Maslow for Business: How to use the pyramid of needs for B2B relationships

Maslow's hierarchy of needs is one of the best-known models for explaining human needs and motivations. And this model can even also help you in the B2B context.

Because behind the buying center, i.e. the decision-makers in the company, there are also people. They not only have personal needs, but above all pursue company-specific motivations. These in turn can be well illustrated using Maslow’s pyramid of needs.

An outline of Maslow's pyramid of needs: The 5 levels of need

1. eating, drinking, sleeping: physiological needs

The lowest level of the hierarchy of needs contains purely physiological needs – simply everything that is needed for bare survival. Eating, drinking, sleeping and physical well-being form the lowest level of the pyramid.

2. stability and order: safety needs

The so-called security needs are found one need class higher. People strive for stability. Thus, order and security are two essential points that fall under these so-called security needs – for example, the security of one’s home, financial security or family order.

3. we are less alone together: social needs

On the next level, everything revolves around social aspects: recognition and social conditions are basic needs that are inherent in human beings. Not only the possibility to communicate falls under social needs, but also belonging to a community, a certain distribution of roles and social exchange are part of it. In short, love and friendship are relevant social needs.

4. reputation, esteem, prestige: this is what individual needs look like

If all basic needs are fulfilled, humans – simply put – strive for more. Individual needs differ from person to person and depend on personality. For one person, power is particularly desirable, while another wants to experience recognition and appreciation.

5. develop personality and creativity: self-realization

The top of the pyramid of needs marks the level of self-actualization. According to Maslow, the highest good is to develop one’s own abilities to the best of one’s ability, to be able to live out creativity and to give one’s own life meaning. Discovering a deeper meaning behind one’s own deeds is generally regarded as fulfillment.

Noteworthy: Maslow expanded his model in 1970 from five to eight levels: cognitive needs (5th), aesthetic needs (6th), self-actualization (7th), and transcendence (8th).

Deficit needs and growth needs: What is the difference?

Those familiar with Maslow’s pyramid of needs should also understand the concepts of “deficit needs” (deficiency needs) and “growth needs” (unsatisfiable needs). Deficit needs should be satisfied in any case – if this is not the case, it affects the human psyche and physique.

An obvious example: Those who do not have enough to eat suffer from hunger. If you don’t experience love or friendship, you deteriorate mentally. Growth needs are those needs that never seem to be satisfied. These include individual needs or the desire for self-realization.

The B2B needs pyramid: What needs do your B2B customers have?

Maslow’s pyramid can also be applied to companies: Thus, there are many “translations” of the hierarchy of needs into the management context. The main focus is on the wants and needs of employees. But what about business-to-business customers? How can you recognize the needs of your customers on the levels of Maslow’s pyramid – and at best deal with them profitably?

Step 1: The basic needs of a company

While people need food and a roof over their heads to survive, companies are primarily concerned with money. Companies can only survive if they have a solid financial basis, a good product or service, and customers.

What you can do: Offer solutions that ensure the survival of the company

Your starting point: Finance, production, marketing and sales

Stage 2: Why growth and profit bring stability

People strive for order and security. Companies and their management do the same. Only if the company is fit for the future can it survive in the market – and rely on a certain stable order for the foreseeable future.

What you can do: Support your customers in establishing future-proof business models

Your starting point: Finance and marketing


Stage 3: Social needs - satisfying customers and employees

Yes, companies also have social needs. Because where people work together, there is human interaction. In other words, good communication at eye level is essential, both within the company and with external parties and customers.

What you can do: Help your customers communicate effectively

Your starting point: marketing, sales, customer service, HR department

4th stage: power and recognition means brand awareness

Once a company is already established on the market and on a growth course – and can additionally look back on satisfied customers and employees – the course for success is set. Now it is a question of becoming even better known and increasing one’s own influence: Brand awareness and market leadership are important in this context.

What you can do: Open up opportunities for your customers to become better known and more influential

Your starting point: business development, PR, marketing, research and development


Stage 5: More than just profit - self-realization for companies

The top of Maslow’s pyramid is self-actualization, which can also be applied to companies. What do companies do that seem to have already achieved everything? They dedicate themselves to a higher purpose, for example charitable commitment or dedication to environmental protection. A frequently mentioned keyword in this context is corporate social responsibility.

What you can do: Give inputs to achieve a higher business goal

Your starting point: marketing, management


From theory to practice: Maslow in the B2B context

What may sound like dusty theory promises a lot of potential on closer inspection. Below is a translation of the model into the context of a company:

Short excursus: Criticism of Maslow; do humans just want to survive?

Maslow’s pyramid of needs is a model that has a purely theoretical background. In other words, it has not been created by collecting and analyzing data. This is one of the biggest criticisms. Again and again, Maslow is also criticized for the fact that the theoretical construct refers primarily to affluent societies and thus cannot be applied to the entire world (population).

Nick Naumhof also provides another interesting approach to criticizing Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: He criticizes the model as too ideal-typical and subordinated to a higher goal. Maslow ignores the strong human mechanisms for meeting basic needs. According to Naumhof, humans have survived primarily for evolutionary reasons.

Superordinate and subordinate needs do not really exist. Rather, the coexistence and interaction of different needs should be seen as a means to an end. An example: The human being needs food (physiological need). If they work together within a social group (social need level), they can obtain food more easily.

Naumhof thus emphasizes that humans ultimately always satisfy basic needs – they just do so in different ways. He specifically criticizes Maslow’s hierarchy structure. However, he does not criticize the classification of needs. And it is this classification that we want to emphasize in this article. Because if you know what types of needs there are, you can meet them more easily.

Conclusion: Why the pyramid of needs is relevant in B2B business

Maslow’s theory is not based on quantitative data and focuses (too) much on the hierarchical aspect of needs. However, the theory model helps to classify needs as such. It shows that there are some needs that can never be satisfied (growth needs), while others should be satisfied in any case (deficit needs).

If you transfer Maslow’s model to the corporate world, you will benefit from that in every customer contact. By analyzing the current situation of your B2B customers and addressing precisely their needs with your service, your solution or your product, you make your business partners offers they cannot refuse. You provide solutions for issues that your B2B customers really need. That is customer-centric action.


About Me

As a founder and entrepreneur, I personally experience how important customer centricity is for companies.

Incorporate the essential perspective of the customer into your product genesis and marketing processes. That is what puts horsepower on the road and keeps your business moving.


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