If you want to persuade a senior executive, polish your soft skills.

Whether you’re trying to sell your ideas to your CEO or you’re trying to sell to a key decision maker at another company, big data is important. But data isn’t the most important factor in persuading senior executives.

When push comes to shove in decision-making, executives tend to rely on their gut instincts, according to a study by two firms: The Fortune Knowledge Group and gyro.

“Business decision makers are, of course, using data to their benefit,”  said Jed Hartman, group publisher worldwide of TIME, FORTUNE and MONEY, who oversees the FORTUNE Knowledge Group.

“However when looking to select a business partner, it is clear that emotion plays a vital role,” he added.

“Decision makers do not just want a partner who looks good on paper,” Mr. Hartman explained further. “They want to create a relationship that can lead to a successful, long-term partnership. As with any relationship, aspects like values, reputation, trust and emotion come to the forefront.”

The study, entitled Only Human: The Emotional Logic of Business Decisions, surveyed 720 senior business executives (88 percent had director-level titles or higher).

The FORTUNE Knowledge Group produced the 2014 report in collaboration with global advertising agency gyro.

When push comes to shove in decision-making, executives tend to rely on their gut instincts…

Key findings:

— Human factors are the deciding factors: Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of executives say subjective factors that can’t be quantified (including company culture and corporate values) increasingly make a difference when evaluating competing proposals. Only 16 percent disagree.

— Executives “trust their gut”: A majority (62 percent) of executives say it is often necessary to rely on gut feelings and soft factors.

— Strong reputations and cultures win: When choosing a company to do business with, 70 percent of respondents cite reputation as the most influential factor. Company culture was also a top driver according to 53 percent of executives surveyed.

— Analytical insight requires emotional insight: A majority (61 percent) of executives agree that when making decisions, human insights must precede hard analytics.

— Positive gains outweigh negative risks: Most executives (68 percent) say that the ambition, admiration and potential rewards outweigh fear of failure and being blamed for making a bad call.

— Long-term partnerships are the goal: The long-term gains are worth the short-term financial risks according to 71 percent of respondents.

“Business decisions are made emotionally and justified rationally,” said Christoph Becker, ceo+cco, gyro.

“A side effect of the tsunami of digital content is, too often, there is an utter lack of human relevance,” he added. “That is why if you truly want to connect with business decision makers, you must make them feel. That is why you must focus on the ‘why’ of your business, the pure idea. The overwhelming desire to connect to this essence has been, and always will be, incredibly powerful.”

From the Coach’s Corner,if you want to persuade senior executives, see these articles:

How to Market Your Ideas to Your CEO Boss — the 4 Keys — If you’re a human resources or marketing professional seeking to be a partner in the C-suite, it’s vital to communicate effectively with senior executives. To market your ideas to senior management, here are the four keys in best practices.

7 Tips for Strong Results in Setting B2B Appointments with CEOs — As every salesperson knows, face time with B2B prospects gives you a foundation for sales success.  Execution in the appointment-setting process is, of course, is key to being successful.

Consultants – 5 Strategies to Build Trust with Clients — The five strategies that enhance relationships between consultants and clients.

The 7 Steps to Higher Sales — Secrets for sales success – seven steps to higher sales, five value perceptions that motivate customers to buy, and the three-step process for overcoming sales objections.

“Salespeople today are the differentiator. That’s why it’s so critical for you to focus on becoming a valuable business asset to your customers.”

-Jill Konrath


Author Terry Corbell has written innumerable online business-enhancement articles, and is a business-performance consultant and profit professional. Click here to see his management services. For a complimentary chat about your business situation or to schedule him as a speaker, consultant or author, please contact Terry.