The B2B path to purchase: An emotional roadmap

Conor Wilcock, director at B2B International, offers business-to-business brands a ten-step path to marketing success which considers the often over-looked emotional triggers.

B2B marketing may be considered more ‘dry’ or overtly ‘rational’ than its often more colourful consumer cousin. Yet our research has proven that emotion is critical in this sector, despite any assumption that more rational factors dominate.

In fact, our survey of 2,000 business decision makers globally found that 56% of that final purchase decision is driven by emotion – with feelings like trust, confidence, optimism and pride emerging as the most influential.

It’s clear, then, that the role of emotion can be even more strategically important, considering B2B buying decisions often involve a significant investment and longer buying cycles. While these are likely not made on gut reaction alone, emotion still has a key role to play.

Aim for emotional connection

It’s therefore important to set out to develop that emotional connection. What’s more, this is even more pronounced in certain sectors.

The survey found that the construction sector, for instance, is even more driven by emotional factors. This is a business which is built on relationships. It’s important to be reliable, and not just to do what everyone else does.

The impact of emotional drivers was also found to be higher than average in utilities (62%). You may think of utilities as a commodity market. But here, too, trust, confidence and optimism are needed - perhaps more than ever - to create differentiation.

Deliver on your promises

First up, you need to be able to deliver on your promises. This may sound obvious but you need to be perceived as reliable – to be responsible and to meet deadlines. Whether you are responding to an email when you said you would, or ensuring documents are sent over in a timely fashion, just one slip up here can cause doubt to enter a potential customer’s mind.

Don’t create doubt

Don’t cause people to question their decisions. Individuals within companies are usually accountable to somebody. In B2B, the stakes can be high. You may be spending half a million pounds on machinery, or £50,000 a year on a CRM system. If you get that right or wrong, the impact is greater than if you were buying a smartphone for your own personal use. The fact that B2B purchases tend to involve greater investment than their B2C counterparts means that the avoidance of any doubt whatsoever when it comes to your offer is key.

Be consistent

The survey also underscored how feelings of uncertainty, scepticism and confusion are to be avoided. Consistency pays. The buyer must not be in any doubt as to your offer. This requires a diligent marketing and sales strategy. You need every message to be aligned with your brand voice, to sing from the same hymn sheet. Any discrepancy risks a negative impact.

However many brands still struggle with an omnichannel strategy. Done right, this means being in all key channels with a consistent message – using consistent language, whether on the website or at a tradeshow. This is key for trust and helps to avoid feelings of confusion: Any inconsistency or lack of clarity can result in a lack of confidence.

Avoid silos

In terms of channels, if you’re in a category that serves both businesses and consumers - say a utilities provider or a software company or an insurance broker - don’t visibly separate parts of the business. Ensure your brand voice is recognisable. One part of the business impacts the other. Companies have often thought of these two areas as separate, but people don’t necessarily distinguish between the two.

Inspire trust and confidence

For brand reputation, be visible and meaningful. This means investing at the top of the funnel, with mass marketing. Get out and get heard in the right places.

Challenger brands start on the backfoot in this regard. But they do have the ability to present a different way of doing things, to argue that the market as it currently stands cannot meet your needs.

Generate a sense of optimism and pride

While legacy brands excel at confidence and trust, challenger brands may also be stronger on optimism or pride. These are two of the four feelings we identified as having the most sway on the end purchase decision.

Be personal

B2B companies are also wise to segment their customer bases, to identify which prospects represent the lowest hanging fruit and to ensure they are directing time, effort and resources to the right places. Blanket, impersonal messages are unlikely to have the same impact.

Get your digital ducks in a row

In terms of technology’s role in emotion, the way in which companies navigate their own transformation will be make or break for the brand, too. Technology is used to convey messages and to get things done.  It is absolutely essential to ensure there are no gaps in how you provoke that overall, positive emotional response.

If you’ve not got your digital ducks in a row, you’re already at a disadvantage. In terms of AI and customer contact for instance, if it’s all automated you risk talking to all your customers in the same way. The message still needs to be tailored. Ensure that your clients feel understood by a supplier. Be meaningful and relevant.

Be empathetic

Last, but certainly not least, don’t think only about the product. Many B2B brands fail to spend long enough thinking about their customers’ challenges. Think about their pain points, and aim to be the pain reliever and the value creator. To this end, show expertise through thought leadership, sharing your knowledge of your customers’ business challenges, and emphasising that you understand. This is easier said than done.

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