The dynamics of decision-making in a business-to-business sales context makes understanding your position challenging and your probability of success unpredictable. It is imperative for you the sales professional to recognise the style of decision-making at play in any client decision situation. An understanding and alignment with the client decision network, decision process, specific decision criteria, etc; aspects common in rational decision-making, may only have a degree of relevance if an emotional decision-making style is at play. This is especially true if the focus of power has the tendency to override process.
People make emotional decisions for a whole host of logical reasons. Even in a business-to-business context, emotions play an integral role in decision-making. Although governance in business requires rational thinking and objectivity, decisions are often made with an emotional bias.
Whether you support these assertions or not, as a sales professional, if your client relationship is on solid ground, I suggest emotional and even intuitive decision-making will play in your favor. If your relationship is neutral, at best, as compared to your competition, exerting influence over the process, to be collaborative and rational, is your only recourse. And, only you know how difficult that might be!
The maturity of your client relationship within the decision network is key. Your client relationship enhances the possibility of your being acute aware of a dominant style and the style that is in play as it relates to a particular decision. It may be worthwhile to explore how rational or emotional decision-making impact sales success.
It is conceivable that style has a part to play irrespective of the decision being made. Even if we accept that it is possible for anyone to act independently of their thinking and feeling, there always remains an emotion bias to decision-making. It is unlikely that emotion is absent from even the most rational process. It is found that the higher the value of a decision or the gravity of the outcome, the more likely that the bias is towards a rational decision style. However, the higher the value of impact or potential outcome plays just heavily on emotions.
The key is to discover the balance between the emotional and rational components in any particular decision-making situation that impacts sales success. And, to act in a fashion that aligns with the style in play. No one likes the negative emotions brought on by buyer’s remorse; a clear signal that more analysis should have been used in making the decision. It is vitally important to recognize these conditions and engage during the later phase of the decision cycle to resolve potential concerns.
Rational Decision-Making Style
Rational decision making brings structure and reasonable thought processes to the act of deciding. Rational decision-making is most often driven by corporate governance. This would suggest that collaborative decision-making will often employ a rational decision-making process.
Deciding rationally is made possible by support rendered to the decision maker(s) by the transparent and specific knowledge involved with the choice being made available. In the ideal case, it is assumed all rational decision makers come to the same conclusion when presented with the same set of sufficient information for the decision being made.
Rational decision-making is often characterized by:
1. Orderly, consistent and repeatable processes being followed from problem identification to requirements definition, preferred solution selection and delivery,
2. Formality in decision process, network and criteria,
3. Pre-determined and agreed optimal outcome a potential solution addresses.
4. Structured questions used to promote a broad and deep analysis of the problem or result impact and evidence a solution addresses,
5. Adequate information gathered for analysis during the decision-making process. And, structured questions used to promote broad and deep analysis of preferred solution(s).
6. Ultimate consequences considered for each decision alternative that addresses risk and uncertainty.
7. Chosen solution(s) in agreement with decision maker(s) preferences and beliefs,
8. The rational choice satisfies conditions of logical consistency and deductive completeness, is objective, unbiased and based on facts.
Collaborative decision-making generally increases the effectiveness of decisions. A more collaborative decision style is likely to increase effectiveness in making a high value decision. Increased collaboration starts with consultation, increased participation, and in certain decisions, may lead to full consensus decision-making. More collaboration comes at a loss of decision-maker control, independence and certainly expedience but benefits from higher quality decisions that stick.
High decision value, thorough understanding of problem or results impact and evidence, commitment to pursue an outcome, complexity, and available time and options are all hallmarks of rational and collaborative decision-making.
Concern with rational choice result from the limit of human capabilities. The limit on our human ability to gather, process, and understand all the information needed to optimize a decision outcome, make it impractical to meet the ideal except in very constrained or simple situations. It assumes that we have access to the required knowledge of the cause and effect relationships that are important to the evaluation of alternative solutions, particularly with respect to projecting future consequences.
We have limits in our ability to formulate as well as solve complex problems let alone reach consensus on the desired resolution. Our desire to optimize is also limited, and we will usually satisfice being content with acceptable although sub-optimal solutions when confronted with obstacles and time constraints.
Also, the search for the optimum solution generates a delay that could negatively impact the benefits of the chosen alternative. Rational ignorance suggested that if the cost to acquire information exceeds the benefits that can be derived from the information, it is rational to remain ignorant. This aligns with our concept of using decision value to limit the decision effort, ensuring an appropriate return from using a rational decision making process.
The collaborative sales professional acutely aware of a rationale decision process in play and armed with the knowledge of the positive and negative factors rational decision-making is in a position to gain advantage over competition that is satisfied with merely being compliant.
Emotional Decision-Making Style
On the opposite extreme from rational decision-making, Emotional Decision Making is part of who we are and, when appropriately incorporated, this style can enhance the decision making process. An emotional style has distinctive advantages in terms of how quickly a decision is made when compared to rational decision-making.
It can be safely said that if distracting conditions of information overload, myriad priorities and time pressures prevail, a decision-making bias would be towards emotional as opposed to rational. Furthermore, research indicates that at the point of decision, emotions likely drive choice, even with what we believe are rational decisions.
It is evident that people do make emotional decisions that we substantiate with a host of logical reasons afterwards. This may not always lead to a desired outcome in the long run and hence buyer’s remorse. The intensity of emotions can override rational decision-making in cases where it is clearly needed. Immediate and unrelated emotions can create distortion in rationality and create bias in judgment. In some cases this can lead to unexpected and irresponsible action. Also, projected emotions can lead to poor conclusions because people are subject to systemic inaccuracy about how they will feel in the future.
However, decisions that start with logic may need emotions to enable the final selection, particularly when confronted with near equal options. It is possible that emotions originating from the subconscious explain the high levels of accuracy of expert intuitive opinion. Intuitive decision-making does make sense when speed or finality is critical to a successful outcome.
Decisions that involve emotions are often subject to a fair amount of intuition and will often play a major role in personal relationships. However, emotions can change, and when relationships run into difficulty, do not be surprised if your intuition is no longer generating the outcomes you expect. At these times, relationships take work because intuitive decision-making has to become more open, explicit and rational.
It may be evident from the discussion that the key to sales success is indeed to find the balance in play between the emotional and rational components in a particular decision-making situation. Alignment with the style in play is pivotal as is the opportunity to influence with your ability to act independently of your own thinking and feeling. Confidence in your ability to offer a unique perspective on the decision-making is key. As the collaborative sales professional, it is your responsibility to build constructive tension in the interest of advocating solutions that support your client’s value drivers irrespective of the level of emotional bias.