Emotion is the driving force in today's buying process. Customers seek objective analysis as a counterbalance to their emotions. This characteristic of buying is most prevalent in high-stakes, complex sales. Sales professionals must tune in to these feelings because the customer's emotions change throughout the process.
Emotions are unique to each stakeholder. Emotions may run steady or peak at different stages of the buyer's journey for different individuals. In fact, emotions unrelated to the "buy/don't buy" decision can enter the picture. Research from Harvard and The University of California has found that emotions carry over from one situation to the next. Researchers call these "incidental" emotions.
A common example is a person taking their frustrations out on an uninvolved 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: A poor decision has serious implications for the individuals, the team and the business. People fear they will lose credibility and possibly their job if the solution fails. 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.
- 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 motivation is what encourages the buyer to explore solutions.
To identify which of these two drivers are in play, sales professionals must identify the buying factors. Buying factors are the set of facts, influences and circumstances that all contribute to the decision to buy or not buy. These factors are dynamic and interrelated. Facts and circumstances continue to evolve and change as the customer progresses through the buying journey. Sales professionals must understand the key factors. The three most important buying factors are:
- The case 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 the customer achieve their strategic 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 vs. risk. A common trap is to assume that the customer has already sold themselves internally on the case for change. Fear of change is ever-present. In fact, 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.
- The decision process: Timelines and competing priorities pull stakeholders into 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 have a strong influence on the decision makers.
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. Some common examples are:
- Regret aversion: Regret aversion is the expectation of regret. That is, the customer is anticipating regret, not actually experiencing regret. This anticipation 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. A study in Psychological Science found that people's choices are driven by a fear of regret, even though they are less susceptible to regret than they imagine.
- Sunk cost fallacy: The customer is seeking 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. The customer's attention is divided. The buying process is only one of their responsibilities. Sales professionals should limit the number of choices they ask the customer to make. The sales professional's language, written communication and visuals should be simplified for the same 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 in order to move the customer forward. They need to leverage the buying factors.
In business, we're reluctant to acknowledge the role emotions play in our decisions. We prefer to see ourselves as entirely rational beings. We want our choices to be the result of analysis unencumbered by our leanings. Rather than ignore the emotional factors, sales professionals can empower themselves by exploring the emotions in play on the customer's side of the table.
To do so, they must first understand if a fear of loss or a motivation for gain is driving the business decision. Second, they need to uncover how the three primary buying factors influence the buyer's journey. Finally, sales professionals need to explore the cognitive biases at work. As Benjamin Franklin famously wrote, "If you would persuade, appeal to interest and not to reason."
To learn more about the importance of a customer-centric buying process that helps address your customer's emotions, download Richardson,s white paper, "Pursuing Opportunities with an Intentional Strategy."