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Sales Ethics - Selling To Emotion Or Logic?

Furniture World Magazine


Customers who are prone to make major decisions based mainly on their emotions are all the more in need of an ethical consultant.

It is a common saying in sales that customers make their buying decisions emotionally but justify them logically. I don't quite believe that. Emotions are always a factor in the buying process, however, depending on several conditions, logic may play as significant or an even larger role.

There are three times when customers tend to rely more on logic. These are when the sale is particularly large or important, after a bad experience and if there is worry about making a purchase error.

The Large Sale:
Consumers will often resist a purely emotional purchase decision in the case of large purchases. Generally speaking, the larger the sale, the more logically customers tend to make their decisions.

After a Bad Experience:
The second condition may result from losses following a purchase gone bad. Those losses can be financial as well as emotional. In many cases, they are both.

Worried About Making a Mistake:
A third condition can result from even minor purchases, which can still cause a buyer a lot of anxiety. That is certainly the case when a customer is worried about purchasing an uncomfortable mattress. This "bad choice" can result in days, months, or even years of poor sleep. If you think that today's comfort warranties have removed all of your customers' anxieties about buying the wrong mattress, please reconsider. You might start by reflecting on how painful even one night of poor sleep on a worn hotel mattress can be. Most of us have had that experience! Or take the example of a man who buys an ugly tie at a cheap price. Despite its modest price, the buyer's failure to win approval can cause him much embarrassment.

Under any of these three conditions, the majority of buyers are less likely to rely on their emotions alone. Yet, because the number of buyers has always been and will always be legion, there will always be countless buyers who, in spite of the three conditions just stated will tend to have their emotions run away with them. It is with these customers in mind that I have written this article. For while the emotions may be the mainsprings of conduct, as some Gestalt psychologists are fond of saying, the emotions are also blind, as every school of psychology teaches.

Customers who are too easily led by their emotions need a consultant/salesperson to keep their emotions and logic in proper balance. They need a salesperson with the specialized knowledge to meet their needs. But that is not enough, not nearly enough. They also need an ethical salesperson and not the kind of charlatan who uses his or her knowledge to take advantage of a customer's so-called "hot buttons" in order to mislead them into the wrong buying decisions.
Therefore, it is logical, to state the following as a principle: Customers who are prone to make major decisions based mainly on their emotions are all the more in need of an ethical consultant as their salesperson. After all, customers generally lack the specialized knowledge required to make a wise buying decision. Without that specialized knowledge, customers are not really able to choose. That's the very point author Marya Mannes made when she testified before the Congressional Subcommittee in the 60s: "You can only choose when you know what you are choosing." Sadly, many salespeople lack the required specialized knowledge. Even more sadly, some of the salespeople who do have the required specialized knowledge use it to their own advantage with little if any regard for their customers. It is little wonder that so many of our customers are desperately searching for alternative sources of detailed product and purchase information on the internet!

There is a corollary to this principle stated above: The more prone customers are to make a major purchase under the influence of their emotions alone, the greater the salesperson's responsibility to be an ethical consultant.

It is this corollary that especially led me to write this article, since most of the literature on selling is directed towards teaching salespeople how to capitalize on the customer's "hot buttons."

This is not purely an ethical matter. It also has bottom line implications. Having customers make uninformed choices is certainly not in the best long-term interest of the store or the salesperson. Customers who make poor purchase decisions (ones that do not meet their needs) suffer buyer's remorse. They complain, return merchandise, tell all their friends and sometimes become "vigilante" customers.

Having said that, it is not always wise to "force" a rational choice on the emotional customer.

Consider the example of a customer who states that she wants a sofa that will stand up to pets and children, but then decides on delicate light colored upholstery. Tell her the facts but don't insist that you know best. Sometimes emotional needs are the most important needs your customer has. Insisting that your customer listen to reason can be an effective way to lose a customer.

Each salesperson has the option leading the sale, following the customer's lead or trying to overlay the store's agenda on the sales process. Of these three, the final option of forcing or insisting will be the least successful because it puts our store's or personal needs before those of our customers. Insisting is like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

Leading the sale, is by far the best initial strategy, but not always possible. In sales as in life, the skillful person will know when it is time to lead and when to follow.

This past year I greeted a customer named Joe. This tired looking fellow explained that he bought a sleep set from this same store about a year before, but that it didn't meet his needs. After I inquired further into the reasons why he had been sold inappropriate bedding, Joe said that the salesperson was certainly not to blame. She had suggested that he would be better served by a more supportive, and more expensive set.

During the first sales encounter, Joe didn't allow the salesperson to lead. She could have pushed the better set, but that would have most likely resulted in loss of both rapport and the sale. Alternatively the salesperson could have been quicker to sell the cheap bedding or even praise it. In that case, the sale might have ended in an angry call instead of a repeat customer.

Old sayings such as "Fan the fires of their desires and you'll not fail to make the sale" bear witness to the power of emotional decision making. Or take the so-called Wheeler Point that states, "Don't make 'em drink, make 'em thirsty." This is not to say that the authors of such sales slogans were unethical. On the contrary, taken in context, these sayings are ethically sound. Moreover, they were meant to teach salespeople how to apply the psychology of the emotions to selling.

It was none other than Zig Ziglar who took the psychological soundness of those old sayings to a much higher level when he came up with a saying of his own: "You can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough people get what they want." Somehow, Zig Ziglar has grasped that the real selling power of salespeople lies in putting their customers' wants ahead of their own. Far from contradicting Elmer Wheeler's saying, 'Don't make 'em drink, make 'em thirsty," Zig Ziglar's enhances and clarifies. In effect, what Zig Ziglar is saying to salespeople is that rather than being anxious to be the first ones to drink, they should concentrate on letting their customers be the first ones to drink.

Selling, Zig Ziglar has always known, is primarily a matter of rapport with customers. Rapport with customers cannot occur when salespeople put their customers second. Rapport with customers comes about from their being cared for by their salespeople. The salesperson's knowledge, no matter how vast, is largely ineffective until customers know that their salespeople care.
He has grasped that profound truism that customers don't care how much salespeople know until they know how much salespeople care. Note, it's not that customers don't care how much salespeople know. They certainly do care, as John F. Lawhon rightly insists. It's simply that customers do not appear to care until they know how much their salesperson cares.

The law of reciprocity is the corner stone on which lies the salesperson's role of partner/ consultant, that is, an ethical consultant. It is this "law" which prevents the win-win philosophy from clashing with that other equally undeniable law that drives salespeople: "What's In It For Me?" Not only does the philosophy of win-win not clash with the law of "What's In It For Me?" It lets the law of "What's In It For Me?" rise to the heights of altruism instead of sinking to the depths of selfishness. What a remarkable phenomenon! Through the law of reciprocity, the philosophy of win-win takes customer and salesperson to where both can have the things they want and at a higher level than if each of them were to go it alone. By being a partner/consultant, that is, by having both the required product knowledge and by being concerned for their customers first, salespeople can truly fan the fires of their customers' desires and not fail to make the sale. Salespeople can do all that by lending a sense of logic to their customers' emotions. By doing that, they can learn to handle their customers' emotions ethically.

Corporate trainer, educator and speaker Dr. Peter A. Marino has written extensively on sales training techniques and their furniture retailing applications. Questions on any aspect of sales education can be sent to FURNITURE WORLD at pmarino@furninfo.com.