We love to believe that decisions are made on the basis of facts backed by data, that the decision-making process is both rational and logical. But what happens is radically different. Data creates disbelief when introduced too early in the sales cycle, and it kills your website and digital marketing conversions. This happens because of an odd psychological quirk in the human brain.

As a Web and digital designer, I've had to get extraordinarily good at sales and marketing because ultimately my work is going to be judged based on how much traffic the website gets and how many sales it generates, regardless of how good it looks or how fast it loads. The challenge of the internet is that you've got to move people to action without being able to see how they react. Winning that challenge requires mastering practical psychology. 

For a long time, I believed that data was the ultimate trump card in getting customers. If something is empirically better, more efficient, or provided actionable insights, then wouldn't that always be the best option for someone to choose? I was completely wrong.

Data is easier to challenge than story and narrative.

The purpose of data is to give clarity and provide an empirical way to move forward. To be as factual as possible to uncover the truth. The hope is that that will shift someone's perspective and get them to think, act, or do something differently. Ideally that means seeing things our way, a.k.a. doing business with us. 

What happens instead is shocking: People challenge the data, poke it full of holes, or walk away with more questions than before. Sales calls end with the ever frustrating "I have to think about it" backed up by some murky reason why and often without specific follow-up questions. Whether something is factual, empirically the best choice, or supported by the numbers matters very little to someone if it runs contrary to the experiences they've had in life because they're not capable of perceiving it as a fact. This happens simply because people are emotional creatures. 

Another common mistake is to assume that the more analytical or data-driven someone is, the more you should double down on presenting them with data. Doing this is exponentially worse than presenting the data to someone who isn't numbers driven at all because the more data-driven someone is, the more experience and context they have to challenge what you're presenting.

Experience guides the interpretation of data, while imagination builds trust. 

The precise clarity that data can offer is exactly what makes it fail in sales and marketing. Clarity eliminates imagination because there's an answer already presented. Rather than creating a scenario where the prospect can imagine all the ways something could work out, they're instead left with doubt, challenging all the reasons why it can't work based on their biases from experience. 

This is why narrative and story work so well in persuasion, sales, and marketing. With a story, the person is left to imagine "how" something could work or be achieved. The numbers person does the heavy lifting of figuring out how it could work in their head. The nonanalytic person is drawn into and understands the narrative and thinks of things in a different light. In both cases, what's happened is that the believability of what your pitching has increased because it's the person that's "seeing" how it could work that way and making their assumptions.

The paradox is that early in the sales process, narrative creates trust and data builds doubt.

The best time to use data is to justify the narrative after the prospect trusts you.

The best time to use your data is after the primary sales pitch, marketing material, or website opt-in has occurred. Namely, after you've gone through the narrative and emotional reasons why someone should do business with you. Importantly, for your data to be well-received and accepted, they have to be at least at a point of basic trust with you. When the data is presented simply and concisely at the end of the sales cycle, it completely changes its effectiveness and amplifies the impact.

People choose to take the next step with you or your idea based on their emotional connection with you. Data allows them to logically justify their decision. For data to work effectively, it has to follow after trust and an emotional connection is established. This happens because they've opened up to what you have to say and aren't in a skeptical frame of mind oriented around challenging your viewpoint.