Using Emotion in B2B Selling


Marketers have long held distinctions between B2C and B2B. There’s a pervasive idea that, simply stated, B2C marketing is fun, creative and targets emotions, whereas B2B marketing is rooted in logic and fact. However, a growing body of research suggests that emotion might play a bigger role in B2B purchasing than many people assume. Have B2B marketers downplayed emotion in their advertising, to their own disadvantage?

How Emotional are B2B Buyers?

Have you ever watched the Super Bowl and wondered why so many companies without consumer products advertised in the most expensive vehicle possible? Firms like Salesforce, Intuit and Squarespace aren’t pushing automobiles, soft drinks or potato chips to consumers. Rather, they’re trying to reach business decision makers who, at the end of the day and like the rest of us, are humans with feelings (and fans of football?). There’s a shift taking place; call it a consumerization of B2B marketing.

likely_purchaseRecent research conducted by Google and others found that a B2B buyer emotionally connected to a company is highly likely to consider purchasing from that company, putting the number at 50 percent who are more likely to consider a purchase.

Digging a little deeper, they found that buyers who perceived a “personal value” were even more likely to purchase – and to spend more. CEB, which helped conduct the research, defined personal value as potential professional benefits like a promotion, increased confidence and popularity. It determined that 71 percent of buyers who see personal value from a purchase will end up buying, pointing out that personal value had two times the impact on the buyer than did business impact. In a Forbes article, Daniel Newman concluded, “In short, the survey found that without question personal value, perhaps better read emotional value overwhelmingly outweighed logic and reason in driving purchase decisions.”

This graphic provides other notable data points from research on emotions in B2B buying.



Developing Tactics for the B2B Seller

In a Harvard Business Review article, Bain & Company revealed a diagram based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs that relates to the needs of a B2B buyer. At the bottom of the pyramid is a group of functional values it refers to as “table stakes.” In other words, these values, such as product quality and specifications, acceptable price, cost impact and scalability, are these days a commoditized part of the B2B pitch. They are table stakes in any purchasing negotiation.

At the top of the pyramid, though, are factors that can differentiate a brand and make a vital emotional connection between the buyer and seller. Such examples are hope, vision and social responsibility. Bain asserts that a company can master using these intangibles in its marketing, it can differentiate and separate itself from the competition.


The fundamental values of a B2B pitch will remain the backbone of any marketing. The potential buyer is looking foremost to solve a business need or problem. The idea here isn’t to abandon the important aspects that make your product or service the right choice for the buyer, but to give them a connection to your brand that makes them feel something additional by choosing it, and a reason to keep choosing it.

This post from Cramer compiled five examples of B2B brands successfully using emotion in its advertising.

Emotional Manipulation?

Despite the previously noted research, more than a few marketers maintain there’s little place for emotion in the B2B biosphere. Most of those claim there’s concern over the potential for buyers to feel “manipulated” by such tactics, such as assuming the seller is trying to shift focus from the important business-related aspects of the deal.

“B2B marketing emotional appeals can be a two-edged sword,” Bennet Bayer, Global CMO & VP Strategy, Huawei Technologies, said. “Many buyers see this as manipulation and resent it. Therefore, if you decide to engage in an emotional appeal – it had better be good. Overall, the “formula” is about fostering trust, whereby logic rather than emotions has proven a stronger approach.”

That leaves a fine line to walk when deciding how to approach emotion in B2B marketing. Get it wrong, and the results could be disastrous. However, given how much it seems emotion is starting to impact business decisions, those marketers who get it right stand to benefit greatly.

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