It’s Not Rational, B2B Marketing Needs to Get Emotional!!

This post was sparked by a spirited, and at times emotional, debate during the #bizforum chat on Twitter yesterday evening. Thanks to @samfiorella for instigating and @chieflemonhead, @MaureenB2B, @PrashSabharwal and @josepf, among others, for a spirited discussion.

B2B buying is complex because the products are complex. Evaluating B2B solutions is hard, and the final decision is not made with absolute knowledge it is the right decision.

I submit as Exhibit A: the numerous regrettable ERP and CRM investments that have been made by large corporations.

In B2B, buyers are incredibly knowledgeable, but they simply cannot be certain. To confidently proceed, they must believe they are making the best decision. At its heart, it is an emotional decision.

Since today’s corporate environment requires rational justification of our emotionally-driven decisions, I offer the following rational statements to support my belief:

There isn’t a rational formula. There is not a simple rational process that will consistently create the same buying decision. Emotions like trust are absolutely critical, but they are subjective and cannot be captured in a formulaic evaluation.

Beliefs are not absolute. A rational process may shape or support our beliefs, but they are still beliefs. When presented with the same rational arguments, another person may have a different belief, and the ensuing discussion can quickly become emotionally charged. Our beliefs are emotional!

Emotion is the root of business needs. Very few businesses have an absolute need for a 38 page per minute printer. Somewhere, that belief (or desire) was created, and it drove the requirements. But the requirement does not have an absolute root.

Emotions stop deals. If a key stakeholder tells a buyer they don’t have a good feeling about the rational choice, something “just doesn’t feel right, I can’t quite put my finger on it…, but I don’t trust they can deliver as promised,” the deal is off, or at a minimum, the momentum is broken until the emotional concern is addressed.

A challenge faced by sales and marketing is the emotions that matter are not the easy ones to create. Like does not automatically create trust or a desire to work with you. Kelly Lieberman captured this in a #bizforum tweet:!/Tribe2point0/statuses/88770683747840000

Like isn’t the critical emotion. In a corporate environment that demands rational explanations, like or dislike is not enough. Here are some of the stronger and more powerful emotions at play in B2B marketing and sales:

  • Trust. Do they trust you can deliver?
  • Desire. Are they focused on the prestige of a competing solution?
  • Fear. Is there a safe recommendation, with a job and reputation on the line?

Will your sales and marketing address these emotional needs, or will you rely on rational positioning?

In closing, my belief is emotional. Although it can be supported by logical arguments, if it was merely rational, a conversation would not have inspired a post. Emotion is what makes our beliefs powerful.

Your Turn
What do you believe, does rational rule in B2B sales and marketing, or do emotions drive the final decision? Share your belief in the comments below or with me on Twitter.

About Eric Wittlake

I am a digital and B2B marketer with a background in online media and analytics. I work with B2B clients on media and integrated marketing programs. You can connect with me on Twitter at @wittlake or in the comments here on my Digital B2B Marketing blog.

8 Responses to It’s Not Rational, B2B Marketing Needs to Get Emotional!!

  1. Doug Kessler says:

    Without a doubt, emotions are under-rated in B2B.

    We sometimes think of four stages in a buying cycle:

    Identify a need
    Make a shortlist
    Evaluate the proposals
    Make a decision

    Of these, the first and third steps are driven by rational analysis.
    But the second and fourth are driven by irrational considerations.

    Companies get on shortlists for the weirdest reasons.
    And buyers often choose a proposal that’s not the ‘winner’ on paper, due to emotional things like trust.

    • Doug, thanks for the comment. I like the lens your stages provide.

      Rational analysis, which requires having an appropriate offering, well presented, etc (what B2B is often focused on) gets you through the door before each decision is made.

      The decision that is then made, at each decision stage, is irrational (I’ll say it includes the emotional). The provider someone WANTS to work with, as long as they have the presence to make it through the rational stages, is the one that moves on to the next rational buying stage or wins.

      I like this way of viewing it, thanks for sharing!

  2. There are emotions you should pay attention to and are necessary (IMO) when doing business.

    Trust is a huge emotion as is listening to that inner voice of yours. When it senses that something isn’t quite right, your ability to “trust” the situation or the people you are doing business with, can come into play. That “voice” is there for a reason. Whether you listen to it or not, could possibly mean the difference between successful business practices or failure. No one wants to do business with people they don’t trust, however, one may not want to do business with someone who is all emotion either.

    There has to be a rational side to business as well. You need to be rational when entering a new business relationship. It is my thought that most of your emotions should be kept at the door (they’ll be in play later), but you shouldn’t be so rational as to come off rigid. There’s a fine line between the two in the beginning, but as the business relationship deepens, emotions definitely come into play — on both sides of the table.

    There is a time and place for both. When and how you use them in my opinion, is the key.

    Excellent post Eric, sorry I missed the chat.

    • Thanks for reading and taking the time to add to the discussion. I agree we need to pay attention to our emotions, they reflect our gut feeling even if we can’t clearly and logically explain why. Our mind’s ability to reason is sometimes beyond our own ability to explain.

      Thanks so much for taking the time to read and add to the discussion!

  3. Marcus Schaller says:

    As long as humans are making the decisions, emotion will be a critical part of the process. Of course, few of us will openly admit that…we often pride ourselves (incorrectly) on our ability to take rational action. The truth is that we tend to look for facts and data that support and justify our existing beliefs and emotional needs.

    Emotion is always the defining factor in a sale, regardless of how rationally the decision was seemingly made. Even the most quantifiable of reasons, price, boils down to an emotional need (to not pay too much and get in trouble, to get the best option available, to look smart in front of our team, etc.).

    Great post Eric!

    • “We tend to look for facts and data that support and justify our existing beliefs and emotional needs”

      So true and wonderfully said. Our need to provide rational information is to ensure we can justify a an emotional decision in our favor. In a committee-driven buying process, the rational justification bar is high, but it is still the justification of a final preference.

  4. Eric,

    I completely agree that emotions are under-utilized in most B2B marketing efforts.

    As you say, the products are complex and evaluating B2B solutions is hard mainly BECAUSE people are so complex.

    The main problem (as always) is that most B2B marketing just talks about what we are selling. But once we accept that we need to be customer-minded, I think the nest important step is to focus our energies on the complexity of our buyers and in delivering an emotional appeal.

    Cheers to you for another great article!



  5. Pingback: The Importance of Woozles in B2B Marketing — B2B Digital

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