Buyer behaviour, reason and emotion: why personal value wins!

Buyer behaviour

Buyer behaviour, reason and emotion: why personal value wins!

What has the greatest influence on buyer behaviour?

  • reason, logic and rationality, or
  • emotion

For most low-level purchases, there’s not much contest: the emotions win out every time. We consistently buy things we don’t need and pay premium prices for a range of irrational reasons. Of course, we set to work on rationalising it after the fact – and most of us have more than mastered the art of dubious self-justification – but we know that the emotions – hunger, lust, status anxiety, pride, fear, greed, shame, envy are the real drivers.

Even for more expensive personal purchases, such as houses and cars, we let our emotions win. Whilst car designers spend years developing incremental improvements in power, fuel efficiency, aerodynamics and suspension, most cars are actually bought on the basis of various feel-good attributes linked to carefully crafted brand associations. The advertisers know this of course: when did you last a TV car advert that mentioned any detailed stats?

Are B2B sales any different?

So, are sales in the business world any different?

The assumption is that, in business environments where every dollar has to be accounted for and justified, and where survival, success and promotion depend on buyer behaviour, that people can’t afford to indulge their emotions so much. There has to be a much greater focus on reason and analysis!?

In many situations, this is of course formalised. Procurement processes are defined and buying criteria are dictated and monitored. The emotions have a minimal role, surely!

Well no, not really! Obviously rationality can play a larger role, but the emotions win out more often than not. Formal procurement processes aren’t nearly as formal as they seem, and there is usually significant scope to influence the importance of one issue over another, to filter or ignore some arguments, through the development of personal relationships and – through these – the delivery of personal value.

Even in supposedly formal and analytical buying environments, individual buyer brains are hard-wired to respond to emotional triggers:

anxiety in relation to budget management

anxiety/fear in relation to various buying risks

anxiety in relation to peer respect

the desire to add value, to make a difference

aversion to repetitive, safe, processes-driven activity

the desire to build personal relationships

the desire to impress

the desire to reciprocate favours

the desire to feel good about their buying decisios

How many formal tender processes are really dependent on 100% objective rationality? Relatively few. The successful bidders are always the ones that manage to develop a relationship and use that to influence the promotion of one issue over another to justify preference for their offering. Of course there would be an objective rational justification for changing the buying criteria, but rational justifications are easy and can be found anywhere: it is the individual value focus and emotional drivers (often subconscious) that really make a difference to buyer behaviour.

Personal value

To significantly boost their chances of sales success, B2B brands should therefore focus on both building deeper trust-based relationships and delivering personal value – value created for the individual which is personal to them rather than making a difference their business. This might mean the saving of personal time, the promoting of personal status, the reduction of hassle, the reduction of personal risk or simple relationship value and rapport – anything that makes the individual feel good about the buying decision.

It is this personal value that makes individual buyers want to change their buying criteria to favour your offering other that of competitors. It’s the feeling good and want that drives the sale – the rational justifications can come later.

Research by CEB in 2014 found that only 31% of business to business brands provide any personal value, but that when it is present, 71%of buyers who see personal value will purchase a product, and 68% will pay a premium wherever there is personal value.

So it doesn’t matter how analytical the buying process appears or whether the buyer comes armed with their fact-based spreadsheet of competitor comparisons on different criteria, salespeople and organisations that focus on the emotions in buyer behaviour and somehow deliver personal value can dramatically increase their chances of a successful sale.