The facts about emotions in B2B decision-making

Estimated reading time
8 minutes
1st September 2022
Author: Paulina Walko
Posted in: Content Production, Customer Insights, Personalization, Psychology & Science

When you make a decision do you lead with your head or your heart?

If you can’t tell whether emotions play into your decision-making, consider this: do you ever try to make a rational decision but there’s something inside you pushing against it? Yep, that push might be your emotions taking over.

You’re not alone in the feeling. In the words of the Bee Gees, “It’s just emotions that’s taking me over” … or should we quote Destiny’s Child “It’s just emotions taking me over”? Clearly, emotions in decision-marking are a big deal!

Emotional business man looking out the window

B2B and B2C marketing have traditionally been seen as quite different beasts.

After all, the purchasing dynamic is different. B2C buying involves directly communicating with your decision-maker (who is almost always your consumer). So that brings a certain ease to attracting, convincing, and retaining business.

Meanwhile, B2B buying involves multiple stakeholders and is designed for the benefit of the company. Therefore, decisions are made over a long period of time. The features, pricing, and benefits of competitors are carefully assessed, and trade-offs must be made to determine the final decision.

This seemingly careful process would suggest that B2B purchasing is a more rational process than B2C. But guess what? In reality, decision-makers in B2B are humans. Therefore their emotions and the subconscious play significant roles in how they think and act, too.

a man's positive emotions affecting his B2B decision-making

Emotions often seal the deal.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at four important facts every marketer needs to know about emotions in B2B decision-making:

1. The emotions in the brain regularly overrule its rationality

Firstly, it’ll help if we look at how the human brain works. It’s thanks to Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow that we know the brain has two sides, an emotional side, and a rational side. These two sides are more commonly known as System 1 and System 2.

As humans, we need to be aware of when our brain is playing tricks on us. Think about any optical illusions you may have seen, it’s very easy for the brain to become convinced of something completely incorrect. Even when the facts are clearly presented to us. During the process of seeing these illusions, our System 2 (analytical) brain is overruled by our System 1 brain (intuitive).

an MRI of the brain feeling emotions

If the human mind is left to its own devices, it tends to make systematic errors that can lead to expensive mistakes. We like to think that we make decisions rationally. In actuality, our emotions play a significant role in the outcome. This stands true in both B2B and B2C decision-making. We are fundamentally driven by our intuitive brain – no one is immune to the tricks and trade-offs of the brain.

Emotional and rational decision-making are often pitted against each other. Feelings take care of our desires and needs now, while rationality defends our interests and well-being in the future.

Even the most emotional people use rational thought when deciding, and even the most rational person is affected by emotions when making decisions. Yet we so often tend to highlight the negative role of emotions in decision-making. It is ultimately together that they work best.

The key is to know when and how to use emotions in B2B decision-making …

a woman with doubt and emotions about B2B decision-making

2. Business value doesn’t always drive B2B decisions, emotions often do 

This is sometimes referred to as the ‘B2B illusion’.

A study by Gartner revealed that it’s hard for buyers across industries to see a significant difference between brands when it comes to business value. So, in that case, how do we make these purchasing decisions?

A major study carried out by Google, Gartner, and Motista in 2013 shows that B2B buyers are more emotionally connected to the brands they purchase than consumers are. Of the nine B2B brands in the study, it was revealed that seven of them had emotional connections with more than 50% of their customers.

This study reminds us that at the end of the day B2B decisions are made by human beings. And as humans, we see the consequences of our choices in personal terms, not just professional ones.

Promoting your product as something that can generate cost savings, complies with regulations, or integrate seamlessly with other systems is hardly inspiring – or something that execs haven’t heard before.

With the market never being as consumer-centric as it is today, it’s imperative to focus on how a relationship with your business can help boost their careers, generate a sense of personal pride, and ultimately transform their business.

two professionals looking at a laptop, considering a purchase

Marketing is increasingly going beyond sales to provide inspiration and how using your product can make a difference.

This, done the right way, can ensure that your B2B communications inspire brand loyalty. A better customer experience and capture repeat customers by positively affecting the way your audience feels when they view your content.

Here is where the power of storytelling can really come in handy. Good storytelling is one of the best ways to create an emotional connection with your reader. This works equally well in B2C as well as B2B marketing by creating more memorable content experiences that play a crucial role in the overall buyer journey. As 96% of customers say customer service is important in their choice of loyalty to a brand, if we’re trying to engage buyers emotionally, we need to focus on the experiences we give them at each touch point.

Storytelling helps us do just that: engage, persuade, build a brand, and create more emotionally-driven value with our marketing.

storytelling as a tool for emotions in B2B decision-making

3. High stakes equal high emotion 

Typically we can say that B2C purchasing decisions are low-stakes investments. When buying a jacket, if it’s the wrong size it’s likely that it can be easily returned and you get your money back. The risk of impacting your life is relatively low.

If consumers make a bad decision the consequences are usually short-term and resolvable.

However, on the opposing side to this, B2B decisions have a much higher risk attached to them. A bad decision at work could result in being overlooked for that promotion, or worse, cost us our job. The potentially long-lasting consequences of a poorly judged B2B purchase decision mean that we must rely on our emotions, instincts, and memories to make it.

But with high risk comes scope for greater rewards, right?

silouette jumping over heights, thematically linking to strong emotions in B2B decision-making

Let’s think about what happens when we ultimately make the right decisions at work. The rewards can be huge. A nice pay rise, a big promotion plus more respect from our colleagues. Not only does this benefit us as individuals, but it positively impacts our families and our future. Making the right decisions in a business context is good for us.

Therefore, both B2B and B2C marketers respond to different sets of emotions. If you are pushing something creative in a B2C context, it will usually invoke excitement. However, B2B emotions tend to focus on feeling safe, confident, and stable in your career. Here, providing an easy and pleasant customer experience is vital for ensuring these needs are met and satisfied, alongside the technical benefits of your product.

Indeed, brand affinity drives B2B purchases. Studies have shown that when the perceived risk of a purchase decision increases, so does the strength of the emotional connection with the brand that manages that risk for you.

Happy person with credit card out at laptop showing how emotions affect B2B decision-making

4. Buyers want you to ‘get’ them

Feeling understood is one of the strongest emotions for B2B decision-making. As such, the future of effective B2B communications is human and personal.

80% of customers say they are more likely to buy from a company that provides tailored experiences, and personalization has been shown to lift revenues by 5-15%. But why is it so effective?

Seeing content tailored to our own interests and needs makes us feel more in control on a subliminal level. Consequently, we have a more reassuring and rewarding experience. However, in the B2B world, the complex and lengthy conversion processes mean that emotional triggers often don’t reach the intended audience.

By acknowledging the individual who is receiving your message, their role in the business, seniority, department, and how they like to receive your information,  you can influence how they emotionally respond to your marketing.

group of professionals collaborating on the decision-making process

Build trust and reliability with personalized and meaningful communications. This will create a more lasting impression across the customer journey and their needs.

People want to feel acknowledged, understood, and important. Marketers must aim to deliver digital experiences that matter and elicit these responses, not just at the surface level. To create worthwhile moments, you must look at the different touch points in a buyer’s journey. If you’re stuck on this, here’s how to put emotional intelligence into practice across the 11 stages of the customer buying journey.

Curious how using the emotions and psychology of personalization can show that you appreciate, recognize, understand, and consider your reader? Check out this 2022 webinar:

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The Turtl Takeaway: Think carefully about emotions in B2B decision-making to make it work for you, not against you

People will often narrow down their selections based on gut feelings and justify them later with rationale. Ultimately, we need to remember that B2B customers are human too.

The best way to give yourself an edge over the competition is with emotions. It’s the critical component for building a powerful, trustworthy brand. Aim to provide your customers with great experiences at every point. As a result, you’ll gain a more loyal following over other businesses solely focusing on boring facts.

The overall science behind how B2B and B2C buyers experience emotion is the same. Yet, the methodology to achieve their respective emotional responses differs considerably. This largely comes down to tone.

Purely emotional marketing risks coming off as manipulative to B2B buyers who are wise to such techniques. You can avoid falling into the tone-deaf trap by providing the buyer with practical facts and specifications about your product. Try to balance out emotional copy in B2B decision-making with personalized and value-driven focuses.

Prefer watching to reading? Watch this webinar with Turtl CEO & Founder Nick Mason and two leading industry experts, behavioral scientist Richard Chataway and creative specialist Imogen Hammond, as they discuss the power of emotions in B2B decision-making and why that matters for modern-day marketers.

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