The Dangerous Myth of the Rational B2B Buyer

Though the business buying decision is researched and deliberate, it is hardly void of emotion.
profile of human face in blue with gear where the brain would be

As B2B marketers know, when it comes to customer buying behavior, there’s a big difference between a considered decision and an impulsive one. However, the difference in the mindset of the business buyer compared to the consumer is not necessarily as black and white as rational versus emotional. This is a common misconception. Though the business buying decision is researched and deliberate, it is hardly void of emotion. In fact, a study conducted by Google and the CEB Marketing Leadership Council found that “B2B customers are significantly more emotionally connected to their vendors and service providers” than B2C consumers.

And really, this makes sense. Unlike consumer purchases, which are generally low risk, business purchases often have much at stake: responsibility for high ticket products or services that can potentially negatively impact performance and even result in the loss of a job. As a result, “the business customer won’t buy unless there is a substantial emotional connection to help overcome this risk.”

What does this mean for the B2B brand? A major implication is that B2B brands are undermining their own effectiveness if they ignore this emotional side of the business purchase. B2B buyers, while thoughtful, are not purely rational and logical. B2B brands that stand out are those that connect with buyers on an emotional level, generating excitement and anticipation for both professional and personal rewards associated with that brand’s products and services.  This could be anything from the prospect of career advancement to the satisfaction that comes with knowing they have made the right choice.

To establish an emotional connection with customers, B2B marketers must understand what customers really care about, and then translate that insight into a brand that shows not only what you do, but why you do it. (Simon Sinek explores the importance of asking “why” in his TED Talk, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action.”) We saw this first-hand when helping rebrand a professional services firm that provided information and data services to the financial services industry. Conversations with the firm’s customers – top-tier asset managers and hedge funds – revealed precisely what drove their decisions: their purchase wasn’t just about the service. Instead, it was what the service enabled them to accomplish – making better decisions and, ultimately, staying ahead of the pack. This information directly informed the new brand, which got to the heart of what mattered to customers at a professional and personal level and enabled the firm to establish an emotional connection with prospects.

As the Google study suggests, the purely rational business buyer is a myth – and a dangerous one at that. B2B marketers that ignore the role that emotions play in the decision making process are missing an important opportunity to differentiate themselves and connect with prospects. In an increasingly crowded and noisy marketplace, this is critical to success.

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