The ‘Pandora Effect’ and Sales Professionals – Something New?

Pandora Effect and Sales

Sales professionals have known for years that creating the right level of anxiety in a sales process can deliver the desired results. A new study proves there may be an even more effective method for moving your buyer; one hard-wired into the brain. It turns out the cliche ‘curiosity killed the cat’ may not be too far from the truth.

Based on a new study by Christopher Hsee (University of Chicago) and Bowen Ruan (University of Wisconsin-Madison) entitled ‘The Pandora Effect: The Power and Peril of Curiosity’, it appears curiosity, and the need to satiate it, are part of the human condition. Their tests demonstrate that people have a NEED to fulfill their curiosity – even if the known outcome could be negative.

Take for example, a traffic accident and the resulting backup of vehicles headed in the opposite direction. We joke about ‘lookey-loos’ slowing things down, people who have a need to see the accident, even if the result is witnessing a violent and tragic death.

Knowing what they may see, knowing what they could encounter does nothing to keep them from being curious or taking the actions to avoid witnessing something so horrific. The perceived negative outcome does not stop the need to explore one’s curiosity.

Thought of another way, human beings do not do well with the unknown or uncertainty. There seems to be a hard-wired need to answer the questions and fill the gaps.

Emotion, Anxiety and Now…Curiosity

Anyone who has done B2B enterprise sales knows people make emotional decisions for logical reasons. The Ferrari may get great gas mileage, and you may tell yourself that is why you bought it. But in reality, it’s a cool car and makes you feel good.

We know leveraging ‘anxiety questions’ at the right time can often speed up a slow or stalled sales process; can change the way a buyer views our solutions and at times inspire them to action internally.

Yet there are times when a buyer may not be emotional, or the right anxiety question has not been found. In these instances, sales professionals can change their types of questioning not to induce anxiety or inflame emotion, but rather to increase the sense of curiosity in a buyer – which we now know creates a hardwired need for action.

To do this effectively relies on being ‘consciously competent’ and deliberate. It means having mastered the art of the question and being an unrivaled storyteller. As a CRO I was talking with recently said, ‘combining these approaches effectively would mean you have a sales jedi…and I always want more sales jedi.’

This is true, but I would also caution companies to realize, Jedi’s are never done training or being coached. Mastery is a journey, not a destination. Understanding human behavior and approaches that can affect it should be used cautiously and with purpose.

Within a Framework, Never Without

One requirement for being able to leverage this understanding of human behavior is a sales framework that drives towards value – for all involved. Attempting to create emotion, increase anxiety or tap into curiosity without a framework increases the risk you become your own worst enemy and derail the process rather than move it forward. It also increases the chance of destroying a relationship with your buyer – and without trust, there is no sale. People, always, buy from people.


Most sales professionals talk about ‘value’ – delivering it, uncovering it, connecting with it. Many can point you in the direction of value but more often than not are directionally challenged so there may be some wrong turns. A framework that is instilled in the organization from the top down, one that becomes part of the leadership and management fabric of the company allows Sales Executives and Account Executives to speak a common language and determine the right times to leverage such approaches. It reduces the risk of using approaches such as increasing curiosity.

Without a reinforced sales framework that is flexible and allows for differentiation, a framework that adapts to today’s sales challenges, the result for companies can be a team of sales professionals that will deliver wildly unpredictable results and possibly damage key relationships with accounts. This study and this approach could essentially arm people with a complex tool without the proper training. What happened the first time you attempted to install a new electrical outlet? Are your fingers still buzzing?

Neuro-Sales Sounds So…

In the end the revelations from this recent study may not be as earth-shaking for those of us in sales who have carried a bag and lived in the trenches. We spend a fair amount of our time observing human behavior and acting as a therapist for clients at times. The benefit of the study is knowing what we assumed before. This allows us to put another tool in the chest, another lever we can pull and an advanced technique that addresses our own curiosity about whether or not the deal will close.

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