Why Emotions Still Rule When It Comes to Customer Decision-Making

Although we’d all like to think of ourselves as rational decision-makers, the stone-cold truth is that the emotional part of our brains have been around a lot longer and tend to muscle out our newer, less-seasoned, but way-more-logical frontal lobes (just look at politics right now).


At KAMCon 2018, Ed Powers, VP of client success at InteliSecure, led the audience on a fascinating trip into the makeup of our brains and why we do the things we do. The biggest takeaway is this: if you understand that emotions still largely drive decisions, then you can apply this knowledge to your customers when it comes to selling value.


The science behind decision-making

Some scientists think the rational part of our brain has only been around for about 30,000 years. Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio says that humans are “feeling machines that think.”


So…what does this all mean?


It means that decisions are made in the emotional part of the brain and emerge from our subconscious. You don’t have to have a rational mind to make decisions (think of your cat: it makes decisions all day long). The conscious mind may not be paying attention at all and doing something else entirely, but you can be sure the subconscious mind is having a heyday making decisions.To consciously and rationally make a decision, we have to stop, slow down, and observe. It’s less efficient: it takes more time and is much harder.


But it explains why framing is such a powerful concept in communication. Consider this experiment: If the same medical procedure is explained to people in terms of 98% survival (that feels great!) or 2% mortality (that feels horrible), more people will choose the procedure in terms of survival. This has been replicated many times in many different domains. What it boils down to is that language matters — not because it’s logical, but because it’s emotional.


Value-selling to the emotional brain

As an account manager, it’s your job to alter outcomes and help your customers be more successful. You may still think that selling in terms of ROI is the best approach for everyone, but what’s emotional about ROI, or a list of numbers for that matter? For some people, not very much.


To get to the heart of what really matters to each customer and what they’re likely to base their decisions on, you need to understand what “value” means to them, which means you need to take a walk around in their emotional brains.


Here are six ways the brain defines and perceives value:


  • Context. Here’s a classic example: It’s harder to sell a cup of hot coffee on a hot day than a cold day. Or in today’s world: a person buying data protection is probably going to do it because they’ve been breached or it’s been mandated, not because it’s particularly awesome to buy data protection. Find out: what is the context of the buying decision and the emotions it could elicit?
  • Reward. Everyone is seeking the pleasure of a reward and trying to avoid the pain of punishment, but rewards can be different things to different people. If your customer went with the competitor’s product because it made him feel cool, then perhaps “cool” — a sense of belonging to the right crowd — is his ultimate reward. Find out: what is the emotional reward the buyer is seeking when making a decision?
  • Cost. Monetary cost and effort (another kind of cost) are relative too. If it looks like a customer is getting a deal, they’ll emotionally take the deal, even if on paper the price is the same or higher. Effort is a kind of cost too, which is why simplicity and ease matter so much to people. Find out: what’s the real cost to the buyer — in money or effort — if they decide on your product?
  • Time. Humans are not very good at delaying gratification. If a customer has paid for something upfront, they want to see the fruits of it immediately. But this can be a problem if there is a several-month deployment ahead of them before they can fully utilize a product. Find out: in what timeframe does the buyer expect to see results and are they looking for instant gratification?
  • Risk. Our emotional systems distort risk: we overestimate the probability of small gains and underestimate the probability of large gains. What does this translate to? People are fearful of risk and loss. So telling your customers that you’re there to help them stop losing something (whatever it may be) is motivating. Find out: what are the risks fueling the buyer’s decision?
  • Personal preference. When all else is roughly equal — price, context, reward, cost, time, and risk — personal preference usually wins the day. And it’s often based on warm, fuzzy feelings: who a customer already knows, likes, or trusts from past experience. Find out: what are the personal preferences the buyer could fall back on?


It’s all about getting closer to your customers

Understanding the way your customers think and feel goes way beyond just capitalizing on an upsell opportunity. One of the most important things you can do as an account manager is to make sure your strategy, interactions, and language are aligned to who the customer really is to deliver the best outcomes. Their experience with you then shapes their decision-making capabilities, helping them learn, discern, and be able to make real-life comparisons that enable future rational decisions.


But that doesn’t mean you should stop appealing to emotions. For now, emotion still wins over logic. Context is key — sell to their “why.” And reducing time and effort always carries weight with people.

CEO at Kapta
Alex Raymond is the CEO of Kapta.