Revealed: Why Acknowledging a B2B Customer’s Emotions is So Important | by Cynthia Marinakos | May, 2021

Research dispels a common myth about B2B customers and challenges traditional B2B marketing approaches

Illustration by Cynthia Marinakos.

Paul is the director of a small plastering business. He’d tendered for a large project, worth $2.2 million — and had been invited to meet the director of the building company running the project.

He asked me to write a company profile for him so he could forward it to the director. I reminded him to take note of what questions they asked in the interview — so we could make sure we addressed them in marketing material.

He won the project. I asked him “What questions did the builder ask you?”. “He just wanted to meet us”, was Paul’s reply.

So you see, that meeting was about the feeling you get when you meet someone. The opinion you form. The emotion they prompt. And the marketing material is reinforcement that this company is legitimate, reputable, and has the experience to do the job.

It’s a common perception that everyday B2C customers are more emotional than B2B customers. Paul’s story shows there’s more to it. And there is.

In a 2013 research paper, From Promotion to Emotion: Connecting B2B Customers to Brands, research group Motista worked with 3,000 purchasers of 36 B2B brands across different industries. They wanted to see how emotionally connected B2B customers were in their purchases compared to B2C customers.

The conclusion? On average “B2B customers are significantly more emotionally connected to their vendors and service providers than consumers.” This dispelled the myth that businesses are rational and logical in their purchases — and challenges the way B2B marketers approach them.

An everyday consumer might buy if they form a bond with the brand. But a business has more on the line — a higher-valued purchase, a longer relationship with their supplier, and the reputation of the individual leading the purchase process is at risk when they choose a supplier.

In B2B marketing, it’s common to view businesses as entities rather than individuals. What’s overlooked is this: we don’t do business with a job title. We do business with a person. And when the supplier can empathize with their contact, they have a better chance of making the sale.

This is supported by a 2017 Forrester report, Drive B2B Brand Value With Emotion And Experience:

“…when B2B customers connect their personal values and motivations, such as professional credibility, success, and influence, to a brand — rather than to just strong perceptions of business value like features, functionality, and service — they are twice as likely to make a purchase, pay a premium, and advocate for the brand.”

“across B2B companies, from electronics to commodity chemicals, the attribute “I enjoy doing business with them” is the strongest influencer of brand equity.””

An example: website user testing tender
I once invited a handful of businesses to tender for a website user experience project for an organization I was employed with. I had a preference for a particular vendor who I’d worked with before, but I wanted to explore options and see how each vendor could meet our requirements.

The risk of new vendors is not knowing how they work, whether they’ll be committed to the job, and whether they’ll do a good job. I wanted to avoid — or at least reduce — those risks for our project. I knew the particular vendor could do the job well and that it would be easy to work with them, so I vouched for them.

But it had to make logical sense for our business to use them. The selection committee heard each vendor’s sales presentations. They saw that my preferred business had worked on past client jobs similar to our business than other vendors — and their price was closer to our budget.

This contributed to getting them the job. The final decision wasn’t mine. And the team won the job on their own merit. But the process was partly influenced by my emotion, preference — and their proven successful projects.

Many of you realize this happens all the time. And this isn’t often publicly shared. For instance, when you wonder how that incompetent manager possibly got their role, dig further and you may find this to be true: “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”.

When you wonder how a collaboration came about, it’s likely because “people do business with people they like”. You see, when it comes to tenders, job applications, and so much more, the process is rarely 100% impartial. It can never be when humans are involved.

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