Welcome to "The Pipeline" — a new weekly column from HubSpot, featuring actionable advice and insight from real sales leaders.
In a B2B Sales role, you'll hear variations of "People buy based on emotion and then use logic to rationalize the decision" hundreds of times or more across your career — and for good reason. This is one of those rare adages that continues to ring true in modern sales.
Daniel Ariely’s book Predictably Irrational takes a deep dive into the way and extent to which human emotions play a role in decision-making — often resulting in irrational decisions. For example, he calls out that emotions can impact a buyer’s perception of value and their willingness to take risks.
In B2B sales, closing a deal requires that your buyer(s) recognize the value your product or service delivers. It typically also means you face various stakeholders who need to be willing to take a risk because they will be held accountable for the company’s investment — bringing in fears associated with their livelihood and ensuring you'll have to sell through strong professional and personal emotions.
The Importance of Uncovering and Understanding Emotion
Before you can figure out how to make a buyer’s emotions work for you, you have to uncover and understand those emotions. In my observation over the years of selling and teaching B2B sales professionals, this often ends up a missed opportunity because people just don’t have an approach for "getting to the emotions" that ultimately drive a buyer’s decision.
Navigating past the surface-level emotion with a client is not something you wing. It’s deceptively easy to feel like you're in tune with a buyer's emotions when you start to feel the rapport building — that’s not enough, though. You have to be deliberate about getting to the level of emotion that drives buying decisions.
Being deliberate means knowing the steps you need to take and consistently taking them. Through observation, trial, error, and knowledge of human psychology, I’ve put together a simple approach to help you focus on getting past the surface and gaining exposure to the true emotion and motivations at play for your buyer. The approach consists of four steps that will help emotions seep into your sales conversations.
These steps I’ll share aren’t just for the first few sales calls. Learn them, practice them, and then be deliberate about using them every single time you have a meaningful interaction with your buyers. If you can impact or persuade them at an emotional level across all your interactions, you will not only win the deal you are working on, you will create a customer for life.
4 Steps to Getting Emotions to Seep into Sales Conversations
1. Ask High-Impact Questions.
In Sales 101, you learn to ask open-ended questions when doing discovery with buyers. Not all open-ended questions are created equal, though. There are average open-ended questions that will get you important facts, data, or other information. You need those, and they are table stakes.
You need to ask High-Impact questions if you want to get to "Emotion-land". High-Impact questions are wide open and the answers are not subjective. These questions give a buyer permission to share their beliefs, challenges, goals, and many other things that relate to their emotions. These questions start with phrases like:
- “Help me understand how you….”
- “What are your thoughts about…”
- “How does that impact your team?”
- “What would happen if you…”
As you would expect, the answers you get to these types of questions can be much more subjective — and emotions will bubble up because these questions are not just about the buyer’s business, they are about the buyer’s world within that business. It makes them think at a more personal level. That is the level where emotions live.
One of the most powerful things you can do to gain influence is to listen intently to someone when they speak. People love to talk about themselves. We know that — but do you know what they love even more than that? Truly feeling heard.
When was the last time you felt like someone was 100% focused on what you had to say? There are so many distractions in our lives nowadays that it has become rare for people to confidently say they were heard.
So, what happens when someone feels heard? They feel like sharing more. They feel safe, and they feel like they matter. That’s a lot of feelings, right there — and they seeped into the interaction because someone felt heard and understood. There are many ways to show that you are listening, so your buyer feels heard but the ones I recommend are the following:
- When they are done speaking, paraphrase and ask "Did I get that right?" or "What did I miss?"
- Ask Questions based on what they say and, if it makes sense after they answer, explain why you asked that question. For example, you could say: “Got it, I wanted to make sure I understood that because it will help me make the best recommendation.”
- Nod your head thoughtfully, and use facial expressions to react to some things that they say.
- Take down some notes as they speak.
You will find dozens of books about active listening and a quick Google search will get you many, many more options to help ensure your buyer feels heard.
Buyers who have researched your product, company, competition, and more are the norm in modern sales. By the time they get to a sales professional, the buyer may even know more than the seller! The majority of the information out there, though, is objective so there typically is not that much emotion bubbling.
It's up to the sales professional to bring that emotion into the conversation and to do that, you have to contextualize for the buyer. This is about showing the buyer what your product or service looks like in their business habitat. Take what you have learned from asking questions and listening — including how much and what type of research they have done — and show the buyer what will change in their business once they make the purchase from you.
The key to bringing emotions to the surface is to contextualize not just based on what the product or service looks like in the business, but also what the product or service will do for the buyer in their role and as the human whose emotions are going to drive the decision. To do this, you will lean on the professional or personal challenges that the buyer shared with you during your previous calls. Here’s an example of how you’d contextualize:
" When this product is installed, it will eliminate the need to travel onsite to address issues because it can do it remotely. You won’t have to pay to have people on call and you will be able to resolve issues much quicker. You mentioned how frustrating it has been to have to miss your daughter’s soccer games so many times because you had to go to the office. Installing XYZ product means you’d be at the game — and if there’s an issue, you’d spend a few minutes on your phone to address it."
In this example, what the sales professional did was put the product into the context of the business that purchases it and the more personal context of the buyer who has a decision to make.
The emotions that bubble up when contextualization is done right are positive and hit home for the buyer personally and professionally. The buyer will feel things like relief, confidence, and optimism. Those are emotions that have the power to drive the buyer’s decision in your favor
4. Tell Stories.
Stories are one of the most powerful tools you have as a sales professional trying to uncover the emotions driving a buyer’s decision and what motivates them. There are different types of stories that you can tell at different times in the sales cycle. You want to tell the types of stories, though, that the buyer can easily relate to.
Those are the ones that resonate best. The most effective way I’ve found to do this consistently is to tell stories where the hero is just like the buyer in the ways that are most relevant in the context of your deal — letting them see themselves as the hero and recognize that.
For example, you could tell a story about another client that you worked with in the past who has the same title and was in a similar situation as your current buyer. In that story, the hero was able to overcome a challenge or issue, similar to the one your buyer is facing, specifically because of your product. For instance:
"I worked with a client six months ago and, like you, their employee engagement was at an all-time low. She was also a great leader but she wasn’t having luck with increasing her key employee engagement metrics.
"I worked with her and she purchased our platform with some additional services. I had lunch with her last week and she shared with me that they’ve seen a 7% increase in employee engagement in just a few months. She also told me that she was going to get a promotion to the COO role. I am so happy for her, she deserves it."
This story is powerful and would bring up emotions in your buyer because they would see themselves in it. Confidence is just one of the key emotions that story would inspire in the buyer. Hope and optimism are other emotions that come to mind for this one. Again, these are positive emotions and that’s exactly what is needed to guide your buyer to making the decision to purchase from you.
Learn to leverage emotion.
Over the past couple of decades, several studies have validated the outsized role that emotion plays in a B2B buying decision. Unless a product is completely one of a kind, the emotional part of the buyer purchasing equation can create a powerful differentiator.
Sales professionals who want to stay relevant and successful in modern sales must learn how to uncover and identify buyer emotions and position their products accordingly.
As long as you are selling to human beings, winning value propositions will need to address a buyer’s objective and subjective decision criteria and the subjective component carries more weight.
Using the four steps outlined in this post allows for emotions to seep into your sales conversations giving you the ability to shape your winning value proposition. Learn the steps, practice them, and be deliberate about using them every single time you have a meaningful interaction with your buyers.