B2B buying. It’s an emotional business.
The road to the business to business purchase is a detached, rational, cool-headed process based solely on considerations of the business benefits that the decision will bring: making money, saving costs, bringing time efficiencies improving business performance…. Right?
Ah, so business buying decisions are just as susceptible to the influence of emotional triggers as consumer purchases?
There can be 5 times more emotion involved in B2B buying than in B2C. Five times. So it’s not even close. That means that, to give your business to business marketing campaigns a better chance of achieving the results you want, you need to identify and appeal to the emotional drivers that motivate your specific audience.
But you’re in B2B. You’ll need evidence.
A few months ago Google teamed up with the CEB Marketing Leadership Council to investigate and challenge the basic assumptions of B2B marketers when it comes to developing marketing communications. They surveyed a total of 3,000 buyers from 36 B2B brands across several different industries and what they discovered was that business buying, far from being impersonal and purely business benefit-based, is very personal indeed.
The study found that, while B2C brands have emotional connections with between 10% and 40% of their customers, most of the B2B brands surveyed had emotionally connected with well over 50% of customers.
That’s not to say that B2B and B2C buying decisions are made in very similar ways. The B2B buying process, by its very nature, is generally longer, involves more stakeholders, has several distinct stages and usually involves a much larger investment.
In addition to that, in 50-60% of cases, your prospect will already have done bucketloads of research and will have drawn up their shortlist of potential suppliers before they even contact you. And once they have that shortlist, there is very little in terms of business benefit that distinguishes you from your competitors – unless you want a price war.
What’s more, where they do see a difference, they’re not prepared to pay for it:
Q: “Do you see a real difference between suppliers and value the difference enough to pay for it?”
That’s a pretty concerted “no”. So if you can’t compete on business benefits, how do you persuade prospects to choose your brand?
Consider those emotional connection percentages again. Why do so many B2B purchasers feel so emotionally connected to the brands they buy from? The answer lies in those distinct differences between B2B buying decisions and those of consumers. When a consumer makes a purchase, even a relatively high value one, there are usually very few people to answer to if it’s a bad decision, often only themselves. And in a worst case scenario, the item can usually be returned.
In business, the stakes are far higher. A bad decision here can mean huge financial losses, an adverse effect on business performance, loss of status – or even the buyer’s job. A good decision however – and one that’s perceived as good not only by the buyer but by their various stakeholders, can bring immense personal benefit – recognition, reward, status, to name just a few.
So any supplier who can minimise the personal risk and strike at their buyers’ pain points is going to have a big advantage. Huge, if the decision to choose your brand results in positive personal outcomes too.
Appeal to these emotional drivers and you’ll be providing personal value to add to the business value that got you on to the shortlist in the first place.
The Google/CEB study found that if B2B buyers perceive personal value in the decision to choose your product, then there is twice the increase in terms of consideration, preference, repeat purchase and advocacy than where they perceive business value alone. And buyers are an astonishing 8 times more likely to pay a premium.
So what are the emotions you need to appeal to in order to win the hearts and minds of your prospects? This is where you need to get to know your customer. Not just who they are and what they do, but what motivates them; what are their pain points and aspirations?
Equipment suppliers Grainger, demonstrate that they completely understand their customers’ need to get things done quickly and efficiently and keep the plant running for the good of the organisation. Their “For the ones who get it done” campaign addressed buyers’ pain points, solved their problem with products and ideas to help them do a better job and appealed to their aspirations of being recognised as someone who gets the job done.
Whilst understanding your prospect’s business needs can be relatively straightforward, understanding their personal issues in the workplace requires a great deal more research. Never forget that your buyers are people. People can be motivated by any, or many emotional triggers from the need to seek approval, to avoiding risk, to feeling safe and secure, or simply to be entertained. If you think you can pull it off and it’s appropriate, try humour!
On a serious, yet no doubt emotional note, Oracle asked MOI to create a video showing how joined-up data could improve the life of a patient with a serious long-term condition. Oracle sales reps would use the video as a conversation-starter during sales meetings, and it would be played on exhibition stands to draw attention and footfall. MOI created the character of Sabrina, a teenager with cerebral palsy. The video is her scrapbook, animated using different media and techniques (live-action video, still images, hand-drawn animation, stop-motion animation). In voiceover, Sabrina talks about her life and the magnitude and value of the role that IT plays within it. The video has a great visual impact, emphasising the human side of technology so often missed in enterprise technology marketing. Take a look at the video here.
And triggering emotional response is where social media can come into its own. Unlike the formal response to formalised research questions, social is where users will write spontaneously, qualify fact with opinion and colour reaction with sentiment. And they will share how they feel. If you can trigger social sharing when you appeal to your prospects, then your prospect pool could end up bigger than you think…
- Emotions drive sharing
- Sharing drives deeper understanding and action
- Actions drive preference
- Preference drives decisions
Whatever method you choose to get deep inside your business buyer’s psyche, what’s important is that you demonstrate your understanding, and with empathy. And if your communications can address both the rational and the emotional buying triggers, then your prospect can buy on all the emotion they like. And be able to justify it to their stakeholders with fact.