Buying Is Not a Rational Decision

Bryan Eisenberg

Updated · Dec 07, 2001

People buy based on emotion and justify with fact. You may resist this statement. You may want to shout, “No! No! No! I am a rational, cognitive human being! I make calm, considered, well thought-out decisions! I do not buy for emotional reasons!” But the truth (truth that will help your business grow) is:


Excuse me for shouting, but it's that important. The single biggest motivator in buying is not data, nor is it facts; it's emotional response. Humans buy when they feel comfortable, when they feel they can trust you, when the process feels natural and reassuring, and when they come to believe that buying will make them feel good. Fail to address that factor, and most of your prospects will bail out. Tap into that need, and your conversion rate will go up dramatically.

To succeed in any e-business, you've got to speak to the need your customer feels. I don't say this just because I think it sounds clever. I've got lots of good reasons, not to mention the entire history of successful selling, to back me up. And remember, in the Internet universe, the customer rules like nowhere else. Ignore your customers' needs and feelings, and you won't be online for long.

Of course, people have both logical and emotional buying motives. Some recent consumer surveys show that 20 percent of the decision to make a purchase is logical and 80 percent is emotional. But beware of surveys. People may be answering honestly, but they may be completely unaware of their subconscious motivations.

Let me ask you a couple of questions. What is logic? It's reason supported by facts. What is emotion? It is a feeling that leads us to act and react. So, what is more important when persuading people, facts or emotion? Easy question, huh? I don't mean to imply that customers never want cold, hard facts. Of course they do. You should always have them prepared and available, and you should present them when the time is right. But it is not facts that convince customers to go with your company. It's emotion.

Picture someone going into a bookstore to browse for something new to read. While exploring the shelves, the thing that will compel her to browse a book is primarily the cover. It might be the color that is eye-catching, or a picture on the cover, or a design, or the way the title is printed. Yes, she might read the blurb about the book, but only after the “presentation,” and how it made her feel, attracted her.

Business-to-business (B2B) sales are no different. Imagine you're selling production equipment for the plastics industry. Performance data and even price can only take you so far. You may close some sales, but you're only reaching a fraction of your potential. What will drive far more people to buy from you is the same list of emotional factors we listed above: trust, comfort, confidence, and ease of the process. Customers need to feel that you really understand their needs and problems and can be relied on, both before and after the sale — not just to enable them to crank out more plastic, but to support them, reduce their stress, be enjoyable to work with, and so on. Sounds like a relationship, doesn't it? Well, that's just what it is.

Let's take a parallel, nonsales example. Let's say you are hiring someone to oversee back-end fulfillment. You've culled a handful of resumes that present you with lots of facts about the people who seem most qualified. Do you just call the one with the most “points” and offer him the job? No, the next step is meeting them face to face. One applicant has all the right qualifications and presents himself well, but you're looking for that “certain something” that convinces you he's your guy, and you can't feel it. Another applicant has similar qualifications, but she comes across as charming, effervescent, determined, a team player, and an innovator. Bingo! Your “certain something” meter lights right up. Who are you going to hire? Qualifications being reasonably equal, you're probably going to choose the person you feel better about.

The truth is, even though you may not have realized it, you probably decided which person you were going to hire based on your emotional reactions even before you gave the final decision any focused thought. Deep within us all is a core of essential values that ultimately governs how we interact with the world. Our thoughts and emotions act as filters between this core and all the physical stimuli outside us — and emotions are the key when it comes to the decisions people make. Far more often than not, a person knows how she feels about a particular choice long before she has articulated it. Most of the time, thinking clarifies, justifies, and rationalizes what is fundamentally an emotional impulse.

How this can help your conversion rate ought to be pretty clear by now. There's tons of stuff out there clamoring for your prospects' attention — lots of products and services, lots of competition, lots of messages. So how are you going to distinguish yourself? What is it about you and your enterprise that's going to reach out and grab those potential customers and proclaim, “We're the people you want to be doing business with!”? The answer: your ability to deeply engage your prospects' emotions in addition to, and even above, their intellect. Your design, layout, copy, balance between graphics and text, download speed, even your colors and fonts — and especially your overall information architecture and usability — all either draw your prospects in or push your prospects away emotionally. And your implementation (or lack of implementation) of processes will determine precisely how well you engage different personalities in the ways they prefer to be engaged, as well as how effective you are in guiding them to a buying decision that feels right.

It works online the same way it does offline (and why did anybody ever think otherwise?). Folks want to buy from businesses that make them feel good. If you're going to close more sales, you must acknowledge their need for trust. You must mirror their values. You must inspire confidence. You must appear empathetic. You must communicate that you are responsible and dependable. You must offer them a delightful shopping experience (this is not to say you must entertain them… research proves that entertainment often will detract from buying, the opposite of what you intended). And through it all, you must persistently convey that you understand their emotional needs as well as their material ones.

The most successful salespeople possess the noteworthy ability to get into the buyer's mind effortlessly and create exceptional value based on the buyer's thinking. But really, it isn't about thinking at all. “Thinking” from the buyer's point of view just helps get them feeling all of those things we just listed, which is what gets them to want to buy from you. If you can get their “certain something” meters vibrating, you are well on your way to distinguishing yourself from the crowd and dramatically increasing your online sales.

Bryan Eisenberg is CIO of Future Now Inc. It is the only consultancy focused exclusively on helping clients increase online customer conversion rates, and it understands that conversion is about persuading your customers to take the action you want. You can find Future Now's award-winning newsletter, GrokDotCom, at

Reprinted from ClickZ

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