nature. These needs do not arise because of some deficiency or lack thereof, but because of the desire of a person to grow or improve. Once these needs are satisfied, one may be able to achieve satisfaction or contentment which can be called a state of “self actualization”. Every person, in some way or other, has the capability and the desire to reach the level of self actualization. However for that, he/she has to overcome the lower-level needs first. Experiences of loss like the loss of a job, or a close friend or family member leads a person to fluctuate between the different levels of needs. This fluctuation between the levels of needs can lead to non-achievement of the actual self actualization level for any person unless he/she is highly focused.

During the days after Hurricane Katrina hit, people were rescued and provided with water, food, and shelter. Many were relocated to temporary housing or even to housing outside the affected areas. It was not until after the physiological needs were met that people became concerned about the next level of needs on Maslow’s hierarchy: safety needs. Looting of shops in some of the cities began to occur, and there was even concern that the police force in some cities was not taking an active role in arresting those who were breaking the law (Associated Press, 2005). The people of the Gulf Coast were no longer motivated by simply getting water, food, or shelter; they had moved up Maslow’s hierarchy and were concerned about their personal security and well-being.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs (bottom to top) physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem, self-actualization
Figure 2.2.1: “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs” by User:Factoryjoe CC BY-SA 3.0 demonstrates that humans fill higher needs only after lower needs are met.

As the days and weeks passed after Hurricane Katrina hit, its victims wanted to get back to their normal lives. They searched for options to put their children back in school, ways to get jobs, and options to rebuild their lives. At this point, people were motivated by social needs such as belongingness and love (Mcleod, 2020). Slowly but surely, people began to rebuild their lives and their cities. People took on leadership roles and began to take recovery to the next level. Even people who were hundreds of miles away from the hurricane-ravaged area in New Orleans or the earthquake in Nepal or the Tsunami in Japan wanted to help. This is an example of esteem needs, or the need to feel respected and appreciated by one’s peers. Although volunteers were motivated by social needs and the need to help their fellow human beings, they found that they were also greatly appreciated for their efforts.

This all comes together at the point of sale, whether you are selling in business-to-consumer (B2C) or business-to-business (B2B) environments. When you understand the motivation of your customer, you can customize your solution and your message to meet their needs, emotions, and motivations. Consider the Hurricane Katrina example; would you attempt to sell fine jewellery, pitch the benefits of a landscaping service, or suggest a home theatre system to someone in New Orleans on August 29, 2005? Probably not. People were focused on their most basic needs at that time, and none of these products or services would have been appropriate to sell. Although this may seem like an extreme example, it is a good way to remember to look at the world through your customer’s eyes, as you will see a completely different view.

Now that you can see what motivates people to buy, it is time to learn who is buying. Although the buying process is similar for B2C and B2B, there are some distinct differences that can make a difference in the way you sell.

“6.2. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs” from The Power of Selling is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.


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