Do Emotions Matter in B2B Sales?

Humans are wired to connect with each other. And we connect with one another by feeling, not thinking. …Emotion is now increasingly recognized as the key to moving hearts and minds,” Helio Fred Garcia, author of The Power of Communication

B2B buyers are a rational bunch. After all, they’re making decisions about business. That’s not emotional. That’s not personal. It’s simply a matter of tallying up the business benefits, weighing them against the price, making some tradeoffs and coming up with a sound business decision.

So says traditional thinking.

There is, however, a problem—it’s not true. And there’s research from The Corporate Executive Board Company (CEB) to prove this. They conducted an extensive study, including responses from 3,000 B2B buyers. It showed that personal considerations, including emotions, trump business considerations in decision making.

Business versus Personal Value in Decision Making

Yes, B2B buyers want to know that the product they buy will have a tangible and positive impact on the company—a.k.a. “business value.” But it goes beyond that. There’s also an area of concern called “personal value.” It’s the old “what’s in it for me?” or WIFM. “What’s in it for the business?” is not the only question business buyers are asking.

Personal value includes concerns about professional benefits. Buyers might wonder, for example, whether buying a software solution will save time, make their lives easier and have a positive impact on their careers.

Also, wrapped into personal value are the emotional benefits. For instance, will the software make the buyer a star because it would give him or her the intelligence required to make insightful decisions? Will it increase his or her confidence and popularity? On the negative side, they might be concerned that the software may not work as they expected, which could have an undesirable impact on their careers and reputation. In fact, risk aversion makes a hefty contribution to inertia in business purchase making. CEB notes that 48% of B2B customers say they have wanted to buy a new product but have not spoken up about it because they were scared of the associated risks.

The research found that personal value is about twice as important in business decisions as business value. In other words, while you may think that you’re selling to other firms, the truth is, you’re selling to people. First and foremost, people are concerned about “me.”

Why does it matter? Because it means you may need to adjust how you appeal to your prospects.

Emotions and the Buyer’s Journey

For instance, let’s take a look at an insight that CEB discovered about the B2B buying journey. Once again, it turns traditional thinking on its head. We tend to think that as buyers move through the buying cycle, they become more likely to purchase our products. Not so, says the research

Surprisingly, buyers have the highest level of enthusiasm about purchasing a product when they start the buying process. Once they’ve decided that they’re interested in buying a product or service to solve a problem, they will go through a series of steps. They’ll set their purchase criteria, search for suppliers and evaluate them. As they move through these steps, their likelihood of completing a purchase wanes. It’s not until they move into the vendor negotiation phase that purchase intent increases again. Even at this point, however, the likelihood of purchase is not as high as it was at the beginning of the buying journey.

Why is this? To find out, CEB juxtaposed suppliers’ messaging tactics on the buyer’s journey. They discovered that while it may not be the cause, the nature of business messaging is certainly adding to the problem. Initially, companies want to capture attention. To do so, they use emotional communications. Once they move into the nurturing phase, however, they switch to business value messaging. Towards the end of the process, when a salesperson becomes involved, there’s an upswing in the likelihood of purchase. This change could be spurred by the introduction of the human touch. There are emotions involved in talking with a company representative on a personal, emotional level and building a relationship.


As shown in the chart, prospects who engaged in more personal messaging throughout the buying cycle via social media and video had a much higher level of purchase probability throughout their buying journey. Once again, this points to the value of the human touch.

Based on this research, it’s probable that anything you can do to make the buying journey more personal and “human,” connecting with an individual’s emotions, will increase the chances of a sale. To learn more about how to add the human touch to your sales and marketing process (without adding an army of field salespeople) check out our white paper “Human Touch in a Digital World.”