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Head or heart? Where to aim B2B Tech Marketing

There's no denying the IT buying process is slow and complicated. Lots of research. A long cycle. Numerous project influencers. And as marketers are increasingly involved all the way through buying cycle from awareness to sale, that complexity might have real implications for messaging.

Conventional wisdom says the very nature of the procurement process makes technology buyers unusually resistant to emotional influence. They buy with their head, not their heart. Don’t they?

After all, there’s time to weigh up all the options. The criteria are clearly defined. Project team discussions should rule out hunches, trust and fear. So the job of marketing is to pick the best, rational value arguments, and make sure they’re not missed.

It sounds logical enough. But is it true?

In his 2011 New York Times best seller, Thinking Fast and Slow, Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman outlines two ways we all make decisions:

System 1 is intuitive, emotional and automatic. It goes on all the time in the subconscious, making value judgements and decisions quickly on gut instinct.

System 2 is deliberate and logical. It takes longer, and requires effort and thought.

And the really interesting part, for tech marketers, is this: sometimes, when a question is very complex, System 1 quietly takes over – without us even realising it has happened.

Where there are too many variables, or the subconscious doesn’t think it can easily draw an accurate conclusion, the subconscious tries to help by simplifying the question… or even finding another, similar question it can answer.

Sales blogger S. Anthony Iannarino points out a subtle tendency for purchase criteria ratings to drift in the favour of suppliers the buyers intuitively trust the most, or where there’s a strong relationship in place. He believes this shows an emotional buying process, being justified after the fact. Daniel Kahneman would probably agree… and add that, much of the time, the decision makers aren’t even aware it’s happening.

You might say the more complicated a decision, the more likely it is that a buyer or team will respond to an individual or collective emotional conviction over the answer. In other words, sort of the opposite of conventional wisdom.

Of course, sales people understand all this implicitly (how often have you heard “people don’t buy your product, they buy YOU”?)… And marketing will do a better job of sales enablement and lead nurturing when we’re all on the same page.

So what does that mean for your own marketing? Is the rational argument dead? Hardly.

Flex with the funnel

Think about it: when is the buying process most difficult – with all the options open, most variables undefined and a bewildering range of possible answers to each problem? That’s right: before the funnel.

At the outset, properly weighing up every tech provider is virtually impossible – so the initial cut to a shortlist almost inevitably involves an element of emotional shorthand. Who’s about the right size? Who seems reliable? Who’s recommended? Which companies “feel right”?

Often, this is where brand comes into its own – and it’s no coincidence a growing number of tech companies are starting to appear at the sharp end of the B2B Superbrands list.

But as the selection process moves forward? The variables are whittled down. There are fewer “bad”  options. The chances are all the providers are credible.  So the decision becomes, if anything, much simpler; more clearly defined.

It’s here, at the business end of the funnel, that rational arguments, and your hard evidence, become steadily more influential in your marketing.

It’s then a question of your relationship with your sales team, and the role your collateral materials play in their process. For example, you might find marketing can produce the arguments, statistics and assets to build a rock-solid, rational business case – while the sales person acts as a conduit for that information, steadily building rapport and trust with the individuals and influencers in the project team, in readiness for the most emotional decision of all. The sale itself.