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Customer Behavior

Emotion and Information in B2B Decision Making: The New B2B Buyer

It’s the general notion that professionals in a B2B environment are strictly rational, fact-based beings: Before making important decisions, they meticulously weigh up the pros and cons, analyze the relevant data and make an information-based decision devoid of emotions.

But that’s far from the truth. B2B professionals don’t switch off their consumer buying behaviors and habits when they walk into their offices and become buyers. If this wall of separation has ever existed, it has vanished into thin air in a digital world. The internet and digital technologies have brought forth a new breed of digital B2B buyers who come with new rules of engagement. They are more connected, more impatient, more elusive, more impulsive, and more informed than their pre-millennium ancestors. Organizations that don’t address the emotional aspect of purchasing are in for an uphill battle.

The Digital Age – A Shift in Business Brains

It’s widely accepted that rational decision-making is the order of the day in the business world. This paradigm is already so entrenched in businesses that marketing and sales teams produce content and share information that is almost solely focused on comparative analysis, criteria, and requirements. The buying journey they layout is still mainly geared towards the rational buyer’s mind.

But did you know that emotions and goals are important factors in as much as two-thirds of business buyers’ decisions?

The global creative agency gyro and The Fortune Knowledge Group surveyed 720 senior-level executives and found that nearly two-thirds (65%) of executives say that the increasingly complex business environment has made it more difficult to base decisions on purely “functional” factors (for example, cost, quality, or efficiency). Subjective factors that can’t be quantified increasingly make a difference when evaluating competing proposals. Only 16% disagree.  (Only Human)

Businesses selling to businesses need to bridge this gap if they want to drive decision-making.

Which begs the question…

Which Emotions Play a Role in B2B Decision-making?

1) The 6 Core Emotions

Firstly, you need to consider that there are 6 core emotions that drive all purchasing decisions in B2B and B2C. Geoffrey James, a long-time columnist on sales wisdom for Inc. and author of the best-selling book Business Without the Bullsh*t, broke them down to:

  1. Greed. “If I make a decision now, I will be rewarded.”
  2. Fear. “If I don’t make a decision now, I’m toast.”
  3. Altruism. “If I make a decision now, I will help others.”
  4. Envy. “If I don’t make a decision now, my competition will win.”
  5. Pride. “If I make a decision now, I will look smart.”
  6. Shame. “If I don’t make a decision now, I will look stupid.”

To engage and create an emotional connection, you need to create or augment at least one of these emotions in your communication with B2B buyers.

For example, (1) show them what they’re in to win, improve or save, (2) show them what they can lose, (3) explain the immediate benefits and advantages of your solution for their business, employees or customers, (4) give them examples of how you are already successfully helping other companies in their space, (5) share statements by industry thought-leaders who underscore the strategic need for a solution like yours or (6) be frank and tell them upfront why their hesitation will be a bad move for their business (in a nice way).

Read more: The 8 Emotional States That Influence Purchase Decisions


2) Rational Needs and Emotional Needs

Secondly, you have to be aware of your buyer’s B2B environment. Unlike consumers who are only accountable to themselves or those close to them, a B2B buyer’s decision can affect many more people. A bad decision can take the whole company out of business, a good decision could get the buyer promoted or given a raise.

Therefore, you need to ensure to provide your buyer with information and content that takes into account the individual buyer needs (emotional) AND the business needs (rational) – not only one of them.

This involves an interplay between rational and emotional motivators as depicted in the following graphic by B2B International.

Rational and Emotional B2B Buyer Needs
Rational and Emotional B2B Buyer Needs

3) A Positive Experience that Reduces the B2B Sales Complexity

The B2B buying process is becoming more complex. On the one hand, from the seller’s point of view, it involves an increasingly complex sales process with several business units and constantly changing buyer expectations and needs. On the other hand, buyers have more options to choose from and no time to scrutinize and evaluate all of them.

Read more: Keep it Simple to Increase Customer Loyalty and Purchases

This is backed up by the 2011 study “Should I go with my gut? Investigating the benefits of emotion-focused decision making.”

Subjects were asked to select the best car from a selection of four cars. Each car was presented with four attributes that were either positive (e.g., “gets good gas mileage”) or negative (e.g., “gets poor gas mileage”), and one car was obviously the best option with 75% positive attributes.

In this scenario, conscious deciders, those basing their decision on a thorough evaluation, were 15% better at choosing the car than the unconscious deciders who went with their gut feeling.

But, as soon as the decision was made more complex by increasing the number of attributes per car to 12, suddenly unconscious deciders were 42% better at choosing the best car than conscious deciders.

The bottom-line? Choice and information overload are real in B2B. The conscious mind is easily overwhelmed with too much information. You have to give buyers the confidence that your solution will truly benefit their business. Else, even if they go with your offer, your solution will be kicked out or replaced at the next opportunity.

In a B2B environment, you have to be even more convincing that your option is the best option for a business – and this means involving both the emotional and the rational mind. The best way to do this is not by inundating your buyers with a wealth of information, but by effectively personalizing and simplifying decision-making.

In order to make buyers feel positive about your product or solution, you need to provide a positive experience that focuses on their needs and simplifies the buying decision process.

Once buyers are convinced they’ll also be more likely to promote your solution within their organization. If you cling to your 60-slide sales pitch, you will achieve quite the opposite. The new inpatient B2B buyer has adapted to the environment presented online and expects quick answers and self-service offers.

Keep in mind, the new breed of B2B buyers has no time for you, to sit through that!

New breed of B2B buyers gif


In conclusion

No longer is it safe to assume that B2B purchasing decisions are purely based on logic alone. You must appeal to the right emotions too. This must be done while clearly and simply demonstrating the benefits, proven results and value for money.

For a B2B marketing campaign to work, you must showcase a strong business message and concise data tied up with the right emotional appeal.

Essentially, you must make the buyer feel the unique business value of your product or service.


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Abby Driver is a freelance journalist with a background in digital and content marketing. Based in Cornwall, when she's not writing you'll probably find her on or near a beach!