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Customer Needs

Not all Customer Needs are Equal

Abraham Maslow, a specialist in human behavioural psychology, developed a hierarchy of needs in 1943. The hierarchy was originally developed to assist in explaining the connection between basic human needs and human desires. Maslow’s theory argues that humans will not concern themselves with some needs until more basic ones are met. The question then is; ‘Do customers also not concern themselves with some needs until more basic ones are met’?

Put differently, once customers are transactionally engaged is the meeting of their needs a sequential and hierarchical process or is it an immediate series of predetermined actions that occur in parallel? Based on my experience, it is my view that customers do adhere to a sequential, hierarchical and incremental need-satisfaction process, particularly in the B2B space.  

Can Maslow’s hierarchy of personal needs be meaningfully correlated with marketing principles and customer needs?

Personal Needs (Maslow) Customer Needs (Marketing)
Basic Biological & Physiological Needs:

Underlying needs we as humans can not live without, E.g. Food, sleep, water, shelter.

1 Basic Functional & Economic Needs: Underlying practical solution needs, E.g. Saves time, reduces risk/effort, performs.
Safety Needs:

To function we need to feel secure E.g. Physical, health, finances.

2 Emotional, Ease of doing business Needs: Solution viability needs, E.g. Anxiety, rewards, aesthetics, attractiveness, access.
Psychological Needs:

To have a sense of belonging we need to feel love, friendship, intimacy, connections.

3 Trustworthiness Needs: 

Relationship sustainable needs, E.g. track record, credibility, commitments, deliverables.

Esteem Needs:

To have confidence we seek respect, status, recognition, strength, self-esteem.

4 Strategic Insight Needs:

Future value needs: E.g. Innovation, improvement, growth, social impact. 

Self fulfilment needs:

To realise one’s full potential we need self-actualisation.

5 Personal Value Needs:

Reputation needs: E.g. Career enhancement, status escalation, self-worth improvement.  

Will a customer meaningfully engage on matters of trustworthiness or strategic insight if their basic functionality and ease of doing business needs have not been met? I do not think so. The stages, and the sequence, are therefore important. Customer needs, even if they appear equal, are sequentially significant. Hence my view that customers do adhere to a sequential, hierarchical, and incremental need-satisfaction process.

So yes, Maslow’s hierarchy of personal needs can be meaningfully correlated with marketing principles and customer needs?

All too often, in an attempt to rapidly reach targets and to land those ‘quick wins’, the tendency is to move too quickly and skip, or ignore, stages. The consequences of this approach is detrimental to the accepted business maxim, namely; ‘Acquire and retain profitable customers’. Not adopting an incremental ‘establish, build and grow’ approach is like trying to explore, quantify and secure an aircraft’s landing procedure, before you are sure that it can take off.

My experience is that staying in each stage as long as you can and allowing the customer to determine when you can move to the next stage is very useful, particularly for retaining profitable customers.

Happy customer engaging!


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