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Updated Nov 06, 2023

Understanding Customer Emotions and Addressing Them in Your Sales Strategy

Learn how to tap into the emotions that drive customers' buying decisions.

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Sean Peek, Senior Analyst & Expert on Business Ownership
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Emotion is the driving force in today’s buying process, and sparking the right emotions can attract new leads to your business. Customers tend to make choices based on their feelings toward a product or brand. Sales professionals must pay attention to customer mood shifts because their emotions can change throughout the purchasing process. 

How do you identify customer emotions?

To identify customer emotions, understand who your customers are. Knowing your customers’ personas provides you with perspective and makes it clear what their pain points, needs and wants are. Pain points are moments when the customer’s purchasing journey is not running smoothly. Ameliorating these moments and improving customer experience can positively impact their feelings toward your product or service, and your brand on the whole.

A customer’s emotions are also fueled by their motivators, which vary from person to person. When someone’s motivators aren’t satisfied, they can feel unhappy. Four motivators for a customer’s happiness are: function, benefit, emotional connection and purpose. These can apply to both products and your business’s customer service.

Some characteristics that are often used to identify customer personas include digital affinity, preferred methods of communication, channel switches and churn rates. Knowing all of this information helps identify customer emotions, their purchasing journey, and how to take action to develop products and services that feed their positive emotions toward your brand. When trying to determine why customers might be unhappy or experience pain points, be sure you ask: “What motivators are we not satisfying?” and “How do motivators differ among customer personas?”

How do customer emotions affect sales?

Sales are affected by customer emotions because feelings drive our decision-making processes. Though many people may believe that such choices are purely logical, there is plenty of psychological research that shows the contrary. A positive emotional experience with your company can create loyal return customers who will help to drive new business your way, while a negative emotional experience can do the opposite. One area to pay particular attention to is customer service pitfalls, as a negative experience can damage your entire brand. Naturally, making sure that customers return time and again has a positive impact on your sales. Positive word of mouth generated by happy customers also drives up sales. A customer is far more likely to recommend your product to their loved ones if they’ve had a positive emotional experience with your brand or product.

Marketers use positive experiences to encourage people to buy your product. This can be done by creating images and videos that stir up positive emotions. These campaigns try to make customers feel relaxed, excited, happy or wanted. By connecting your brand with such positive emotions, customers will be drawn to your company and thus more inclined to buy your product. Campaigns can also help provide a personality for your brand, which in turn makes customers feel emotionally connected to it. That connection can be fostered through special promotions – like discounts and loyalty programs – which will also positively impact your patron’s emotions, your sales and help to boost your customer retention.

Bottom LineBottom line
Every decision an individual makes is influenced by emotion, including what we buy. How we feel when we make a purchase determines whether or not we'll make the same choice again. By ensuring customers have positive emotional experiences with your brand, sales can improve.

How can you use customer emotions in your sales strategy?

Emotions are unique to each stakeholder. Feelings may run steady or peak at various stages of the buyer’s journey for different individuals. In fact, emotions unrelated to the buy or don’t buy decision can enter the picture, too.

A common example of this is someone taking their frustrations out on a neutral party. This problem is even further complicated by the fact that the carryover of incidental emotions typically occurs without awareness. Sales professionals must always remember that emotions influence business decisions. Generally, these emotions fall into two categories: fear of loss or motivation for gain.

Spark a fear of loss

A poor decision has serious implications for the individuals, the team and your business. People fear they will lose credibility and possibly their job if a solution fails. After all, relationships and money are at stake. These factors create a burden for the decision- makers. In many cases, these emotions are strong enough to overpower the most compelling evidence for a buy decision.

In e-commerce, for instance, regret and the fear of losing out drive sales. When shoppers believe they are in competition with other buyers or if their desired product has limited availability, they are more likely to make a purchase. One example is Booking.com, which sends the following notifications when a customer selects a hotel:

  • The most recent booking
  • The number of other people viewing the hotel

These messages let the customers know about the hotel’s popularity and imply that they should make the booking before other customers do. They add to this urgency by notifying customers of dwindling availability and sidebar ads that promote their recently viewed hotels. Hotels.com uses a similar method, as the company notifies users of other customers who looked at the same hotel in the last hour and how many times it’s been booked in the previous 24 hours.

Provide motivation for gain 

A successful solution offers recognition and financial gain. The buyer advances on their competition and gains the freedom to pursue other business goals. Just as a fear of loss can deter momentum, the motivation for gain pulls a customer through the buying process. This resolve is what encourages the buyer to explore solutions. Some of the motivators for gain are: enhancing status, making a dream come true, making amends, being defiant, feeling good or safe, forgetting their problems, making a statement and rewarding themselves. Working to provide these motivators will satisfy your customer because it fulfills the need that fueled their motivation.

Here are some examples of a purchase motivated by gain:

  • Buying business clothes for a job interview
  • Buying designer sunglasses and eating in fancy restaurants to improve their status
  • Buying an expensive sketchbook and some paint to become an artist
  • Buying chocolate because it makes a person feel better after a breakup
  • Buying a high-tech security system for a home to feel safe
FYIDid you know
Customer emotions that affect their purchasing habits are generally classified into two categories: fear of loss or motivation for gain.

How to identify buying factors

Sales professionals must identify buying factors, such as the set of facts, influences and circumstances that contribute to the decision to buy or walk away. Such motivations are dynamic and interrelated. Facts and circumstances continue to evolve as the customer progresses through the buying journey. Sales professionals must understand three key buying factors:

  • Reason for change: Before a customer can confidently buy, they need to ensure that they have a strong business case to support that decision. The customer’s case for change is not complete until they have evaluated all of their options and assessed value versus risk. Any big investment must help customers achieve their strategic business goals and objectives. The case for change revolves around a targeted issue – a problem or opportunity that is severe enough to warrant a change. The sales professional must help the customer compare their options, identify the best solution and evaluate value against risk. A common trap is to assume that the customer has already sold themselves internally on the reason for change. Fear of change is ever-present; the closer the customer gets to the purchase, the more their fear rises.
  • Stakeholder dynamics: Buyers must get their own stakeholders on board. Questions the customer considers include: Who on my team can help me take this forward? Who do I need to align on my team? Who might be against this? Sales professionals need to identify those who will champion change and the power structure in which they operate. They must understand the differing needs among stakeholders and how to align each person.
  • Decision process: Timelines and competing priorities pull stakeholders in different directions. Projects stall because new stakeholders emerge, requirements change and projects get reprioritized. Effective sales professionals manage this process. At the same time, a CFO and a procurement specialist will strongly influence the decision makers.

Explore the cognitive biases

The case for change, stakeholder dynamics and the decision process are all external. They can be seen by watching how a group of buyers interact with each other and with the sales professional. However, these factors are often governed by unseen biases. Here are some common examples:

  • Regret aversion: Regret aversion is the expectation of regret. That is, the customer is anticipating regret, not actually experiencing regret. This expectation becomes another piece of information used to make the decision. In this respect, regret aversion might have equal weight to other information like ROI or price. 
  • Sunk cost fallacy: The customer seeks a solution because something in their business needs to change. However, the old way of doing things represents costs already incurred or sunk costs. The sunk cost fallacy is the urge to stay the course simply because the money has been spent, and changing plans leaves the results of those investments unrealized. Sales professionals must be prepared to help customers overcome this powerful bias.
  • Choice overload: Simplicity sells. If a customer’s attention is divided, the sales professional should limit the number of choices for the customer. The sales professional’s language, written communication and visuals should be simplified for this reason.
  • Status quo bias: After enough time, everyone becomes comfortable with current conditions. Upending the status quo is uncomfortable and incites anxiety. The status quo is one of the most immovable forces working against sales professionals. When sales professionals understand the power of the status quo, they can prepare to leverage every asset and capability they must to move the customer forward. 
TipBottom line
Purchasing decisions are affected by buying factors and biases, which are all important to understand.

In business, we’re reluctant to acknowledge the role emotions play in our purchasing decisions. We prefer to see ourselves as entirely rational beings. We want our choices to result from analysis unencumbered by our leanings. Rather than ignore the emotional factors, sales professionals can empower themselves by exploring the emotions at play on the customer’s side of the table.

To do so, they must first understand if fear of loss or motivation for gain drives the business decision. Second, they must uncover how the three primary buying factors influence the buyer’s journey. Finally, sales professionals need to explore cognitive biases at work. As Benjamin Franklin famously wrote, “If you would persuade, appeal to interest and not to reason.”

Additional reporting by Andrea Grodnizky.

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Sean Peek, Senior Analyst & Expert on Business Ownership
Sean Peek co-founded and self-funded a small business that's grown to include more than a dozen dedicated team members. Over the years, he's become adept at navigating the intricacies of bootstrapping a new business, overseeing day-to-day operations, utilizing process automation to increase efficiencies and cut costs, and leading a small workforce. This journey has afforded him a profound understanding of the B2B landscape and the critical challenges business owners face as they start and grow their enterprises today. In addition to running his own business, Peek shares his firsthand experiences and vast knowledge to support fellow entrepreneurs, offering guidance on everything from business software to marketing strategies to HR management. In fact, his expertise has been featured in Entrepreneur, Inc. and Forbes and with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
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