It is often stated that all buying is emotional. While this is an oversimplification that gets many salespeople into trouble, emotions do play a role in most significant purchases. Knowing how and when emotions come into play allows the seller to employ the emotional tools of inspiration to his advantage. But seller beware: emotions are like gravity; what goes up, always comes down.
Contrary to the prevailing wisdom on the subject, the effective selling of agency services has nothing to do with convincing. It comes as a relief to agency principals and business development personnel when I tell them it is not their job to convince anyone of anything, ever. If your job is not to convince, then what is it? In simplified terms, it is to help the unaware, to inspire the interested, and to reassure the intent. I covered the last step of reassuring the intent (those who intend to act) in the October 2004 issue, Reassuring Words, and I will address help for the unaware in a future issue. In this article we will inspire the interested.
There are different stages in the buying cycle that your prospect will pass through. He may move through some quickly, he may get stuck in some for months or years, and he may slip back to a previous stage. The stages begin with what I call unaware and end with advocacy. Just beyond unaware (where the prospect is oblivious to his problem), but far short of advocacy, lies a stage I will refer to here as interested. Here the prospect is starting to recognize that he has a problem and is considering his options. He’s curious, he’s collecting information, he may be reaching out to agencies, but he has not yet formed the intent to act. He’s kicking tires. It is from this stage that the prospect’s emotions can be harnessed to help inspire him forward and form the intent to act on his problem.
The Emotions of Intent
Forming intent is an inherently emotional experience that triggers changes in brain chemistry, the most notable of which is a serotonin release that results in euphoria. The come-down experienced after the exuberance of forming intent (which peaks after about four hours) is the serotonin hang-over called buyers remorse. It sets in after intent has been formed. Most sellers who claim that all buying is emotional harness that emotion by closing their prospects while the customer is still high on serotonin. But you are selling professional services, not time-share condominiums, and while you have plenty of opportunity to harness emotions to help form intent, it is rare that you have the opportunity to close with them simply because the buying cycle is too long. Your prospect gets his buyers remorse well before he buys. The new time-share owner gets his at 3:00 am, after he has already signed the iron-clad contract.
There are two main methods of emotional inspiration. One is emotional arousal, and the other is envisioning. Let’s explore them both.
Emotional arousal is just as it sounds: the use of emotional appeal to affect desired change in thinking or behavior. The classic agency tool of emotional arousal is a portfolio review. Nothing inspires interested prospects like showing them great work. Other examples of emotional arousal are short inspirational quotes from clients. Not long testimonials about how you always deliver on time and budget and meet or exceed expectations, but short ones that get the spine tingling. The tools that employ these methods include your website, your agency brochure, and most of your marketing materials. These tools should be targeted to your prospects who have expressed interest in solving their problem but not yet committed to doing so.
Envisioning is the act of imagining a future in which the problem at hand is not only solved, but solved to the best possible degree. Every problem is an opportunity and through envisioning you are asking the prospect to imagine the ultimate capitalization on the opportunity. ‘See the person you could be.' Or, ‘imagine the brand that yours could become.' Some selling systems go so far as to claim that you will not get a decision without the prospect envisioning. Tools of envisioning at your disposal are high-gain questions that cause the prospect to imagine his world beyond his problem, employed in conversation or in a written needs assessment. Copywriters take note: the most powerful word in advertising is the word imagine because it asks the interested prospect to envision.
Avoid Inspiring the Unaware
Inspiration is for the interested; when attempted on the unaware it backfires. On a flight last year I found myself seated next to a young pastor. He learned of my occupation and asked how my sales model might be applied to help him grow his congregation. When I explained the power of inspiration, which he knew all too well, he mused out loud, “So the way to move someone who is uninterested in religion might be to play an uplifting spiritual song?” I responded that religious music was a perfectly effective method to inspire someone who is interested in religion but has not yet decided to attend church. I explained that it would actually be counterproductive to someone who is not interested in religion; someone I would term unaware. This person would feel like he was being manipulated. This in a nutshell is the danger of trying to inspire someone through emotional arousal who has no interest whatsoever. It’s like trying to flirt with a person who has absolutely no interest in you. The subject of your advances will find your actions offensive and your chances will become even more remote.
Why the Intent Will Not Be Inspired
Just as inspiration should not be used too early in the buying cycle, it should also not be used too late. After the emotional high the prospect experiences when forming his intent, things get serious. He begins to doubt his decision to act, and begins to question seriously the party he is thinking of acting with. This stage is all about reassurance of the decision already made (to act) and the decision being considered (to hire your firm). He has already experienced the serotonin high, and now he has a hangover. Momentum is important, time is your enemy, and missteps are common. The most common is to play the emotion card again. It worked great in the first meeting, but in this next meeting all you get are serious looks and crossed arms. Your prospect is afraid of making a mistake and may even feel that he let his emotions get the best of him earlier. Right now he is actually looking for reasons not to hire you. You got him excited once. It was great; he wouldn’t trade it for anything. But he’s not doing it again, so don’t even try.
Inspiration is for the interested. Do not employ it too early, or too late. And remember, the more someone is inspired, the more reassurance required to manage their emotional hangover afterward.