Feelings Trigger Actions: How to Use Emotional Selling to Connect With a Prospect

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  • Emotional selling focuses on identifying the pain your prospects are going through and speaking to the feelings those problems engender. 
  • Cerebral Selling founder David Priemer argues that we should “sell the way we buy” –– which has a lot more to do with our hearts, not our heads.
  • David shares his strategies for “falling in love with the problem,” including a way to mobilize your prospects’ enemies in your favor.

Infomercials, whether they’re hawking knives, blenders, exercise machines, or miraculous cleaning products, always start with a problem. 

feelings trigger action

Picture this: You’re trying to carry all of your car wash supplies out to the driveway so you can give your car a good cleaning. Then, you get overwhelmed and start to fall, dropping all of your supplies.

Has this happened to you? There’s gotta be a better way! 

Infomercials are a “guilty pleasure” for David Priemer, founder of Cerebral Selling and best-selling author of “Sell the Way You Buy.”  

They’re entertaining and effective because they appeal to our emotions –– and feelings trigger actions. An infomercial leads with something we hate and then presents a solution we’ll love.

Identifying this structure was an “epiphany” for David and a catalyst for his book. “I found that a lot of the sales tactics my teams were using, and used over the years, just didn’t work on me. Maybe I’m not selling the way I buy.” 

That got him thinking about the pathways by which we make our decisions.

On an episode of INSIDE Inside Sales, David discusses his strategy of “falling in love with the problem,” including practical advice on leading with emotional resonance rather than features and putting the focus on your prospect instead of the product. 

Say it with us (again): Ditch the pitch

As salespeople, we’re always striving to communicate the value of our product to customers. But with so many options flooding the market in recent years, buyers have become desensitized to pitches, especially those that are feature and solution-centric, says David.

He has three kids. When they’re about to hit him up for something, like a sugary snack or a new app, he can tell immediately –– just by the way they approach him. And the answer is no before they even ask.

“I become immediately resistant to being pitched,” David says.

Likewise, when we call customers and launch into a pitch praising the virtues of what’s new in version 3.0, they tune out from the jump.

“People are attuned to be responsive to pains and challenges more than features and functions,” David says.

Consumer-focused advertisers who sell everything from credit cards to cars know this already.

“But for whatever reason, in the B2B space, we tend to fall back on old habits,” he adds. “Let me tell you what’s new; let me tell you something you don’t know… We were in the Gartner Magic Quadrant; we’re made of all-natural ingredients; we use recyclable aluminum.

David argues that this is a transition we need to make –– “just like they’ve done in the consumer world.” 

Pain is good

In sales, we tend to rely on what we know best: ourselves, our employer, and our product. But leading from the comfort zone is a mistake, says David.  

It’s a concept he calls “experience asymmetry,” which he wrote about in Harvard Business Review last year. 

Younger sellers and other folks new to the industry are not yet confident that they can add value to their interactions with buyers, so they focus on features and functions instead. It’s “a crutch to get us through the conversation, which obviously makes the problem even worse,” he explains.

David recommends leading with feelings rather than features. 

“When there’s a pain, there’s a challenge.”

A love-hate relationship

David refers to pain points as “the enemy”: Who is the enemy of your product? Who is the enemy of your customer? 

The enemies here are the problems or concerns that customers experience, such as fear, risk, outdated processes, and wasting time, money, and/or resources.

“If you’re selling security software, is there a risk of a breach? Is there a ransomware issue? Does your software provide visibility into their business they don’t have today?” he asks.

David says the simplest way to harness the power of this approach is to use the words love and hate when you describe your product.

emotional triggers

He once worked for the startup Ripple, whose product was a social performance management platform. They helped companies provide employees with feedback, coaching, and recognition of their work. 

“That’s a feature function; it’s what we do. But if I called people and said, we provide your employees with feedback, coaching, and recognition, they may have just smiled and said, that’s nice,” he explains.

Instead, David and his team asked their customers about their approach and found out that most used an annual performance review. But Ripple’s research found that 80% of employees use the word hate to describe performance reviews.

“We led with this message: People love feedback, but they hate performance reviews… We talked about that desired future state –– the love. The hate is the thing they don’t love. That’s the pain.” 

The enemy of your customer is your friend

One of David’s favorite companies, Trunk Club, began as an online clothing service marketed primarily to men. The concept is easy enough: Go to the site, enter your measurements, and select your color and style preferences. Every month, a real person picks out a selection of clothes for you and ships them directly to your front door. Whatever you like, you keep. What you don’t like, you send back. 

If Trunk Club had led with –– we pick and send a box of clothes to you every month –– it wouldn’t have had much impact. So instead, they chose to tackle an enemy. 

“Complete this sentence,” says David. “Men love to dress well, but they hate to…”

If you’re a guy, you likely answered with: Go shopping.

And that’s how Trunk Club stood out. They led with: Men love to dress well, but they hate to shop.

“Here’s the beauty of this tactic,” David points out, “if you’re a man who loves to dress well and hates to shop, you’re gonna lean in and say, okay, what is this? Tell me more.”

If there’s no feeling, there’s no action, he adds.

“Love and hate are inflammatory, passionate words… the objective is not to communicate the sum total of everything your product does in your opening statement. If you hit them with an emotionally charged statement first, that emotion tends to carry through the rest of the conversation.”

As a bonus, this tactic helps clear your pipeline of prospects who will never, ever call you back. 

Because after all, if you are a man who loves to dress well, but you also love to shop, Trunk Club just isn’t for you. 

“You wanna push the bad-fit customers out,” David says. 

Statistics 101: Make it whole 

David has another tip to invoke an emotional response in your prospects.

buy based on emotion

“People have a hard time digesting abstract statistics,” he says. “If we were to say, people love feedback, but they hate performance reviews, that’s good; it’s emotional. But if I were to use data to draw that out –– people love feedback, but 80% of millennials use the word hate to describe performance reviews, it’s even better.” 

It works because it points out the magnitude of the problem. However, you’ll still want to be careful when messaging with numbers. 

If you were to say, by implementing our solution, we can help you save 5% of your time every month, your buyer will rightly wonder how to calculate that. 

It’s a phenomenon known as “denominator neglect,” David says.

But if we change that 5% to a hard number and say, with our solution, you can save 20 hours a month, that’s a lot more compelling… Use nice, whole numbers people can easily wrap their heads around.

Emotional selling – Remember the infomercial

As you start reaching for the phone to make your next sales call, think back to your favorite infomercial for inspiration. Identify the problem. Appeal to your prospect’s emotions. Feelings trigger action. 

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