B2B Purchase Decisions: Logic Driven by Emotion

7 minute read

Team Kapost

When considering the differences between B2B and B2C marketing, it’s often said that a B2C purchase decision is more emotional, while a B2B purchase decision is logical.

I disagree. 

If you look into the behind-the-scenes processes throughout the continuum of the buying process, you’ll find a lot of emotion underlying the logic in B2B purchase decisions.

The most obvious reason why this is true is that B2B buyers are people. They’re just people spending their company’s money—rather than their own—to achieve a business goal. Spending company funds comes with a lot of expectations and pressure. Depending on the nature and size of the purchase, the decision a B2B buyer makes could affect a whole lot of people, and even the company’s sustainability or growth potential.

Understanding what I call the Orientation of the Persona is directly related to the emotions that come into play in a B2B buying decision. How long the typical buyer has been in their role with the company can be a good indicator. 

For example, if they’ve been with the company for 20 years and in their executive role for the last twelve, they know where the bodies are buried, so to speak. They know who they need to convince and who will throw up the most objection to the idea they want to address. Compare that to a junior manager who’s got seven years in his career, joined his current company two years ago and became a manager with a budget six months ago. Which one will be more confident? Which one will need more guidance? Which one of these buyers will be able to more easily gain consensus to move forward?

Would you serve up the same content to both of them? No, I wouldn’t suggest that. 

Of course it depends on the size of the deal and the amount of disruption the solution will cause, but both of the scenarios above involve emotion. Perhaps for the seasoned executive it’s about leaving a legacy, a lasting mark on the company she’s served for so long. Perhaps for the junior manager, it’s about moving up the corporate ladder. In both instances, there are elements of personal investment and emotion riding on the deal.

emotion drives b2b purchase decisions

Let’s take a look at a couple of other emotionally-driven factors that come into play in a B2B buying decision and how these can be reflected in your content to drive higher engagement:

Want vs. Need

Essentially, in a B2B buying decision, a want is a “nice-to-have” and a need is a “must have.” The challenge given the goal of persuading others to agree to the change a B2B buyer’s idea has instigated is that the argument in favor of the change will be most persuasive if it’s perceived as a need, rather than a want.

Transitioning a want to a need happens in the proof of value and in building the business case. This being said, you must remember that no one “needs” your solution. So the case must be made for solving the problem with your solution positioned as the best way to get there. Solving the problem must be seen as an imperative to gain the outcome the B2B buyer needs to achieve.

In a B2C buying decision, want and desire may be enough. With only one person to convince, unless it’s a complex buy—like a house or car or insurance—the decision is often made based on want and justified for need in retrospect. This makes content development much simpler.

Risk vs. Reward

An element of risk is always involved in a complex B2B buying decision. The size of the transaction is usually larger, the scope of change and disruption has bigger implications and more people are affected by the decision. Depending on the size and importance of the deal, the buyer’s job could be at stake. 

Fear, uncertainty, and doubt have long been staples used in marketing. And each definitely plays a role. Just as in B2C, fear of missing out (FOMO) plays an emotional card. Uncertainty and perception of unmanageable risk can stall momentum toward purchase. Content that plays a role in calming the waters and restoring logic is pivotal at this point in the process. This is often seen in content designed to “debunk the myths” that buyers may believe in relation to the merits—or lack thereof—in solving the problem.

Reward is the carrot that restores confidence and kick-starts momentum that has been stalled by perceptions of risk. While risk of what could happen if they don’t solve the problem is a good motivator, the rewards at the end of the journey are even better. Marketers need to develop both types of content. The trick is in understanding the context of the buyer so that the right content can be used at the right time. Risk earlier and rewards later is usually how this content maps out.

Group vs. Individual

The dynamics of a group decision are emotional from inception. Each person involved in the decision will bring their perspective about the idea, the potential ways in which to solve it, turf they’re protecting, views of disruption, and willingness to accept change to the table. While your marketing programs may only be able to reach a few of the people involved in the decision, understanding these dynamics and the means to help your buyers navigate them is an imperative that should be considered in your content strategy.

I talk about this concept as Audience Overlays in my latest book, Digital Relevance. Content designed only to guide, educate, and persuade who you perceive to be the actual buyer will not help them convince all the others to reach consensus. But content designed to address specific issues of push back that they can pass along to the relevant parties will. And, you’ll become a resource that the buyer will turn to for help in other areas.

Obviously, it’s much easier to convince a party of one, as in B2C transactions. But this is what makes B2B marketing so challenging and inspirational—at least for me.

Logic Driven by Emotion

What we see from the outside—and likely what our customers will tell us when we interview them—looks and sounds logical. And it has to be. No one in business wants anyone to believe that something as “mushy” as emotions drove the decision. Business decisions are based on data in relation to business objectives. But, underneath all of it lies emotion. The more emotionally committed your buyers are, the harder they’ll work at the logic needed to validate the choice to change by buying your solution. Emotion is certainly a factor that should be considered when creating an engaging B2B content strategy.

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