What does motivation mean to you?

As a marketer and an entrepreneur, I’ve always been interested in the concept of motivation. Why do people make the decision to buy a product? To invest their energy and expertise in a company? To get out of bed in the morning?

Merriam-Webster defines motivation in two ways:

“Motivation: the condition of being eager to act or work”
• “Motivation: a force or influence that causes someone to do something”

But really, it’s so much more than that. I like this description, from Psychology Today, better:

“Motivation is literally the desire to do things. It’s the difference between waking up before dawn to pound the pavement and lazing around the house all day. It’s the crucial element in setting and attaining goals.”

I couldn’t agree more. It’s also a crucial element in building and sustaining a successful change making company or organization. But simply having motivation isn’t enough. To scale an impactful organization, you must also understand these three types of motivation inside and out:

Your customers’

No matter how unique your niche, your company faces some sort of competition. The customers or clients who buy from you have choices. What motivates them to choose you?

Do you really understand the answer to that question, or is there a gap between your perception and reality? Far too often, we as entrepreneurs and leaders have only a superficial understanding of our clients and customers. We think we know why they choose to work with our buy from us, but when we actually ask them about their motivations directly, their answers often surprise us.

Here’s an example. For several years, a professional services software client of ours operated under the assumption that their customers bought from them because they wanted to organize their paperwork and get more work done faster, two needs that the software product is great at addressing. But when our client challenged that assumption and began interviewing customers about their motivation for buying the software, they learned that their customers were actually focused on a deeper need. They wanted to spend more time with their families and pursuing their hobbies and interests, and less time working. They were interested in any software product that would help them achieve those objectives. Essentially, their needs were higher on Maslow’s Hierarchy than they were given credit for. This discovery changed our client’s approach to sales, messaging, product development, everything.

Understanding your customers’ motivation is actually painfully simple. You just have to ask them. Conduct a survey, organize a set of focus groups, or simply pick up the phone and call a few people who fit your ideal client profile. Ask them questions like:

• Did you consider buying from one of our competitors? Why did you choose us instead?
• Do you ever recommend us to other people? What do you tell them?
• How has buying from us changed your work/behavior/life?
• What bothers you about our product/service?

Your Employees’

Why do people show up to work for your company every day? Why do they go the extra mile and put in extra hours?

If you’re truly running a changemaking organization, and if you’re recruiting strategically, the answer is about more than just money. It’s about purpose.

Imperative explains purpose-oriented employees as follows:

“Purpose-Oriented employees aren’t just teachers and social workers. They work and thrive in every industry and role – accountants, farmers, designers, you name it. Purpose-oriented employees are the high performers, often in leadership roles. They persist, they are proactive, they grow and they lead.”

By nature, changemaking organizations attract far more purpose-oriented employees than regular companies. But even if your organization has a meaningful mission, and even if you’ve made mission alignment a priority in your recruiting process, your team will still have employees with varying levels and types of purpose motivation. Understanding each employee’s purpose profile, and then managing to it, can have a major impact on your organization’s ability to engage, retain and grow high impact employees. So how can you uncover meaningful insights about your employees’ purpose mindset?

Imperative’s individual and team purpose profiles are the perfect tools for the job. Then, once you truly understand an employees’ motivation, put systems and practices in place to manage to it.

Your Own

Of these three types of motivation, you own is the most important. Without your drive, determination and leadership, your company will stagnate. It’s not a question of if, but of when. Changemaking companies have deeply motivated leaders who rely on their belief in what they’re building to get them through the hard times. And there will be hard times.

So ask yourself, what’s really driving you? Is it your desire for more financial or lifestyle freedom? Is it your vision for doing things differently than they’ve ever been done before and revolutionizing your industry? Is it your passion for the mission and stakeholders your organization serves? Is it some combination of all of these factors?

One of my favorite ways to get crystal clear on your personal motivations as an entrepreneur is to develop a personal mission statement, a process that I wrote about in-depth here (or see Stephen Covey’s work on the topic). While proponents of that illusive thing called “work-life balance” may disagree, I think that the best entrepreneurs see their work as an important component of their life’s purpose, and  getting clear about how the two are intertwined makes for a better leader.

So what’s driving you, your customers, and your employees? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!


Alyssa is the President and Co-Founder of Prosper Strategies, and is obsessed with helping impactful organizations achieve their goals through marketing.

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