What Wins the B2B Complex Sale? Logic or Emotion?

The saying “People buy on emotion and justify with logic” has always made sense to me.

However, in B2B sales, salespeople often lead a prospect discussion with facts and figures. In my experience, this focus leads to analysis paralysis.

When consulting, especially in financial services where I have considerable experience, I find salespeople jump into their “logical” mindset right away.

I pull them back and ask:

What’s your client trying to fix, accomplish or avoid?
What issues is he dealing with?
Do you know his vision for a solution?
What results will your solution bring?
What’s your client’s personal win, and the wins for others on the decision-making team?

People don’t buy a product or service per se; they buy what it does for them. Most salespeople cannot imagine senior executives in B2B sales situations making decisions on emotion.  Or they don’t want to admit to it. After all, emotional decisions are irrational or irresponsible.

In my research for this post, I discovered a fascinating Harvard Business Review: When to Sell Facts and Figures, and When to Appeal to Emotions.

In recent years, as the article explains, psychologists and behavioral economists have shown that our emotional decisions are neither irrational nor irresponsible. In fact, they now understand “our unconscious decisions follow a logic of their own.”

It goes on to say; these decisions are based on “deeply empirical mental processing system that is capable of effortlessly processing millions of bits of data without getting overwhelmed.”

“Our conscious mind, on the other hand, has a strict bottleneck, because it can only process three or four new pieces of information at a time due to the limitations of our working memory.”

Professor Gerald Zaltman of the Harvard Business School contends that 95 percent of our purchase decisions take place unconsciously. So why can’t we uncover a decision history filled with examples of emotional decisions? Zaltman explains that it is “because our conscious mind will always make up reasons to justify our unconscious decisions.”

Better to Sell on Logic or Emotion?

Turns out Professor Zaltman recommends we use logic to sell for simple sales and emotion for complex sales.  Simple enough?  Not quite.

To influence how a prospect feels about our product, we need to create an experience that evokes the desired emotion. Share a vivid client story. The brain activates and lights up showing red the region that processes sights, sounds, tastes, and movement.

Now, compare this emotional pitch to one where a salesperson delivers a data dump in a 65-slide Powerpoint presentation. Watch those eyes glaze over and those heads droop.

So, tell a story. Salespeople are by nature decent storytellers. Use the skill to close more complex sales. That way your prospect can visualize what his or her success will look like, will feel like.

Here’s a great example:

Bob, a sales rep with a wine distributor, calls on retail outlets, and today he is visiting a new prospect in his region. A retail chain with 75 locations throughout the Northeast, the skeptical prospect meets with dozens of sales reps daily.

During the initial meeting, Bob lays out his firm’s strengths, making a special point of its world-class customer service. Customer service is tough to prove as a real differentiator. Buyers have heard it all before.  Most buyers hate change, nor will they change unless a compelling reason exists.

Stories well-told direct prospects to answer the question, “Why Change?”

Perfect timing for Bob’s story.

Before I share his response, let’s look at a process for telling a good story. Kevin Avery from Sales Benchmark Index gives us a guide to good storytelling, which you should naturally incorporate into your sales process. Kevin says, “A well-told, captivating story can affect listeners on multiple levels. It’s no accident that storytelling is a craft that has stood the test of time.”  Here, he shares his secrets.

Six Benefits of Exceptional Storytelling in Sales 

  1. Capture the attention of the audience (or customer)
  2. Motivate individuals and groups to take action
  3. Build trust and rapport
  4. Make data and facts sing, ensuring they are applicable, interesting, and relevant
  5. Infuse information with “stickiness” to improve retention. (“slow and steady wins the race.”)
  6. Transform beliefs and change minds

Imagine how much more effective your pitch could be by delivering on these six benefits.

Stimulate the Brain’s Emotional Response

Science tells us when we listen to standard presentations or boring lectures, the Broca’s area of the brain is stimulated and processes language and logic.

If someone tells us a story with vivid meaning and visual cues, the brain activates both right and left sides, and we’re swept way with a potentially satisfying emotional experience.

As John Hopkins Medicine explains, the Broca’s area is not simply a center for speech production but rather a critical area for integrating and coordinating information across brain regions.

Take a moment and study the chart above.

In fact, cut it out, fold it up, and keep it in your notebook for ready reference.

For a clearer rendering of this chart, click here.


Bob’s Sales Winning Story

Using what we learned from Sales Benchmark Index’s storytelling guide, Bob answers the prospect’s question this way:

Bob: “Last year our customer, ABC, placed an order for three new locations in a state where we hadn’t shipped before. An important and big orderpart of its gala event and grand opening for new stores.

ABC was excited about its expansion; were excited about the increase in business. As our people began to fulfill the order, they suddenly realized state regulations prohibited us from shipping directly to some of ABC’s locations. And no time for an alternative plan.

At this point, switching state distributors wasn’t an option. Our local contact in the states we needed, said it could not deliver the products on time for the grand opening either. What a mess.  

Our excitement gave way to desperation.  We may have just lost a huge customer. We called the president of our wholesale distributor. He was sorry, too, but couldn’t ship on time.

I turned to my boss, our president, and without hesitation, he said, ‘We’ll deliver the shipment to ABC to ensure its business isn’t affected.’  Only problem. It’s 3 p.m. ABC’s store locations are more than 700 miles away spread out over two states.

My boss suggested he personally make the delivery. It sounds crazy, but we knew there was no way he’d risk our customer losing business because of our problem.

We loaded up the truck, and he and I trekked the 700+ miles to all ABC’s locations. Unbelievable. What’s more, we made two additional trips to ABC over the next three weeks.

One of our core valuesdo whatever it takes to make our customer happy.

And it starts at the top of our company.”

Moral of the Story

Bob made the sale.

More important, he made a customer for life because he took the time to bring the intangible concept of customer service to life with a vivid story filled with a cliff-hanger ending.

What’s your story?

See you on the upside,


For more information, go to www.pleinairestrategies.com
Or call William L. MacDonald in San Diego at PleinAire Strategies LLC at 760.340.4277 or 213.598.4700


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