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Knowledge@Emory article titled “The Hidden Influence of Emotions on Consumers’ Choices” reminds us that rational criteria are often trumped by emotional responses.  We've all scratched our heads when a prospect’s or client’s decision seems at odds with “the facts” (at least as we perceive them). 

The article offers a consumer example, “A customer is leaning toward buying a product because it has superior functionality while being priced approximately the same as a rival product. A rational choice would be to buy the product—better functionality, same price." However,

  • What if the customer feels uncomfortable with the brand?
  • What if the retail store makes the customer feel unappreciated?
  • What if the product’s color evokes the negative emotions associated with the customer’s least favorite football team?

That last one might make your shake your head or chuckle, but stranger things than that have influenced many types of decisions. What might seem like a simple rational choice now becomes a more complex choice process in which the customer’s emotions play a pivotal role and may well lead to a purchase decision that the so-called ‘rational’ choice criteria might not have predicted.

While we may readily recognize our own or others' consumer behaviors here, can we see how this can affect lawyer business development?

How many of us have perceived a prospect “leaning toward buying” from us due to our superior functionality for the same price (or, more often for law firms these days, comparable functionality at a lower price), yet ultimately they select another, (rationally) inferior firm?  

  • What if the prospect feels comfortable with us personally, hence the positive leaning, but uncomfortable with our firm’s brand in the context of the matter under consideration? 
  • What if our “retail store,” i.e., our sales behavior, makes the prospect feel unappreciated in the sense that we don’t seem to know much about their industry/business, or we’re talking mostly about firm or ourselves?

There are many reasons why people buy or don’t buy, but this much seems observably true: People make decisions for emotional reasons; they justify them with empirical ones.  

Make sure that your sales behaviors reflect the fact that you’re dealing with people, not machines.  For all the talk about “relationships,” make sure that you’re relating on a basis that the buyer welcomes.

The value of understanding a prospect's industry goes far beyond making it easy to identify and remain current with the conversation about business problems or issues that drive demand for our service. Having such a rich context enables us to deduce likely personal or emotional considerations, too.

For example, anyone who's been following the legal industry for any length of time understands the practical effects on law firms of the combination of declining legal service demand and the expansion of alternative service categories such as outsourcing, technology, etc. What the astute observer also grasps is the likely emotional effect of such developments on individual lawyers:

  • Rainmakers are feeling beset by price pressure from longtime clients.
  • "Service partners" are worried about losing their equity position because they have no business of their own.
  • Management feels like they're trying to plug nine holes in the dike.
  • Associates fear that partnership will remain just out of reach, or that they'll lose their jobs entirely.
  • Staff fear more cutbacks and job losses.

These are just a few of the countless emotional concerns likely affecting people in law firms. Now, apply this same thinking to your clients and prospects. What's happening in their industries, and how do those issues likely affect individuals personally?

The more situationally aware you are, the more you can analyze the business circumstances, but also empathize with the people.

Mike O'Horo

These RainmakerVT courses will teach you how to overcome the challenges referenced in this post: