Sales – Bridging Rationality and Emotion: A Scientist & Engineer’s Perspective on the Art of Selling 

 December 14, 2023

By  Martin Schmalenbach

About Me And Why This Might Matter

As a seasoned sales professional with a unique background as a former Air Force officer, instructor, operations manager, trained physicist, and engineer, I bring a distinctive blend of rationality and emotional insight into the sales process.

My journey from the structured realms of science, engineering, operations and military discipline to the dynamic world of sales, as a successful salesperson, business owner and sales coach, has endowed me with a profound understanding of how emotional and psychological factors play a pivotal role in driving successful sales outcomes. Not just once or in the short term, but time and again, over the long term, no matter the circumstances or what the economy is doing.

The Rational World of Science and Engineering

In the world of physics and engineering, where I began my career, everything hinges on facts, formulas, and predictable outcomes. This environment is governed by the laws of nature, where ambiguity is a rarity and certainty is a comfort. My time as an Air Force officer further reinforced this mindset, embedding a structured, disciplined approach to every challenge.

That said, Life has a habit of throwing the unexpected at you, in as well as out of the military. In each case, we strive to be as prepared as we can for the unexpected, and where we can, to make sure that the unexpected never pays us a visit. That being said, the transition to the world of sales introduced me to a realm where these principles were only part of the equation.

Transition to Sales: A New Perspective

The move into sales was a dive into a world where emotions and psychological nuances became as crucial as the logical strategies I was accustomed to. Initially, it seemed like stepping into uncharted territory. However, I quickly realized that understanding and leveraging emotional selling and sales psychology was not a departure from rationality but rather its complement.

In sales, every interaction, every pitch, and every closure hinges not just on the product’s features or its benefits but on the emotional connection established with the client. I realised that much of what we did in the military to try to master the unexpected and the uncertain, the ambiguous, was as much about psychology as it was about logistics and battle plans.

It got me wondering about how to use the one to at least tame, if not master, the other. Especially when I started my next business, having tried in the past before I joined the Air Force. A business that had failed because I struggled with that whole ‘sales and selling thing’.

The Emotional Core of Sales

In this arena, emotional selling and creating emotional connections in sales are not just buzzwords; they are essential strategies for success. A client’s decision-making process is as much about how they feel about a product or service as it is about its specifications. Further, and perhaps more importantly, it’s about how they feel about the potential outcomes, good and bad, that may arise if they buy – or don’t.

Embracing emotions in sales, and increasingly in what I call client engagements, as I seek to differentiate sales in its more conventional mechanistic guise from a more heart-centric and empathic approach, means recognizing and responding to these emotional undercurrents. It’s about understanding that behind every business need is a human being with fears, aspirations, and motivations.

It’s not organisations and businesses that buy, it’s people. With my sales coaching clients over the years, I have frequently been on their butts every time they say, “the client wants X,” or “…is concerned about Q” – I challenge them to be specific and explicit about who ‘they’ is – to name the person, to make it much more real and immediate, despite the discomfort this can bring my sales coaching client. In one client’s business alone, that yielded almost $200M in additional opportunities and sales – something they had in effect walked away from because “they” (their client) had been burned by something similar in the past – long before the person who was their key influencer and decision maker had ever joined the client business!

Heart-Centric Selling: A Blend of Ethics and Emotion

This realization led me to embrace heart-centric selling as a concept and to develop a practical, and now very proven, framework and approach… a method that aligns closely with my own values.

Heart-centric selling and ethical selling practices go hand-in-hand, focusing on building relationships based on trust and understanding. This approach views sales not as a transaction but as an opportunity to make a genuine difference in the client’s life or business. It’s about ethical practices in sales, where the goal is not just to sell, and not even to just provide, but to co-create real value. Together. It means you leave the lofty confines of the so-called “Trusted Advisor” – a horribly abused and misused term if I ever I heard one! Instead, you find yourself being elevated to the heady and rare heights of being an Indispensable Partner.

The Power of Emotional Selling in Practice

Integrating psychological techniques in selling and creating emotional connections with clients has been transformative. For example, just recently, I was approached by an industrial services business doing about $30M annually, to help them with some sales performance and operations challenges. It was potentially a very lucrative opportunity. I had a number of conversations with most of their key influencers and decision-makers as well as their CEO.

In the end, I was able to confirm for myself that they weren’t very sure about what they wanted in terms of outcome or nature of the help. So I helped them through that, pointing out that in the end they likely had the capabilities needed already within their organisation, meaning no sale for me. They reviewed and agreed. So, no sale for me.

But I wasn’t at all surprised when a few months later their CEO got in touch, shared how well things were now going with their internally sourced solution, and how this had surfaced a potential challenge and potential opportunity. And my fee and the length of any potential engagement with me were no longer a dominating aspect of our discussion. Why wasn’t I surprised? Because this kind of thing happens frequently – far more so than when I was using more traditional, conventional approaches to sales and client engagement.


Reflecting on my journey, I’ve come to understand the indispensable role of emotional intelligence in sales. Sales, at its core, is about connecting, understanding, and building trust – elements deeply rooted in our emotional fabric.

Actually, I rarely think of this as sales anymore. I think of it as client engagement. I can’t guarantee to get the sale, and that’s not my goal anymore. But I can guarantee the client or prospect has the best, the most useful, helpful, and valuable engagement with me, no matter the outcome. I’ve found it to be the true foundation for more repeat business, more referrals, and recommendations than I ever got doing things the conventional way.

As we embrace these emotional dimensions, we pave the way for more ethical, effective, rewarding and fulfilling sales client engagement experiences.

Call to Action

I encourage you to delve into the depths of your own sales practices. Consider how integrating a balance of rationality and emotional insight can transform your interactions and outcomes.

Explore heart-centric selling and see how it aligns with your values and approach. Share your thoughts and experiences, and let’s collectively elevate the art of selling, of client engagement, to new, more empathetic and fulfilling heights.

related posts:

Embracing Ethics in Sales: The Core Principles of Heart-Centric Selling


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