Cognition, as the definition states, is “the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses. Expanding the above definition, cognitive selling can be described as the act of selling, aided by the knowledge and understanding the seller gains about the consumer, through the seller’s thought, experience and senses. You might ask “What’s the big deal?” People who wanted to sell have been doing this from time immemorial. Why write another article with a fancy name about a process which is as old as civilization itself. Well, this article is not about how to sell effectively. This article focuses on the process of cognition, how digitally enabled cognition process will help in the sales process.

The anatomy of buying behaviour

Before we talk about the cognitive process, let us take a step back and then look at the selling process. To understand the selling process we have to dissect the factors which influence customer behaviour. Let’s look through the eyes of Bob, a middle aged MBA graduate working as the manager in a reputed IT company, who is interested in buying a new car. He recently got promoted to a Director and has the thought of upgrading his car. His peers at work and his close friends circle all have higher-end cars. His extended circles of friends and family members have been asking him for some time to upgrade his car and they constantly give him suggestions on the models he should look for. He has also been scouting online for models which meet his requirement on features and accessories. Bob has been pondering over this upgrade for some time. Now that he has got promoted he would be able to finance the upgrade. However being a conservative economist he is quite concerned about the growth prospects of his industry which has been showing some strains in the recent past.

Having seen through the eyes of Bob, let us try to encapsulate the factors which influence a customer’s buying behaviour. The below figure captures the essence of the factors which come into play before making a buying decision.

We can classify the factors which affect consumer behaviour into external levers and internal levers. Let us briefly look at these two levers which affect buying behaviours.

Internal Levers

  • Demographic levers: Factors like the consumer’s age, social class, culture, subculture inclinations which drive buying habits.
  • Influencers: Consumer’s social circle which involves family, friends and other associates which influence customer choices.
  • Individual abilities : Financial and economic capability, occupation, spending propensity

External Levers

  • Technology proliferation: This is the influence of technology on consumer buying patterns. Take the example of the food and dining business. The proliferation of aggregator applications has had a telling effect in the way consumers make dining decisions. The consumer is equipped with enough information about various choices of menu, the locations, and experiences of people who dined from them at their fingertips enabling them to make informed decisions on where to dine from and thereby altering their buying behaviours.
  • Competitors : The presence or absence of strong competition within the industry landscape
  • General macroeconomic indicators: Level of inflation, business sentiments, political landscape etc which affect consumer’s propensity to buy.

The combination of external and internal levers define what the buyer looks in a product or service i.e

What price the buyer is willing to pay?

What features the buyer wants at the given price point?

Let us now come back to the selling process. The key success factor for a seller is to align the product/service characteristics to what the customer wants. This is where the power of cognition comes into play. The quantum of knowledge the seller acquires about the external and internal levers would be detrimental to the success of the selling process. Data driven cognitive selling is about how data could be used to accelerate the cognitive process that positively reinforce selling.

Dynamics of cognitive selling

So it all begins with data and the kind of information one needs to extract from the available data to help in the selling process. Table 1 is the depiction of the ecosystem which enables the cognitive selling process.cognitive blog 2

The data levers under each sub factor are the key variables enabling the cognitive process. Each data lever can be used to extract knowledge/insights about certain sweet spots of customer buying behaviour. Cognitive power can be unleashed, by connecting these sweet spots to get incisive insights on customer segments. Connecting these sweet spots is enabled by advanced data mining and machine learning techniques—equipped with cognitive power about customers and their buying patterns the selling process become more focussed and effective.

Wrapping up

Data-driven cognitive selling is a means to be more informed about one’s customers thereby increasing the effectiveness of the sales team. The key success factor in this process is extracting latent patterns from the data and connecting them to get comprehensive insights about customer segments. To help implement data driven cognitive selling at your organisation, please get in touch with us at

Thomas Joseph

Thomas Joseph

Chief Data Scientist at Aspire Systems
Thomas Joseph has spent the last 2 decades focusing on IT Strategy Consulting, Business process consulting, Process reengineering, Presales and Solution design. Worked across Industries: Financial services, Telecom, Trading, Engineering & Construction, Process manufacturing. An Industry speaker on Machine Learning at recently concluded SPIN Conference at Chennai.
Thomas Joseph

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