Every Buying Decision is Emotional

The other day I was having coffee with a colleague who is making the transition from being an executive to selling for an executive level consulting company. As we discussed what it would be like to close the first “deal”, I remembered an important lesson that I learned more than 20 years ago, when I was a residential real estate agent in the suburbs of Montreal in Quebec, Canada.

Of course, selling real estate in that area of the world meant being able to speak French, but I also learned a great deal about selling, both through training and experience. One lesson that stands out among the rest is that every buying decision is an emotional decision. Here’s how I learned that lesson.

After several years of successfully selling homes in the town where we lived, I was often given “relocation” assignments. Relocations were considered important from a customer service standpoint, as we were dealing with corporate officers of large companies and we wanted to keep them happy so that they would continue providing us with the business.

When I first started working on relocations, I found the negotiations to be a bit difficult. Although I was receiving good offers on the properties, it was very difficult to get offers accepted. I realized that the key issue was that I did not negotiate directly with the corporate officers. I was required to work through an administrator at my company’s head office, which then dealt with the client. The reality was that the process was not working too well.

After several meetings with the Vice President in charge, I received permission to deal directly with a corporate officer in charge on the next deal. When I received an offer for the next relocation home, I dealt directly with, as I recall, the VP of Human Resources at a major Canadian Corporation.

As I negotiated the sale with the VP, it dawned on me he was not negotiating a business deal with me; he was negotiating as if the home were his own! Once I realized this and returned to my normal approach with a home owner, we wrapped up the sale quickly.

I left the real estate world back in 1990, but the lesson I learned from that experience has stayed with me ever since, and has been very important in my career as an independent consultant, where I have been responsible for selling to make my living.

When you are negotiating a sale with a client, no matter what you are selling or what the level of the person you are negotiating with is, CEO or purchasing agent, they will make an emotional decision to buy, and then justify it rationally. The buyer will do this, even in a business setting, for one reason: they are responsible for the results of their decision. If something goes wrong, they will be to blame. That fact introduces the emotion into the decision!

If you want to be successful selling your product or service, you must help your client make that emotional decision first, and then help them rationalize. How do you do that? I will preface the answer this disclaimer: there have been many excellent books written and programs developed about how to sell. I have read many of them and found lots of good ideas. Still, I have always been well served by some enduring old concepts about selling.

First, you must establish a relationship with your client and then you must qualify them to see if they need what you are selling. If they do not, you might as well stop right there. Once you know what they need, you can present your product or service. Then the real work begins.

Next you must identify all of your client’s objections, the reasons why they don’t want to buy. You put a corral around the objections by continuing to list all objections before answering any particular objection, only then do you ask for the sale. By isolating and answering all of the objections, you begin to overcome the emotion and rationalize the decision.

Lastly, you must ask for the sale. Many people make the mistake of not asking for the sale, going away to give their client time to think about the decision. I will allow that you might have to make a follow up visit to get an answer, but if you do not ask for the sale most often the client will not volunteer. You may have to ask more than once, but persistence pays off!

Don’t fear dealing with emotion, because every buying decision is an emotional decision!

2 thoughts on “Every Buying Decision is Emotional

  1. A good article. Can I just add something which many overlook, however – how your terms of business can be used as a sales tool and not just as a mechanism for dispute resolution?

    A well drafted contract / terms and conditions should set out very clearly the responsibilities of both parties, and look at the PRACTICAL as well as the legal issues which may arise. In doing so, it should achieve three things which will help you in the sales process – and I will use a machinery repair contract as an example:

    Firstly, it will act to prevent disputes arising by avoiding the misunderstandings which usually create them. This may be enough to disqualify some enquirers – for example, if you only offer a service after 5pm for clients within a 25 mile radius of your base, there is no point in spending a long time persuading the client how fantastic a service you provide if they are 30 miles away and want all their servicing done in the evenings.

    Secondly, if it contains reasonable provisions and is written in user-friendly terminology it will demonstrate your desire to have a successful and long-term relationship with them – engendering trust and building that all important rapport. For example, by acknowledging that things don’t always go according to plan and explaining how you will deal with that situation, you can both highlight your commitment to customer service and manage expectations at the same time. An appropriate clause for our machine repairer might therefore be: ‘If the necessary spare parts are not in stock, we will use all commercially reasonable endeavours to have them delivered and installed within 24 hours’.

    Thirdly, it can reinforce the emotional pull by reinforcing the issues of importance to the client. For example, if the machinery being maintained is in sensitive areas (eg a laboratory) the client may be concerned about confidentiality. So, if you can, make a positive (but not onerous) statement such as: ‘We warrant that all our repair operatives have signed a contract of employment requiring them to respect the confidentiality of our clients’ information’. This will remind the client of their concern, reassure them, and perhaps set you apart from your competitors!

    Many contracts / terms and conditions are full to the brim of the type of clauses used to defend your business in the event of a complaint, and are regarded as a ‘weapon’ to be removed from the filing cabinet only in the event of such a situation arising. I would strongly argue that by then, the client is lost – not just for this deal, but for all future ones – and that as bad news travels fast, other (potential) clients may not be far behind.

    In contrast, I always advise my clients to see their legal documentation as a part of their sales pitch – and to have it drafted accordingly.

  2. Kevin R Callahan


    An excellent post. In addition to all the great ideas that you have written above, using the contract as part of your sales pitch has a practical side as well. It is much easier to get the client to sign the contract if you have it there in front of you both!


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