When to use emotions to make a sale, and when to use facts

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As a sales rep and (at least occasional) consumer, you might feel that when making purchases, you make rational decisions based on facts like price, quality, timing, and availability.

But according to Harvard Business School professor Gerald Zaltman, author of How Customers Think, emotion plays a big role in how we buy, with 95% (!!!) of our purchasing decisions coming from our subconscious (Freud would be proud). So as a salesperson, keeping this in mind while talking to customers can make the difference between winning or losing a deal.

Zaltman found that rather than using data to inform decision making, customers tend to come to their own conclusions based on intuition, and then use facts to help justify their decision making. This is a completely human reaction, as we tend to think of ourselves as rational human beings while trusting our instincts. 

Whether you lead with a fact-based or emotion-based approach in your sales process should be determined by your product and which type of buyer you’re selling to. Here are some tips:

When to use a fact-based approach

  • When selling simple, easy-to-understand, low-priced products 
  • When selling to an analytical buyer

If you’re selling a straightforward product that your customer understands, you can stick to the facts. This customer is most likely going to be more analytical in their decision making and choose the option they believe has the best mix of price and quality based on their needs or preferences. Oftentimes, these types of sales are more transactional, have a shorter cycle, and don’t require much relationship building.

When to use an emotion-based approach

  • When selling complex products or services
  • When selling solution to complex problems
  • When selling in a highly competitive market 

If you’re selling a complex product that has a lot of detailed features or solves a complex problem, your customer is often weighing different pros and cons for their purchase and how it could affect their business or their personal life. These types of purchasing decisions are typically less cut-and-dried, and there are often many factors at play, some that your customer will tell you about upfront, and some that you (and they) may not even be aware of. It’s your job to uncover your customers' motivations and goals so you can tailor your approach. 

Using an emotion-based sales approach can be your competitive advantage. If you’re up against tough competition, who might beat you “on paper” with a better price or even a better product, you can still come out on top if you understand your customers' motivations or fears.

Did they just get promoted to a new role where they’re in charge of more budget? Maybe they’re concerned with the risks of looking foolish in front of their new boss if they pick the wrong solution. Are they the type of person who likes to feel like they ‘won’ the negotiation? Do they need to show that they negotiated cost savings to their boss? These are all things to be aware of and to use to appeal to their emotions and win the deal. 

However, emotion-based sales pitches can backfire. You don’t want to overdo it. Be careful not to make your customer feel like they’re in a high-pressure sales pitch, or that you’re disingenuously trying to build rapport while appealing to their professional or personal goals.

It’s also important to tailor your approach depending on who you’re talking to. For example, you may try to appeal to the emotional side of the person who will be using your product, and use a more fact-based approach later in the sales process when talking to the final decision maker, like the CFO or whoever is writing the check. 

Next time you’re talking to a new potential customer (hopefully today) take a moment to be mindful of whether a fact-based or emotion-based sales approach would be the best fit. Even getting in the right mindstate can make a difference. 

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