The 4 Motivations Behind B2B Purchases – Part 2

Published by Bret Kinsella on

Yesterday, we introduced the concept of the four motivations behind B2B purchases: Pains, Gains, Fears and Peers. Yesterday we addressed the motivations that appeal to logic: pains and gains. We also explored why logic isn’t enough. Today we will consider the emotional motivations that creep into and even control B2B purchases.


The Power of Emotion

B2B marketers typically expend most of their effort on logical appeals to target customers. This is often because company leaders have engineering or other backgrounds that are founded on logical analysis. Research by the the Corporate Executive Board (CEB) published in 2013 suggests that this bias is a mistake.

“Unfortunately, brands’ widespread success at demonstrating business value has its limitations. Although each brand can claim impressive business outcomes, so too can that brand’s competitors. In fact, business value perceptions hardly vary at all between brands, either within an industry or even across industries (See CEB Fig. 5 below)…Business value is just table stakes. It gets suppliers into a buyer’s consideration set but doesn’t make them stand out with that set of competitors…One explanation for that limited effect of business value messages lies in the nature of decision-making itself. Although B2B buying is often treated as a rational activity, all human decisions are driven by a complex mix of gut, emotion, post-rationalization and reason.”

CEB, From Promotion to Emotion 2013


Fear – Appealing to Emotion

fear-buy-motivationFear is one of those emotional motivators that marketers can leverage to impact sales. It clocks in at Level 2 in Maslow’s hierarchy of basic needs and has the added benefit of potentially impacting all three buyer questions, including “Why do it with you?”  Although many people think about Maslow’s Level 2 as “safety” it also includes a “safety net” against potential adverse events. Consider the motivations behind buying insurance, saving for retirement or a preference for job security over advancement. These are all fear motivators.

Fear can be the hardest motivation to get right in marketing without it seeming trite or gratuitous. It requires some subtlety. While there are many ways to work fear into your marketing and sales efforts, most marketers can focus on one strategy to weave this emotional motivation into their portfolio: The Fear Appeal.

“A fear appeal is composed of three main concepts: fear, threat and perceived efficacy,” according to Kaylene C. Williams in Research in Business & Economics Journal, March 2012. What does this mean? First, you need to identify the fear. Next, you must identify the threat that could make the fear a reality. This will create resonance that the fear is justified and potentially imminent. Finally, you must identify a solution. Research suggests that fear appeals are not effective without a recommended solution, but this is the easy part. The solution is your product.

The CEB research points out how fear can motivate buyers in a B2B example from W.W. Grainger. If a buyer has a fear about the negative impact of a manufacturing line interruption and there are many reasons why this might occur, a solution to avoid or mitigate the damage can help generate interest that they should do something and potentially do something without delay. Your track record addressing these very problems or concerns about the efficacy of your competitors’ solutions can also help provide you with an advantage when it comes to the question of “why do it with you?

reason-failed-purchase-intent-CEBOne more thing to consider. The buyer typically fears purchasing from you. It seems safer to keep doing what they are doing today. The CEB study has another insight worth considering. Forty-eight percent of buyers in 2013 agreed that they had failed to follow through on a purchase they wanted to make. When asked the reason for not acting on a purchase intent, buyers admitted that as much as 50% of the time the risk of loss of respect and credibility was the prime motivator. Another 10-15% suggested the risk of losing their job was the motivation. Buyers fear making a purchase. Every action carries some risk. When you introduce a fear appeal into your marketing you are often fighting fear with fear. That’s a good idea.

Peers – Social Proof is Often Better Than Actual Proof

peers-buy-motivationPeople are busy. They don’t have time to research everything in depth, so they often look to peers as a point of reference on what they should do. People can also recognize a trend and many are reluctant to be left out when all of their peers are taking a specific action. This translates into a positive emotion about being part of a group and can also mitigate a fear that not taking action could be a mistake. Whether it’s a trend or simply looking to the wisdom of a crowd of peers, social proof is a powerful emotional motivator.

My favorite authors on this topic are Robert Cialdini and Geoffrey Moore. Cialdini in his book, Influence, says this about social proof:

“The principle of social proof states that one important means that people use to decide what to believe or how to act in a situation is to look at what other people are believing or doing there. Powerful imitative effects have been found among both children and adults and in such diverse activities as purchase decisions, charity donations and phobia remission. The principle of social proof can be used to stimulate a person’s compliance with a request by informing the person that many other individuals (the more the better) are or have been complying with it.”

Robert Cialdini, Influence, 5th Edition, 2009

social-proof-marketing-strategyThere is plenty of sociological research to confirm this conclusion. However, most of us only need to look at our own experience. We see people following the crowd all of the time. Very often this is in their best interest. As marketers, we can harness social proof to help people get over their resistance to change and adopt our product or service. This is particularly important in purchasing new technology that buyers perceive as representing a significant change.

Geoffrey Moore takes this same concept and provides further guidance to marketers in his 1991 book, Crossing the Chasm. His conclusion is that when companies are starting to get past the early adopter buyers and into the early majority that represent the larger part of the market, social proof becomes more critical than product features and performance.

“In sum, to the pragmatist buyer, the most powerful evidence of leadership and likelihood of competitive victory is market share. In the absence of definitive numbers here, pragmatists will look to the quality and number of partners and allies you have assembled in your camp, and their degree of demonstrable commitment to your cause.”

Geoffrey Moore, Crossing the Chasm, 3rd Edition, 2002

Moore is talking about social proof writ large. The masses have chosen and if your product is their choice, you have a distinct competitive advantage. Cialdini presents information on how social proof can make a difference even among a small group. We all understand from experience that even having a single reference customer can make the acquisition of a second customer much easier. Since someone else has trusted you and your claims, it makes it easier psychologically for the next buyer to overcome their innate skepticism. If those early adopters are well known and respected among their peers, so much the better, but even that is not required.

Social proof also helps you answer the three questions we keep returning to. Why should I do this? Because someone else or many others have preceded you. Why should I do this now? Because your peers are capturing the benefits of this product today and you are falling behind or missing out on something valuable. Why should I do this with you? Because, look at all of your peers that faced the same decision and chose us.

Using social proof should be second nature for most marketers. Case studies are always a valuable asset that support the sales process and lend credibility among the media and other influencers. In addition, don’t be afraid to make credible claims that reinforce social proof. Do you have the leading market share or fastest growth rate? Are you the most chosen product within a particular industry or geography? Do you have the most analyst endorsements or even a single award? People take note when there is evidence that others like them have chosen to implement your solution.

Emphasizing social proof works to your advantage in subtle ways even when buyers won’t acknowledge it publicly. Think about the perceived risk buyers expressed in the CEB study about making the wrong decision when introducing change into their organization. These buyers will have similar fears it they don’t choose the leading solution.

Leverage Logic and Emotion

Most B2B marketers understand how to build a logical argument. It requires them to learn about the industries they serve and the business processes they impact. They can then tally up the gains customers can expect when using the solution. The more sophisticated marketers will go deeper to really understand the pain that they are addressing and make that the centerpiece of customer communication. From a logical stand point, it may seem like gains are most important but experience informs us that pains have the most motivational power.

Emotion requires a different kind of knowledge. Marketers must learn more about the personal characteristics of buyers. It’s not enough to know the business, you must know the common characteristics of the people making the decisions. This is where customer personas come into play. By designing your messaging around buyer personas, you can more effectively leverage emotional persuasion in your marketing and sales efforts.

It’s time to audit your marketing portfolio and campaigns to see how you are using pains, gains, fears and peers in your messaging and content. Do your case studies emphasize the problems the customer faced and the daily negative impact? Does your business case focus on gains that are part of your buyers’ top annual objectives? Do you tell a story about how your solution helps to avoid negative outcomes? Do you talk about your market share or other growth that emphasizes how many users have chosen you? Figure out your gaps and which areas can help differentiate you while aligning your solution with the target customers’ strongest motivations.

Bret Kinsella

Bret Kinsella founded Act with Edge to help tech companies build growth engines based on their own audience, inbound content marketing and premium brand positioning.