August 26, 2004
Peter was becoming increasingly frustrated by his clients’ rejection of the most rational and well thought-out solutions he was presenting to them. Having recently been promoted to the position of sales manager of his department, he was eager to prove his worth.
Unfortunately, regardless of how well prepared his presentations were and how reasonable and levelheaded his approach to the customer was, he was incapable of closing a deal with the consistency he desired. As he saw it, the irrational manner in which prospective clients behaved was completely incomprehensible.
After several sleepless nights, he got in touch with me and explained his situation. He was certain that his sales technique was textbook perfect and that he was always well prepared when making presentations to prospective clients. However, despite his best efforts, he was not always able to convince customers that his offer was the best and therefore was unable to seal deals with any consistency.
Peter’s frustration made me think of an article about neuroeconomics published recently in Newsweek and I asked him if he had read it or had heard anything about the theory. Of course he hadn’t and didn’t understand how it related to his own problems as a salesman.
I explained that neuroeconomics is an emerging field that combines neuroscience, a branch of science that deals with the way nerves and nervous tissue relate to behavior and learning, with economics. In other words, it is a system used to look at and understand how underlying biological mechanisms lead people to act, or not to act, according to economic theory.
Colin Camerer, George Lowenstein, and Drazen Prelec are three U.S. academics who pioneered research into the way the human brain makes economic decisions and published the first major paper about their findings in early 2003. In a nutshell, they argue that humans are programmed to first make emotional decisions and then rational ones.
Still, Peter didn’t understand how this new information might be of use to him professionally. So I put it to him this way: In addition to basic sales tools and techniques, any salesman needs to add an emotional connection into the sales equation. Unless that emotional connection with the potential client is there, it’s unlikely that he or she will make the sale, particularly when the customer is choosing between several vendors, all offering more or less the same thing at the same price.
The power of emotion in making these kinds of decisions is explained by Camerer, Lowenstein and Prelec this way: “The wiring of the brain at this point in our evolutionary history is such that connections from the emotional systems to the cognitive systems are stronger than connections from the cognitive systems to the emotional systems.” In other words, our minds are better at processing information from the emotional side to the logical side than vice versa.
Peter was anxious to apply neuroeconomics to his sales technique. Naturally, I told him not to overlook the importance of making a personal connection with his client. In a competitive market, making the effort to find common ground with a customer and building a rapport can make all the difference between success and failure.
I suggested that Peter apply what he had learned the next time he met with a client by listening to what the client has to say rather than simply launching into a sales pitch aimed at the client’s rationality. To ensure that emotional bond with a customer, Peter needed to start listening to what that customer is trying to say and really understand what it is going to take to satisfy his or her needs.
Peter’s future success depends on his ability to sell his products and services both emotionally and logically. While better prices and higher value for money might pique the interest of a potential customer, these factors won’t necessarily make or break a sale or gain the customer’s loyalty. That’s why the best salespeople have a talent for first dealing with customers on an emotional level before selling them on the rational advantages of a given service or product.
Because a positive emotional experience will often be the stimulus that leads to a rational decision, the emotional component of a customer’s behavior is much more influential than we often assume.
Karin is a business coach and a specialist in cross-cultural understanding, communication and team-building.