Peel an Onion and Know Customer Motivation

Peel an Onion and Know Customer Motivation

How can you get more customers who want to buy from you?

It starts with having a deep and thoughtful look at your current base of customers by an outsider.

What behavior, actions and attitudes can you understand about them? Do you know the motive behind what they do? Are they framing your business in a way that could help you improve your messaging? Can you see what drives current customers to act – not on a practical and logical basis but at a more deep-seated understanding?

If you understand why current customers buy, you can market yourself to new prospects with insights that tap the emotional triggers.

Thoughtful and Probing Questions

When you work within a business, you are often too close to the business to be objective. You have a preconceived set of notions about why your customers bought from you and how you are perceived. And customers don’t want to offend you so they may hold back from being truthful. People within a business often have a difficult time hearing objectively about their customer’s motivation.

  • Our customer’s buy because they recognize the special features built into our product.
  • Our customer’s buy because they get our value proposition.
  • Our customer’s buy because they see our offering as their best option.

An outsider can interview your current clients and give you new insights to help you understand what problem they think you are solving for them and what emotional need you are filling. The critical step is finding the emotional triggers for action and that requires critical listening skills.

Thoughtful questions are childlike. They keep asking why. They probe deeper and deeper until conjuring up an image that might serve as a useful metaphor.


Why do you buy from Acme Widgets?


They have the best prices.


Why do you think they have the best prices?


Because they buy in large quantities and stock everything I need.


Why do you think they do that?


I guess because they want to be like a convenience store for their customers. I’m busy. I don’t want to run around looking for things. Convenience matters.

Boom: Maybe you should position your business like a convenience store for widgets that offers a deep and wide set of choices and, is easy to access quickly. For busy widget buyers, Acme Widget is like a convenience store with everything you need and extra quick checkout. 

The Facts Aren’t Enough

If you read detective stories or watch movies or TV shows about the law, you’ll find attorneys asking probing questions that unravel the truth. Like peeling an onion, you need to get beyond each layer of the transaction, to understand the real motivation.

Over my career, I have had the opportunity to do these types of interviews for clients. And, if I stick with the questioning, insights emerge and often in very poetic yet meaningful descriptions. After five or six questions, you start to get closer to customer’s motives.

I did some work for a market research firm a few years ago, and a theme emerged after ten customer interviews:

I buy from USA Research (not their real name) because they are like an insurance policy for me – I know I’ll be safe in my job if I use them as my justification for my decision. They have such a good reputation that I feel secure making decisions with them on my team. #jobsecurity

When I kept hearing that existing customers were buying because they felt safer, it was an insight that we leveraged into new messaging in our outbound marketing efforts. Although the company thought they were selling market research, they were really in the insurance and safety business. We changed their message to reflect this keen observation.

Maybe it is time to hire someone to peel an onion for you so you can get to the core of your customer’s motivation to buy. 

Need help unpeeling an onion? I’m not only an expert marketing professional but I’m a pretty good cook too. Let’s talk. 919 720 0995 or  Learn more about me and my background here.

Photo credit: Unsplash – Thank you, Tobias Macha. Beautiful image.





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