What’s with all the ’emotion’ business?

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15th May 2017

My last article about brain science and storytelling created a slurry of emotions for me—and triggered enough thoughts and ramblings for another article.

If you haven’t heard it yet get ready – ‘emotion’ is the business world’s next buzzword. Why? Everyone, even the most time-strapped CEO, can instinctively relate to emotions. Emotions cause us to feel, process, and react to a situation in different ways. The word emotion instantly conjures a subconscious list of feelings that, according to science, we all share. Emotions guide EVERY decision you make. Even though the rational side of your brain will overrule your emotions at important times, you can’t get away from the instinctual, gut-level feelings and decisions that come from your emotions.

Emotions get to the heart of any matter quickly.

Scientists, educators, politicians, marketers and astute business minds know this. Marketers know how valuable it is to trigger an emotional response in their customers: they’ve created a multi-billion dollar industry that feeds off emotions. But businesses—especially individuals in sales—have to be careful when they target emotions. One research company wrote a book on why they thought it was best for sales people to challenge the emotions of their prospective buyers to get them out of their status quo. The intent was to do something to differentiate them from competitors. Unfortunately, this approach was often counter-productive. Rather than getting a customer to think differently, sales people ended up triggering fearful emotions, and scared prospects away instead. This approach can work brilliantly__ however, sellers need to ‘tread an emotional tight rope’. They need to choose their language carefully and deploy empathy. By choosing the right language and delivering their message with empathy, prospects realize that they are actually being helped by their insightful seller. Get it right and you build trust. Get it wrong and you repel your prospect.

So how can a sales person use emotion to win the trust of buyers?

Let’s think for a minute about ‘Emotional Learning.’ Imagine telling a small child a scary story about the bad things that could happen to them if they cross a busy street in the wrong place at the wrong time. There’s a very strong chance they will learn what to do in order to stay safe, and be very careful when crossing any street. Now let’s look at a similar example from a work situation. If you tell a new co-worker that your boss is not very forgiving with mistakes, you’ll set off alarm bells in your co-worker’s brain. From that point on, your co-worker will likely think twice about everything they say and do.

Both examples created a negative emotion. At Slingshot Edge, we’d say these stories hit the “chimp brain” in the child and new co-worker. We’re big fans of Dr. Steven Peters, who says the chimp brain is the emotional part of your subconscious that is concerned with your safety and survival. When something hits the chimp brain and makes it feel unsafe, it instantly tells the rational or “human” part of your brain that it needs to respond—fast. In both cases, the stories the child and co-worker heard made them feel unsafe, and their chimp brains told their human brains to overrule their emotions and take rational action. The result? The child won’t have any ill-timed run into the street, and the sales person won’t have the urge to shout out any brilliant idea at a company meeting.

Visual listening

Another thought-provoking phrase someone brought to my attention just a few days ago is ‘Visual Listening.’ At its core, ‘visual listening’ is using facts, numbers and simple drawings that build as you tell a story. While the phrase may be new, this process of illustrating a business problem has been around for a while. Sales people have been doing this for years on the backs of napkins and on whiteboards, and we at Slingshot Edge teach our own visual listening techniques as well.

Why is visual listening is so successful? This method triggers the prospect’s emotions: the facts and figures are presented in simple language that hit the chimp brain and cause it to pass the information along. It doesn’t overwhelm the chimp brain with facts and figures that only trigger boredom.

At Slingshot Edge, we spend a LOT of time applying scientific research on human behavior to sales enablement. We know that when you understand the role emotions play in learning, you can craft messages that talk to your prospect’s chimp brain and hit the right emotions during sales cycles. When that happens you’ll move deals along faster, which can trigger all sorts of happy emotions for your sales team, too.​