“People buy on emotion and justify with logic.” This is a familiar phrase many sales professionals agree with.

However, much less agreed upon is what this statement means, and just how to use this information to be more successful.

What gets in our way?

First, the mere notion that emotions are the primary drivers of our decisions still makes us highly uncomfortable. Next, the idea that we as sales professionals should actively explore our prospect’s emotions during the sales process is often met with trepidation, if not downright skepticism.

For example, I’ve long become accustomed to gentle protests over my years as a sales trainer when proposing these very ideas. The first usually goes something like, “I’m not sure I feel comfortable asking my prospects about their feelings.” A second goes along the lines of, “I’m pretty sure my prospects don’t want to talk about their emotions.” Or, a personal favorite, “Mike, our prospects aren’t touchy-feely people.” This of course said in a way that implies, “and we aren’t either.”

So, we agree in theory that “people buy on emotion and justify with logic”. At the same time, many of us struggle with embracing this in practice. How then can we better understand what it means to sell on emotion?

Emotion and decision making

At bare minimum, selling on emotion means becoming more comfortable with the knowledge that emotions dominate most if not all of our important decisions.

Our greatest indication of this is the avalanche of social science over the past two decades pointing to emotions as the primary force in our decision making. For example, to understand the massive scope and impact of the research one has only to look at an annual review from 2015 titled “Emotions and Decision Making”. According to the report’s authors from Harvard and other top universities, research into the connection between emotions and decision making increased by over 4x between 2007 and 2013 alone.

If the result of this new data and that of years since is the conclusion that, “emotions are, for better or worse, the dominant driver of most meaningful decisions in life”, then I believe we as sales professionals should listen.

Emotion and Logic

The second concept we need to understand if we want to successfully sell on emotion is the growing recognition that using emotion does not mean being impulsive, illogical, or irrational.

One of the biggest breakthroughs in psychology and neuroscience over the past thirty or so years is the realization that emotions and logic, once thought to be clearly separate and wildly different creatures, are actually closely related and highly synergistic.

For example, the pioneering research of Antonio Damasio beginning in the 1990s helped blur this distinction. In his highly influential book “Descartes’ Error” he tells stories of patients who suffer from hindered or damaged emotional centers of the brain. What made these patients noteworthy was their ability to score well on intelligence-related tests, and even succeed in complex problem-solving exercises. Yet, although they could make wise decisions in the abstract, they consistently failed to make wise decisions for themselves, or even make decisions at all.

These revelations from Damasio’s patients dash any final hopes of discounting the importance of emotion in our sales interactions.

Emotions and Goals

Finally, there exists a wide-spread perception that emotions hinder us from achieving the most ideal and focused versions of ourselves. What researchers have determined instead is that our emotions keep us on track to achieve our most important goals and continue on a path that ensures we thrive and grow. For these reasons, emotions are now believed to be rational in their own unique way.

For example, in her landmark work “Upheavals of Thought”, distinguished Professor Martha C. Nussbaum explains, “most of the time emotions link us to items that we regard as important for our well being, but do not fully control.” Further, she states, “emotions appear to be eudaimonistic, that is, concerned with the person’s flourishing.”

Because virtually none of us will ever buy something we feel moves us further from our goals we know selling and emotion are inextricably yet deeply connected.


Counter to our fears, selling on emotion does not mean asking our prospects invasive questions or analyzing their responses as if they are lying on our couch. Nor does it mean encouraging our prospects to make impulsive or irrational decisions.

Selling on emotion is best performed when we ask thoughtful, relevant questions, seeking to understand how we can provide the most value for our prospect’s future.

Further, it hinges on having the discipline to inquire about important goals and continue with the additional step of uncovering the “why” behind them. Some powerful questions I’ve learned along my own sales journey include, “What would this mean for you?”, “Why now?”, “How would it feel to achieve this”, and “What will you focus on next?”

In essence, our strategy involves turning a basic sales conversation into a goal-oriented conversation, and then taking the additional yet crucial step of turning a goal-oriented conversation into a meaning and purpose driven conversation.

So I ask you, the reader: Now that you understand what it means to sell on emotion how will you take your next sales conversations to a higher level?

Don’t hold back any longer. I invite you to adopt this new definition as your very own.

*Originally posted on Medium.com

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