Decisions based on emotions, Sales Psychology, Joe GirardWe like to think we are in total control of our decisions.  That we’re rational.  Well guess what?  We’re not.  Humans are not logical creatures, and today I want to go through some of the neuroscience that helps explain why we make most of our decisions based on emotions.

If you read any of the sales literature over the past 20 years or so, most of it is based on data and research. I have read pretty much every sales book out there and I have built most of my training materials on processeses.  SPIN Selling, which I love, is one of those sales books. Based on a ton of empirical evidence, Neil Rackham and his team of researchers found patterns in the questions the best sales people asked.  They were able to create processes that helped salespeople develop more effective lines of questioning.

Fast forward to the Challenger Sale, which I have also referenced, the data showed even more logical strategies on how to get customers to buy and what sales profiles worked best – rebuking the myth of the relationship salesperson.

Yesterday, I wrote about the new research that shows that customers don’t want to to be WOW-ed, but rather have an effortless experience.

Here’s the thing.  All of these studies and research are great to help us build our understanding of patterns and trends, and to come up with new ways of looking at things.  But one thing we can’t get away from is that we’re always dealing with humans.  And humans are hard-wired to make decisions based on emotions.

That is why sales people still follow the 80/20 rule. 80% of revenue comes from 20% of the sales force.  Even with all of this training available and studies, there are still a select group of people who consistently outperform the others.  Some call it “mojo,” or the “right stuff,” but it comes down to  set of skills they have learned to develop.  The ability to connect through emotions, while following a process.

Now I’m not saying to disregard the studies.  What I am saying, is use ALL the knowledge to your advantage.

Neuroscience: Why we Make Decisions Based on Emotions

Why is it so hard to get people to change?  When we know that what we are saying makes logical sense?

If you want to pick up a great book, check out What Great Salespeople Do: The Science of Selling Through Emotional Connection and the Power of Story.  I was pleasantly surprised when I read it as the whole first few sections were all about neuroscience and how our brains work.  Not a bunch of fluffy ideas on using stories.

If you really want to succeed in selling, start studying more books on neuroscience, psychology, sociology, behavior, and pretty much anything that talks about decision making. It will give you an edge over everyone else.

Quick lesson on how your brain has evolved.  

Your brain is composed of three systems, which is referred to as a “triune” brain.  These three systems are nested within each other as each have been developed during a different period in our evolution.


  1. The first one is your reptilian brain (survival) and that is located towards the bottom and is essentially the brain stem, medulla oblongata, the pons, and the reticular formation.  This is our most primitive brain and the one that controls all of our most basic functions, including breathing, heartbeat, and our “fight or flight” instincts.  Even while we sleep, the reticular formation is monitoring sensory data such as an unfamiliar noise or skin sensation.
  2. The second system is your limbic brain (emotional), consisting of the thalamus, formix, hippocampus, hypothalamus, and amygdala.  It was the next part of our brain to evolve and wraps around the brain stem.  It forms the seat of our human emotions and plays the major role in our memory as well.  It is what draws us towards things that feel good and away from things that feel bad.  Anger, fear, lust, jealousy, happiness, are all from our limbic system.  It is also the part of our brain that allows us to learn.
  3. The third system is called the neocortex (thinking) and it is located atop and around the limbic system.  Compared to other mammals, humans have the largest neocortex of all of them.  This is the most recently evolved of all the parts of our brain and is therefore the youngest.  The neocortex is responsible for speech, planning, visualization, and all intellectual control.  The neocortex is further divided into two hemispheres or “right” and “left” brain as you may be familiar with.

Also note that these three brain systems form in the womb in the same order as listed.

“We are not thinking machines.  We are feeling machines that think.” – Richard Restak

The reason it is so important to understand these three systems is that it helps us realize that the complexity of our brains and the way we actually process information.  Information flows from the inside out, meaning that we process ideas first from survival, then from emotion, and lastly through thinking. This is the main reason that trying to get someone to see our point often doesn’t work when we try and “reason” with them.

Especially in sales, where salespeople have been taught to have all the answers with product knowledge, facts, and figures.  The best sales people have developed the ability to connect with others from an emotional place. Now I am not contradicting my view that sales is a process.  I am saying that as part of the process, understanding the psychology and science will dramatically improve your processes and, ultimately, your results.

If you have watched the Big Bang Theory, then I ask you if you think Sheldon could ever make a great salesperson. A strictly analytical thinker with all the answers and no emotions.  Would you buy anything from him? Watch this video:

To sell more, learn how information flows through the brain – from emotion to logic. 


The major disadvantage to the ways our brains are built is that we think too muchIf you want to increase your sales effectiveness, help people think less and feel more.

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

Think of your brain’s limbic system as the first responder.  It produces an emotional response before it produces a cognitive one.  This is the first part of the science on why we make decisions based on emotions.  The more you learn about the way your brain processes information, the more I hope you see why a lot of your conversations go sideways.  In sales, in relationships, and in everyday life. We “know” we are right in what we are saying, but they just don’t get it, right?  How can we convince them?  Well, the power is not in the convincing, but in the connecting.

Now that you understand a bit more of the way your brain processes information and why we make decisions based on emotions, think about how you will use this information in your conversations.  Rather than facts and figures, can you connect emotionally with your audience? Can you bypass the “flight or fight” and BS meter?

Tomorrow, I will post on the difference between our right and left brain and how we can use them to our advantage.  

[aio_button align=”left” animation=”none” color=”blue” size=”small” icon=”none” text=”Part 2: Right Brain vs Left Brain” target=”_blank” relationship=”dofollow” url=””] [aio_button align=”left” animation=”none” color=”blue” size=”small” icon=”none” text=”Go to Part 3: Neuroplasticity” target=”_blank” relationship=”dofollow” url=””] [aio_button align=”left” animation=”none” color=”blue” size=”small” icon=”none” text=”Go to Part 4: Mirror Neurons” target=”_blank” relationship=”dofollow” url=””]

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Joe Girard
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