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The Three Factors That Drive Persuasion When Selling With Data

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Data is a currency in the 21st century. It is bought, sold and leveraged to achieve a profitable end.

The value of data is clear, as seen in findings from researchers at McKinsey and MIT who determined that companies committed to data-driven decision making “were, on average, 5 per cent more productive and 6 per cent more profitable than their competitors.” As a result, C‐level executives are developing trust in analytic insights.

However, the power of this data is going unrealized. While 99% of CFOs and CIOs at global organizations believe that analytics are important to their business, 75% say that they have trouble using the data to make decisions. Sales professionals have an opportunity and an obligation to leverage the value of data when selling to decision-makers.

Part of the challenge stems from the voluminous nature of data today; it is vast and easy to access. Therefore, the sales professional must right-size the data to clearly and concisely articulate the measurable benefits of their solution. This approach matters because “with too much information, people’s decisions make less and less sense,” explains Dr. Angelika Dimoka, the director of the Center for Neural Decision Making.

In an experiment, Dr. Dimoka monitored participants’ brain activity during a period of information overload. The result: the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, responsible for decision making and control of emotions, became overworked. For this reason, sales professionals must sift relevant data from the “noise.” Doing so means considering the research behind what drives persuasion.

Strong Evidence

Many participants in the study came to the table with a fully formed opinion on a topic. Incredibly, some of those same participants reversed those opinions.

What changed? As one participant explained, “You can’t argue with statistics. If they support a different conclusion than the one you were believing, you have no choice but to change your belief.” Another remarked, “It changed because it was supported by research versus just believing what others are saying and forming my opinions based on those.” Strong statistical evidence shapes opinions. Moreover, research from Richardson Sales Performance shows that overcoming the status quo is consistently one of the biggest challenges for sales professionals.

Why? Many customers have sourced their own data before engaging the sales professional. Therefore, their beliefs are even more firmly anchored, which further illustrates the importance of coming armed with solid research.

Predisposed Learning

In some selling situations, the customer may already be partially in favor of the proposed solution. Here, exposure to more evidence reinforces their opinion. This finding is effective when a customer needs a nudge in fully committing to a solution. The concept of “nudging” comes from Richard Thaler who won the Nobel Prize in Economics last year. Thaler explains the importance of making the information relatable.

Relatability appeals to both the rational and emotional mind. This is important because these are the two kinds of thinking that govern our decision-making process. Thaler calls these two kinds of thinking the “Automatic” and “Reflective” Systems. The Automatic System is fast, reactive, and “associated with the oldest parts of the brain.” The Reflective System is more analytical, more careful.

Sales professionals, of course, have no control over which of these two systems a customer is using during a decision. In fact, they’re probably using both. For this reason, sales professionals must focus on information that appeals to both “System 1” and “System 2” thinking, as psychologists sometimes call them.

For example, using short sentences with visual language engages the customer’s Automatic System. Meanwhile, describing competitive differentiators and providing evidence to back up claims can appeal to the deductive characteristics of the Reflective System.

Boomerang Effect

Statistics can backfire. If someone has an opinion, then sees questionable or incomplete statistics that support that same opinion, they may actually back away from their beliefs. This is a crucial finding for sales professionals. The takeaway: ensure that the statistics represent sound science and come from reputable sources.


Handling data carefully demonstrates the sales professional’s conscientiousness in analyzing the information. This thoughtful approach matters because it’s characteristic of many of the decision-makers they sell to, as seen by research from the Harvard Business Review, which found that “people displaying these traits tend to succeed in management roles.”

Persuading people to purchase is harder than it has ever been. Therefore, today’s sales professionals need a more intensive strategy when approaching customers with preconceived notions. Even data-driven insights alone are not enough — sales professionals need to coalesce this information in a digestible format; they need a story.

To learn more about how to support right-sized information with a narrative flow, check out our latest white paper, Selling with Data & Storytelling.

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