What’s Your DBM

Tomes have been written about how customers buy but most sales folks seem not to understand that at all. Especially when they work in the B2C (business to customers) arena. Without knowing what we call the dominant buying motive (DBM), most sales and marketing pros resort to “one-size-fits-all” strategy.

The dominant buying motive is what will cause people to buy, but just knowing how important it is to selling or marketing is not enough. We must understand why it is important, and we must then use it right. Let me illustrate this with two scenarios:

*An NRI couple I have known for a long time returned to India for good a couple of years ago. They had an apartment in Mumbai and before selling it off they bought a new apartment in Pune, both under bank loans. For over a year they kept making EMI payments on both the apartments before finally selling off the Mumbai one. Why? The separate living and dining room combination of the new house with split-levels looked just like the house of the wife’s childhood days in Bangalore. The emotion was so compelling for her to buy the Pune apartment quickly and not after the Mumbai one was sold.

*Another friend wanted an apartment in a high-rise building. She grew up in Chennai and I asked her what kind of apartment her family had owned, expecting her to say a three-bedroom flat in Nungambakkam. No, she grew up in a two-storey bungalow in suburban Anna Nagar, and she hated it. She said she was the only child, and every night she had to go upstairs alone to bed. She felt cut off from her parents and would sit on the floor all alone, peering through the bannister rails, wishing she were downstairs. She was terrified of ghosts and that made it worse. She probably wanted safety and a feeling of companionship while selecting an apartment in a high-rise building.

Although both these people had childhood memories that determined the houses they bought, it is probable that neither of them realised that when they began looking for houses. It is important that marketers discover these emotions if they wish to get people to buy what they sell. We do not motivate people to buy. We help uncover their emotions, and they motivate themselves. We must recognise the dominant buying motive when we do locate it. Emotions are powerful and the resultant connections of those emotions are powerful. The DBM is not product-related. It is in the person.

I was asking a colleague why he wanted to buy life insurance, in connection with a strategy work we were doing with a leading insurance company. “Because I love my family” he said, showing me pictures of his children and wife. His DBM was love. Another person said he bought life insurance because it was his obligation to take care of his family. It was almost like paying taxes; it was a debt he felt he ought to pay. That was his motivation. Still another said he wanted life insurance so that when he died, people would not point to his grave and call him an SOB because he did not take care of his family. His DBM was “not wanting to be criticised after death”. Same product or service, but different DBMs. If we wish to motivate people to buy, we had better quit wishing and found out what emotion would motivate them to buy. Sometimes in sales or marketing, we discover the prospect’s DBM and at the same time enable the prospect to discover it. At other times we discover what is already known, and the prospect simply re-lives it. Either way, generally, we must initiate the discovery. The easier part is how to discover the prospect’s DBM. We determine what characteristic or benefit of our product our prospects want and ask why that is important to them.

Here’s an example from banquet catering business. At a banquet it took too long to serve the meal. Some guests finished while others were just starting. Some blamed the hostess for the poor job of the caterer. What the hostess wants from her next caterer: To serve quickly so all people can eat together. Why that is important to her? (Her DBM): To have the guests feel she did a good job. At her next banquet, the food was cold and people complained. She was embarrassed.

What she wants from her next caterer: Food served hot. Why that would be important to her? (Her DBM): I don’t want to be embarrassed. At her daughter’s wedding reception, they ran out of silverware, and some guests had to eat without spoons. Her daughter was not proud of the reception. What the hostess wants from the new caterer: Enough silverware to go around. Why that would be important to her? (Her DBM): I want my daughter to be proud of her reception.

Initially, people will want to know the price of the banquet catering, but many times what causes them to buy from a particular vendor is their DBM.

Four friends have something in common. One sells insurance, one sells real estate, another sells cars and the other sells audio systems. They all say that people buy on price. They say that without the lowest prices they do not get the sale. That is so strange because the rest of my friends do not own the cheapest cars, the least expensive homes, the lowest-cost audio systems, or the cheapest insurance!

(The author spearheads execution and innovation for clients @CustomerLab)