Inside the engineer mind, Pt. 1: sales professionalsArticle added by Steve Lewit on February 1, 2013

Steve Lewit

Buffalo Grove, IL

Joined: February 27, 2008

My Company

Ah, the engineer! As a client, this type of person is a never-ending series of hows and whys. As a sales professional, this type of person is a never-ending articulation of hows and whys. It’s no secret that engineer-type clients are really difficult to work with, and we lose a lot of those sales. But, if a sales professional is an engineer type, the problem is compounded. Not only is he or she losing sales to engineer-type clients, but he is, at the same time, killing additional sales he might otherwise have made.

I get a kick out of coaching engineer types. On the one hand, it’s very challenging to get them to focus on the sale instead of the mechanics of how and why things work. On the other hand, it’s quite frustrating, because the engineer mind sees the world and wants to rip it into little pieces and then put it back together again just to understand how it works.

In either case, the engineer mind fails to recognize that in its desire to understand the mechanism, a lot of other important data and its impact on the decision-making process remains undiscovered, behind a curtain so to speak, and hidden from view.

I was working with an engineer-type agent last week and we were talking about his low closing ratio. He said that people say his plans make total sense, but then they don’t act on them. In this agent’s mind, how could that possibly be? If it makes that much sense, why wouldn’t they just do it? Since this agent wasn’t emotionally oriented, he couldn’t see how his own emotions were playing out, and didn’t feel that he needed to see his client’s emotions either.

To him, “Emotions don’t play into it; either it works or it doesn’t!” In other words, he sees people as he sees machines — either they work or they don’t. Machines don’t have emotions, just moving parts. Many clients look at the world this way, too — out of touch with their emotions, that part of them which drives them into action and change.

What can we do to help this type of person, a sales professional who does not recognize or is rather uncomfortable with the role of emotions in the selling process?

When I work with engineer types, I take them through a three-step process that I would like to share with you and which, perhaps, you can teach to yourself.

Step No. 1: Recognize there is a curtain with a lot going on behind it

The visual I suggest to engineer-type sales professionals is that they are operating in front of a curtain; in this case, a curtain made of facts. However, behind that curtain, I propose, are forces which directly affect the facts and how people want to handle those facts. Let’s look at what happened with the new agent I spoke of earlier.
“John,” I asked, “You want to improve your closing ratio because you think it’s a logical thing to do. Is that correct?”

“Perfectly logical!” John says.

I continue, “Let’s say that your logic is a curtain, separating you from a source of information that is critical to your decision making. Would that be possible, in your thinking?”

“Sure, it could be possible.”

“Suppose that behind the curtain are things that you like and things that you dislike. For example, suppose behind the curtain was a visceral, unexplainable dislike for losing, which you interpret in front of the curtain in a perfectly logical way, that you like to win. In other words, your drive to get to the win (logic in front of the curtain) is affected by your serious dislike of losing (emotions behind the curtain). Does that sound logical to you?”


“But a dislike of something is an emotion, not logic. Would you agree with that?”


“So, even though you may not be able to see behind the curtain, or recognize the emotions working to affect what is happening in front of the curtain, you recognize, logically speaking of course, that one affects the other. Did I get that wrong?”

“No, you got that right. I guess there could be a whole lot of desires or emotions behind the curtain that I have no idea about. As an engineer, that’s a little disconcerting. I can’t do a proper evaluation without all the data.”

The first step is to recognize there is a curtain and that there is valuable data behind the curtain affecting your plans and decisions.

Step No. 2: Engineer emotions

OK, suppose you can’t feel or articulate the emotions percolating behind the curtain for you or your clients? That’s OK. But, recognize that you can engineer them. In other words, treat emotions that are behind the curtain as you would electricity, atomic energy, or the laws of physics. Open the door to discuss them, even if from a non-emotional point of view. Here’s how it works.

Suppose John is speaking with a client about losing money in the market. To build his plan, he knows he needs the data in front of the curtain (how much lost, risk profile, need for income, etc.), but that there is data (emotion) behind the curtain that could affect front curtain data. He treats the emotions as another piece of data.

Now, engineer John can say, “Tell me how all this affects you personally,” seeking the emotions behind the curtain as coldly as he would seek the stress factor of a steel beam if he were building an office building.

The client says, “It really upsets me; stresses me out.”
Now John can say, “Oh, I see. Tell me more about the stress (what are its components, how does it work on you, how would you measure it)."

And treat the emotions from the perspective of science instead of the perspective of a therapist.

Step No. 3: Use logic to overcome logic

Logic is a very powerful ally in selling and in life. Logic creates structure upon which we can feel confident and plant our feet. Logic, however, does not create action. Action is created by energy set into motion which, in my world, is called emotion. It is logical to think of logic as structural and emotions as energy, just like one would think of a light bulb as a structure, and the electricity that flows through it to produce light as energy.

The logical person will logically conclude that there are energies that affect structure and that those energies are not logical. For example, an air current that pops out of nowhere and causes a plane to drop thousands of feet; the stock market going up when all the business news is bad; people spending more money than they have and going deeply into debt.

If your strength is logic, which is typical of the engineer mind, then you can use that logic to defeat itself and recognize the forces of emotion which drive people to either do what is logical or, all too often, not.


Engineers know that there is logic and there are emotions and that one connects to the other. Anything else would be illogical. Now, with that knowledge in hand, supported and comforted by logic, you, as an engineer-type sales person, can find your sales climbing faster by looking behind the curtain to the other aspect of life — emotions — which affect how you will handle and manage every piece of data a client brings to you.

You understand that you can’t build a house unless you understand the weather it will be exposed to; you can’t build a boat unless you understand the sea in which it will sail; and you can’t build a space craft unless you understand the space in which it will travel. Likewise, you can’t structure a financial plan unless you know the emotional ground on which it is based.

In part two of this series, I will talk about how to successfully work with the engineer-type client who can’t clearly articulate his or her emotions, making it difficult for you to get behind their curtain to access the emotional data needed to build their plan.
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