How to Use Emotions to Sell

Download Now: Free Sales Plan Template
Emma Brudner
Emma Brudner



"Every decision is emotional." By uttering this simple sentence on the main stage of AA-ISP's Inside Sales Leadership Summit, Tom Snyder, founder of VorsightBP, got a roomful of attendees to nod their heads in agreement. 

emotions to sell: image shows people holding a dollar sign with sad and happy smiley faces nearby

Making a B2B purchase is undoubtedly a serious decision, and if you asked buyers how they came to a conclusion, they'd likely say "logic." But as psychologists know, we can fool ourselves into thinking we're more rational than we actually are.

"In his book, Descartes Error, Antonio Damasio, professor of neuroscience at the University of Southern California, argues that emotion is a necessary ingredient to almost all decisions," Peter Noel Murray wrote in a Psychology Today article. "When we are confronted with a decision, emotions from previous, related experiences affix values to the options we are considering. These emotions create preferences which lead to our decision."

Consider this piece of evidence alongside the following explanation of cognitive dissonance, from Steven Pinker:

"Cognitive dissonance theory holds that when people hold contradictory beliefs ('I’m a rational, autonomous person' yet 'I just did something pointless'), they experience an unpleasant state, cognitive dissonance, which they mitigate by bringing one of the beliefs into consistency with the other."

With this in mind, it's not hard to imagine a prospect buying solely on emotion and then justifying it as a "rational" decision later on. 

Emotions, then, should be of prime importance to salespeople. If your pitch doesn't hit an emotional high note, your chances making a sale diminish considerably. 

But which emotion is the right one to appeal to? Sales expert Geoffrey James explains that all buying decisions come down to a mixture of the following six feelings:

  1. Greed. "If I make a decision now, I will be rewarded."
  2. Fear. "If I don't make a decision now, I'm toast."
  3. Altruism. "If I make a decision now, I will help others."
  4. Envy. "If I don't make a decision now, my competition will win."
  5. Pride. "If I make a decision now, I will look smart."
  6. Shame. "If I don't make a decision now, I will look stupid."

Choosing which to focus on depends on your buyer's personality (what will resonate most with them?) and your offering (what most closely reflects your value proposition?) 

Once you've determined which emotional lever to pull, use the following tips to create a tear-jerking, heart-stopping, chest-puffing presentation your prospect will never forget.

Free Download: Sales Plan Template

1) Greed

Just because someone is motivated by greed doesn't mean they're a bad person. Think about it -- we're all motivated by money, promotions, and rewards. Does that make us awful, villainous scoundrels? Nah -- it just makes us human.

Here are a few ideas for how to tap into this emotion:

  • Emphasize the personal benefits. Will your offering make the prospect look good to their boss? Will it help them ascend the career ladder faster? Tell them so.
  • Point out the hard ROI. Calculate the return on investment in hard dollars, and present this figure to all relevant stakeholders. Get the dollar signs to dance before their eyes.
  • Tell stories of customers who earned professional consideration. If you have a client who got promoted or was given a raise as a result of buying your product, arrange a call between this person and your prospect.
  • Use words such as "reward," "valuable," "exclusive," "all yours," "distinguishing," "profitable," and "gain."

"Numbers and data are highly effective when working with a prospect motivated by greed. As an example, using a ROI calculator in your sales proposal visually demonstrates your product’s value plus positions your prospect to be the hero. Imagine the time savings, cost reduction, or efficiency gained — and your prospect is the one who made it happen," remarked Mark Tanner, Co-Founder of Qwilr. "Don’t underestimate the value of personal gains!"

2) Fear

Fear is a powerful motivator. According to Outbrain research, articles with negative titles far outperform those with positive titles.

"Compared with headlines that contained neither positive (“always” or “best”) nor negative (“never” or “worst”) superlatives, headlines with positive superlatives performed 29% worse and headlines with negative superlatives performed 30% better," Alex Bennett wrote in a blog post.

Whether it's to read an article or make a purchase, fear can spur action. Here's how to use fear to sell:

  • Help them realize the cost of inaction. Prospects are often so wedded to the status quo that they don't realize how bleak it truly is. Ask questions such as "How long can you stay in business if it stays this way?" and "What happens if you don't make a choice?" to drive home the negative results that could lie ahead.
  • Tell stories of prospects gone astray. If you have a scary story of a prospect gone astray and the unsavory fate that consequently befell the company, share this tale. 
  • Emphasize the personal consequences. Might something happen to the contact if they don't buy? Are they on thin ice at their company? Connect your purchase with these consequences.
  • Play up what they stand to lose. Thanks to our psychological bent toward loss aversion, people react much more strongly when they feel they're about to lose something they already have then when they expect to gain something. Outline what the company stands to lose if the prospect doesn't buy.
  • Use words such as "consequence," "lose," "worsen," "degrade," "suffer," "cost," and "harm."

3) Altruism

Shoe company TOMS nailed the altruism motivator when it decided to give away a pair of shoes to a person in need for every purchase. This "one for one" mentality caused sales to skyrocket, as consumers felt they were making a morally responsible choice. 

Short of changing your business model, altruism can be a bit harder to play up in B2B sales. That's not to say it's impossible, however. Try these tips:

  • Emphasize the benefits for employees. Maybe your product will save each employee two hours a week, or maybe it'll address a sore spot in their day. Whatever the benefit, express it both in terms of individual people, and the group at large.
  • Emphasize the benefits for customers and partners. If your offering could make a company's customers or partners happier, be sure to say so in no uncertain terms.
  • Talk about what the offering will enable. Help the prospect envision the projects for the greater good your product or service could facilitate. 
  • Talk in terms of teams. Although you might only be meeting with one prospect at a given time, make sure to key in on the benefits for each and every relevant stakeholder on the project.
  • Use words such as "benefits," "widespread," "give," "help," "ameliorate," and "improve."

4) Envy

If a company doesn't have even a glimmer of a competitive spark, it won't stay in business long. Reps who sell into one industry will likely have information on which companies use what products -- use this to your advantage.

Here are a few pointers on making prospects green with envy:

  • Name drop the competition. If your company works with a competitor, make sure to let the prospect know. 
  • Frame benefits in terms of competitors. Don't just talk about how your offering helps companies see results -- mention the specific benefits a competitor is getting with the product (with permission, of course). This is bound to make a prospect's ears perk up.
  • Share industry reports. Industry analysts come out with reports from time to time on best in class practices and the processes that separate leaders from laggards. Some even rank companies based on certain criteria. Pay attention to when these studies get released and share them with prospects -- especially if they highlight a competitor.
  • Use words such as "competition," "best in class," "lagging," "leading," and "edge out."

5) Pride 

Pride is a more powerful selling tool than reps might think. According to recent research from CEB, buyers who perceived high identity value in an offering as opposed to company or professional value were far more likely to advocate for the product or service.

But what is identity value? Authors Brent Adamson, Karl Schmidt, and Anna Bird explained in a Harvard Business Review article.

"Identity value describes the ways an offering might impact how employees perceive themselves by, for example, boosting their pride, helping them win respect, or strengthening their sense of community," according to the HBR article. "This third category is distinct from the other two. It is less about 'how the firm does' or 'what I do' than 'who I am.'"

Here are a few tips on how to get the pride flowing:

  • Frame outcomes in terms of self-image. For example, if your product will help streamline the purchasing process, tell the prospect, "You could be known as the person who shaved 200 hours off procurement initiatives!"
  • Display the awards your clients have won. If a customer won an award thanks to your offering, show your prospect the picture of the client accepting the honor -- and beaming with pride.
  • Offer to feature the company. Is the company looking for exposure? Offer to feature the team in a case study or other marketing collateral ... if they buy, that is.
  • Use words such as "image," "respect," "powerful," "reputation," "prominence," "influence," and "prestige."

6) Shame

Salespeople, tread lightly here. After all, who like to feel ashamed? No one. And prospects don't generally buy from reps who make them feel stupid.

Here are some tips to (very gently) turn up the shame dial:

  • Allude to past mistakes. Those that can be avoided or prevented with your offering, that is.
  • Drop hints about a sad future. The prospect doesn't want to be an executive at a failing company. Paint a bleak picture of the future, and emphasize their role in bringing it about through inaction.
  • Talk about how they might let others down. If putting off a buying decision will have negative consequences for employees or customers, emphasize this point -- and who will be to blame.
  • Use words such as "mistake," "avoid," "inertia," "disappoint," "remorse," and "fail."

What are your tips for using emotions to sell? Share them in the comments.

sales plan


Related Articles

Outline your company's sales strategy in one simple, coherent plan.

    Powerful and easy-to-use sales software that drives productivity, enables customer connection, and supports growing sales orgs