The Role Of Emotions And Goals In B2B Buying Decisions

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Tony Zambito

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Difficult by W.X. Chee
Difficult by W.X. Chee

For most of the past few decades, leading up to the advent of the Internet and digital technologies in the 21st century, there has been an accepted paradigm regarding B2B buying decisions.   This paradigm consisted of an unquestioned notion that B2B buying decisions were disciplined, rigorous, process-based, and rational.   In essence, a prevailing belief B2B buying decisions were exclusively very rational and based on comparative options.

This is truly not the case – anymore.

What we are learning over the past decade, in which the thousands of buyer interviews I have completed appears to confirm, is emotions are very much a significant part of B2B buying decision-making today.  Playing an increasing role, as more decisions become high stakes, personalized, and emotionally charged.

Consumer Behaviors Transference In B2B

In the world of B2B, supporting the rational decision-making notion, is the belief consumers radically changed their buying behaviors once they walk through the door of their B2B employment.  Becoming rational decision-making buyers using criteria and comparative analysis almost exclusively.  Such generalization no longer works in the digital age.   The Internet and digital technologies have now made such a wall of separation nearly impossible to maintain.

We are seeing new ingrained consumer behaviors being transferred into the context of business situations.   Where buyers are bringing emotive thinking and motivations into the context of making B2B purchase decisions.  For example, consumers have become quite accustomed to finding user-generated reviews and content.  Now transferring such expectations into the context of business.  Riding the ups and downs of an emotional wave of hope for finding the right path towards fulfilling specific goals.

The Connection Between Emotions And Goals

In a previous article on goal-directed behaviors, I mention the strong evidence pointing towards the notion that the pursuit of choices and decisions are largely driven by goal-directed behaviors.  There is also strong evidence emotional elements are often accompanying the pursuit of goals and goal-directed behaviors.  The story of pursuing goals and choices, within a business context, is often filled with an emotional charge.   For instance, emotions around trust could become a major influence in how and why B2B buyers choose a specific solution in pursuit of a goal.

In the past couple of years, we have begun to see some discussions appear regarding emotions.  The CEB, for example, focused on the impact of emotive advertising and promotion in a B2B context.  Finding B2B buyer resonated more so with emotive promotions. In a survey study conducted by the Fortune Knowledge Group, sixty-five percent of nearly one thousand executives indicated they used subjective and “irrational” emotions as their primary basis for making decisions.  In my nearly fifteen years of conducting qualitative research with thousands of buyers, my observations indicates the tie between emotions and the pursuit of goals, in a business context, is more evident than ever.

Out Of Balance With The Elements Of B2B Buying Decisions

Many organizations are finding themselves today out of balance with buyers due to years of operating on the paradigm of buyers, in a business context, only engage in rational decision-making.   We see this paradigm’s influence on marketing and sales strategies continue unabated.  Whereby communications, content, and sales conversations are focused on comparative analysis, criteria, and requirements.

This paradigm, embedded into the DNA of organizations, also causes B2B marketers and sellers to go down the path of a rational paint-by-numbers approach to buyers.  Even with knowledge of shifts in buying behavior towards emotions and goals, systems and processes are still oriented towards rational processes.  For example, marketing and sales automation attempts to force fit fields for rational quantitative analysis.

We have seen a growing degree of importance placed upon the priority of understanding customers and buyers.   At the same time, we have seen a rise in what can be called rational profiling of customers and buyers.  For instance, many of the buyer persona templates and methods I have seen are truly rational profiling in disguise.

A big reason why buyer personas have not been successful for organizations is due to being based on rational profiling as opposed to understanding underlying goals and goal-directed behaviors, as well as, their link to emotions.  Lacking in the use of foundational goal-directed research methodologies essential to persona development.  Rational profiling characteristics typically include a checklist of rational elements such as initiatives, buying criteria, objectives, information sources, success factors, KPI’s, risk factors, and etc.  These are not much different than the rationality-based sales training and profiling of the ‘70s and ‘80s.  As I have written about and mentioned many times over the years, putting a picture on a buyer profile does not make it a buyer persona.

A New Balance Equation For B2B Buying Decisions

If recent studies, such as that of the Fortune Knowledge Group as well as my own qualitative research directly with buyers, are any indication, B2B organizations will need to recalibrate their views on how B2B buying decisions are made in the digital age.  No longer can there just be a group of nodding heads acknowledging the role of emotions and goals.  Yet, rational decision-making based profiling, processes, and systems remaining in their place untouched.

The role of emotions and goals in B2B buying decisions can account for nearly two-thirds of the elements going into pursuing a choice.  Whereby a third is the use of a rational logic and criteria based element.  B2B organizations that cannot engage customers today on these most important two-thirds elements will face an uphill battle.

The rationale may be there as to why one organization’s offering is the logical choice, but, it will be missing the bridge to the emotions and goals driving decisions on the part of buyers.  Without this bridge, B2B organizations will not be able to cross over to be on the same side as customers and buyers.  Relegated to a destiny of forever being on the outside looking in.

(What follows is a short and concise perspective I like, similar in nature, from Rich Palatini, Creative Director for Delia Associates.  Learn and enjoy.)

2 thoughts on “The Role Of Emotions And Goals In B2B Buying Decisions”

  1. Hi Tony

    I’m run Content Marketing for a SaaS company and have been following your blog for a while now as obviously personas are a critical part of content marketing.

    This article and your last one were good reads and I agree that goals and emotions play a huge role in buyer personas, and that people don’t buy based on a very set selection criteria comparing product A to a product B.

    The thing that I find really frustrating about your writing is that while you do a good job of showing me why I’m doing buyer personas wrong currently and convincing me I need to take goals and emotions into account, you don’t give me anything actionable to help me actually execute.

    I believe the hallmark of great content marketing is when someone finds your content so actionable that they put it to use and improve their lives in some way, so I’d love to see a some follow up articles on how to incorporate goals and emotions into personas, what questions to ask in interviews and how to use that information to actually improve my marketing and get better results.

    1. Hello Aaron,

      Thank you for your comment. Always appreciated. I offer many free resources on my resource page to help people and also offer free 30-minute helpful sessions. They are located on my site.

      I believe the hallmark of good to great business writing is to offer informative and insightful points of views. POVs which help executives and their teams to engage in critical thinking and to see a path towards changing their status quo. The “why” is an important aspect in offering strong POVs.

      Having said already that I offer more how-to information on my resource page, 30-minute helpful sessions, and of course through engagements – I will certainly attempt to offer more how-to aspects in the future regarding the essential goal-directed methodology required for authentic buyer personas.


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