December 7, 2016: A salesperson who tries to use reasoned argument on a sales pitch will close fewer deals than a seller who appeals to the emotions. It’s a shocking idea, but one that has emerged from decades of neuroscientific research, tested out in real-life sales situations by the sales consultancy Corporate Visions.
Customers tend to make decisions about change with a primitive part of their brain that operates on emotions, not reason, scientists have found. Reasoned argument is not particularly effective in appealing to their buying instincts.
Tim Riesterer, the chief strategy officer of Corporate Visions, says that the insight has a lot to teach salespeople, particularly when approaching new customers. For years salespeople who prided themselves on their professionalism have been trying to appeal to the prospect’s intellect, showing them the reasons why their product is a sensible choice and meets the customer’s stated needs.
Instead they would be better off setting out to activate their prospect’s emotional responses: specifically, their fear of losing money or missing out, said Riesterer. It is that fear which will galvanise them to risk making a change.
Telling a story that the customer identifies with; using colourful visuals; emphasising key contrasts such as between losing money and making money, being prepared for the future and being unprepared: these are powerful techniques for appealing to the customer’s emotions.
This principle applies across all areas of sales, even to the way we post on social media.
Applying science to sales
In a webinar entitled Good Intentions, Wrong Instincts, Riesterer shared the results of Corporate Visions’ latest findings in collaboration with Stanford University’s graduate research centre.
Their experiments apply well-established neuroscience and behavioural principles to cutting edge research, using a weighted sample of hundreds of senior sales executives.
A successful salesperson does four things to win new business, said Riesterer. Everybody tends to cling to their existing preferences, so the salesperson must start by disrupting the customer’s belief that staying with the status quo is a safe option. They do that by painting a picture of unconsidered needs, challenges facing their business.
By explaining issues that they have seen others struggling with, the salesperson can start to introduce the idea that their products and services can help.
Second, the salesperson disrupts the idea that the status quo is essentially free. Their message is that not changing could cost a lot of money. This plays on the powerful emotions aroused by loss aversion. Research shows customers are twice as likely to make risky decisions if they are told that otherwise they will lose money.
Third, the salesman must explain how failing to act is exposing the customer to danger, and contrast that with how choosing change will lead to safety. The key principle here is the contrast effect, and the salesperson must be careful to show both sides – the risky now, and the safer future – to benefit from it fully.
Contrast is a visual concept, and very simple, concrete visuals with bright contrasting colours will help.
Lastly, the salesperson should tell a heroic story for the client’s emotions to engage with. This might be how another similar business was facing big challenges, but by working with the seller’s company managed to overcome them and find success.
Riesterer’s message was a reinforcement of his presentation at the APS annual conference in June, supplemented with new research carried out in the last six months.
In his next webinar, he promised to explain Corporate Visions’ latest study – on how to retain the business of existing customers. In a sneak peek, he revealed that the answer was to use the same principle of appealing to the emotions, but to argue the opposite and convince the customer that it was risky to change.
The Association of Professional Sales provides development, standards and leadership to the profession.