The Role of Emotion in Buying Decisions

Photo by Natalie Pedigo on Unsplash.

Are you emotional or logical? Left brained or right brained? Task or relational? The answer for most of us is, of course, both. 

However, what many sellers don’t think about is that when it comes to decision-making, and particularly buying decisions, almost all people make an emotional decision and then justify it with logical reasons. They use intellectual alibis to support the emotional decision they made. According to an article by Psychology Today, “Most people believe that the choices they make result from a rational analysis of available alternatives. In reality, however, emotions greatly influence and, in many cases, even determine our decisions.”

This reality is generally accepted in the world of B2C sales, but the role of emotions in decision-making also holds true for B2B selling. People typically don’t appreciate or understand the role that emotion plays in decision-making for B2B sales; although those buyers are making large purchases for a business, personal emotions still hold a great amount of influence. 

How can we use this knowledge to help understand our customers and help influence their decision-making process? 

If you prefer to listen to a conversation about this topic on the go, feel free to check out SALES with ASLAN podcast episode 114:


Science Says: No Emotion, No Decision

There is a great deal of research to support the fact that emotion plays the principal role when it comes to making a decision. 

The interesting thing is that prior to 1978, almost no research was done on the impact of emotions on decision-making. A graph from Harvard faculty research shows the number of papers published on the subject beginning to show up in the 1980s, and then increasing exponentially from the mid 90s on:

This tells us that people became increasingly more interested in the effects of emotion on decision making. It became worth investigating and understanding. 

To cite a specific example, Antonio Damasio, Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Southern California, has long studied the role of emotion in the decision making process. As part of his research, Damasio studied individuals that suffered brain damage in the part of the brain where emotions are generated. While these people were able to function normally otherwise, they could not feel emotion. They had one other trait in common: their inability to make decisions. They could process information and describe their thoughts logically, but could not make even the simplest of decisions. They had no sense of how they felt about their options, and therefore could not arrive at an ultimate conclusion. 

This research made it clear how critical emotion is in arriving at a final decision. The truth is, people make emotional choices and then support that decision with logical reasoning.


What is “Emotion?”

What do we really mean by the term “emotion?” 

There was an old school sales technique called “FUD” (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt), that sales or marketing teams used to capitalize on those particular emotions and manipulate customers into making a decision. That’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re not talking about tricks or tactics, we’re talking about understanding how emotions help people (aka our customers) make decisions. 

Our role as sales reps is to help our customers make the best decision for themselves. Understanding the role of emotion will help us in fulfilling that role.


Logic + Emotion = Action

Of course you have to explain what your product or solution does, how it functions, show ROI, etc. We’re not saying that should all be ignored. You have to connect to the formal decision drivers as well – that’s a requirement. But beyond the features and benefits and logical explanations lies the tiebreaker. What will cause the customer to decide to partner with you over the rest of the competition?

We call this phenomenon the Shift Principle. The idea is this: when you’re asking someone (your customer) to make a shift in beliefs or a change in behavior, they have to emotionally experience the payoff. 

People need to feel the benefit of having something, or the pain of not having it, in order for a shift in behavior to occur. The payoff can be positive or negative, it can be pain, problem, or benefit. What matters is that people emotionally connect to the situation and the solution. You want to move them from the logical side of the brain to the emotional side… because that’s where people make decisions. That’s where a shift in beliefs and behavior can occur. 

A good example of this is saving for retirement. Almost 100% of people believe that it is a good idea to save money for retirement. However, 56% of Americans have less than $10,000 saved in their retirement funds. They haven’t emotionally experienced what it’s like to be working in your 70s or 80s, so they don’t feel the urgency to make a change and start saving. 

And keep this in mind: the bigger the shift, the more you’ll need to rely on emotion. It’s like asking someone to change clothes versus changing religions. You’ll need a lot more emotion to pull it off. Logic alone won’t do the trick. 

Logic + Emotion = Action. 


2 Strategies for Connecting to Your Customer’s Emotion

Customers have to emotionally experience the benefit of your solution, the benefit of making that decision, in order for you to have real influence. So when it comes to your solution, how do we accomplish this? How do you get your customer to emotionally experience the payoff

There are two simple but powerful ways to help customers emotionally experience the benefit:

  • Success Stories
  • Word Pictures


Success Stories

People like stories, and stories evoke emotion. 

But stories need certain elements to be effective. They should have structure. To be more specific, stories should have a main character (the hero), the plot, the conflict, and the resolution. 

When telling stories to help their customers emotionally experience the payoff, sales reps often rely on success stories from other clients they’ve worked with. This is a great way to make your customer the hero of the story. Make it relevant to them. You want them to connect to the main character, to see themselves in those shoes, and feel the payoff at the end. 

To make sure the story resonates with your prospect and has a real impact, you might tell a story about other companies in their industry, or their competition, or even companies in the same region – just make sure that there is indeed a connection. 

Although you probably won’t want to reveal the name of the client you’re referring to, be sure to give details. Talk about when, where, why, and use first names – because when you tell generic stories, it often comes across as fabricated. So be sure to tell true stories

The truth is, people need help making changes. If your motive is pure, as a sales rep, your recommendation to your customer is in their best interest. The change you are asking them to make is in their best interest. Your solution is good for their business. They just might need help making that shift. 

The goal is to connect to emotion, because that ultimately drives the decision. 


Word Pictures

Word Pictures are basically a fancy term for analogies. Word Pictures comes in handy especially when you’re selling complex solutions. When your customer doesn’t quite understand a complicated solution, word pictures can help simplify and clarify your message. 

They (whoever “they” is) do say that a picture is worth a thousand words. A mental image can be a powerful tool to help explain your solution. It evokes more emotion than a bunch of numbers and statistics. 

Tom Stanfill, CEO of ASLAN, often refers to this example when teaching the concept of Word Pictures:

“I was talking to a participant in one of my workshops when he pulled out a vapor cigarette. To strike up a conversation, I said, ‘So what’s up with vaping? Is it the same as smoking a cig?’ (As if I just smoked a pack of cigarettes with a few European hipsters wearing skinny jeans).

He explained it to me instantly and brilliantly: “You ever tried turkey bacon?”

“Yeah, sure,” I answered.

He said, “Not as good right?”

I agreed. “Yeah it’s kind of like bacon, but I would much rather have the real thing.”

He just nodded.

Two key things happened that drew me in: I was the center of the story, and the guy I was talking with had effectively used a Word Picture.”

The idea is to capture your customer’s attention with a simple analogy that takes a complicated idea and distills it down into something they understand or relate to. Come up with Word Pictures for your products/ services to help them come to life for your customer. 


Summing It Up

Success stories and word pictures are two great tools for sales reps to help their customers emotionally connect to their solution. The bottom line is, when it comes to making a decision, large or small, people will not change their beliefs or behavior if they don’t emotionally experience the payoff. 

Sales reps, your goal is to understand the role of emotion in decision-making and help your customers emotionally connect to your recommendation. That is how you will truly have influence. 


What Next?

Do you and your sales team need help learning more strategies to convert the unreceptive and disinterested customer? We’ve designed a program for the toughest challenges in sales.

If you’re interested in reading more, check out unReceptive: A Better Way to Sell, Lead, and Influence by ASLAN CEO Tom Stanfill.  The book ships from Amazon on Nov 9. Secure your copy today!

As President of ASLAN, Marc is responsible for all day-to-day operations including our sales and marketing efforts and growing our success in helping our clients be Other-Centered®.


  1. Cathy Schmid on October 18, 2021 at 3:09 pm

    Many buying decisions are based on emotions, and sales teams that understand this will have a much easier time making sales. Helping prospects “feel” the benefits of a new solution can help drive the process forward. It’s smart to have both practical criteria and emotional appeals in your sales approach.

    • Marc Lamson on October 19, 2021 at 5:02 am

      Agree with you Cathy. Thanks for the note..

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