Do B2B Customers Buy With Their Head or Their Heart?

A car commercial I heard on the radio this morning said: “Buy with your head, drive with your heart.”

This is an old debate: do people buy based on logic or on emotion?

Most marketers agree that consumer purchases are heart driven.

But what about B2B?

Isn’t the purchase of, say, valves for a chemical plant an intellectual rather than an emotional decision?

Or are B2B buyers just as emotion-driven as consumers?

What say you?


27 thoughts on “Do B2B Customers Buy With Their Head or Their Heart?

  • In my opinion, b2b marketing is still trying to sell a product to a client. The client therefore, no matter what we world we label them living in, is the consumer.

    There is no doubt that b2b products can get more deeply involved in their technical aspects because the consumer base is more niche oriented. But, set a brochure down at an chemical science seminar labled “The New Chemical Valve” and another labled “Why You Can’t Live Without The New Chemical Valve Revolution!” and see which one gets picked up more. My money’s on the latter… even with “boring”, technical oriented, all business scientists.

    Humans are not Vulcans. Logic is secondary. And, unfortunately in some people, non-existent.

  • Information technology (IT) buyers choose products on aesthetic and emotional grounds, then they have to rationalize them to get approval to buy them. A successful IT product web site is full of backup information that people who love your demo can use to support their internal sales pitch. A successful IT sales call already has at least one person in the room on the customer side who’s already sold.

  • Having worked mainly in B2B sales, I think that because there are often more people involved in the purchase you have to appeal to them logically more than emotionally. In group purchasing there may be a few emotional buyers, but the one logical buyer will have more veto power because the emotional buyers can’t usually convince the others to buy because it “feels right”.

  • Good question, and the comments are spot on. B2B buyers are just as emotionally driven as any buyers, but the things they are emotionally attached to require logical analysis. Just like someone buying an iPod, the CIO wants to buy a product he loves. He’ll love a product that resonates with what he cares about. And what he cares about could well be “it will reduce costs”, “deployment will be quick and painless”, “the board will approve the budget”. To create that emotional attachment, you’ll have to satisfy his analytic side and prove his (or her) desires can be met.

  • Since sellers do not always disclose all relevant information, particularly if it puts them in poor light, there is an element of “gut” feel that B2B buyers exercise. Trust, reputation, and sellers empathy are not quantifiable, and would sway a buyers choice even when all is not equal.

    For instance, a software solution that doesn’t meet all purchasing criteria, but the company has a track record of following through with what they had said they will do, might trump another company that has all the features, particularly if there was a size mismatch between the organisations.

  • We’ve whupped feature/function stuff with emotional appeals in b-to-b. But if an emotional concept is trite, it’s probably best to revert to an approach like, “Three proven techniques to cut your cost of network ownership in the next 30 days.”

    Very often there’s an important place for features in b-to-b advertising: Right below the concept that appeals to the heart.

  • Bob, I think this hearkens back to an article you wrote on Features vs. Benefits, in which you said in some cases you have to emphasize features rather than benefits. If you’re selling to engineers or geeks, they want specs… not warm fuzzies.

  • I agree with Don, many buyers look to the features to satisfy their emotional desire. That’s why I always try to hook readers first with a benefit lead-in and follow up with features below. Even if the emotional pitch doesn’t resonate, the features are there to satisfy the comparison shopper and hopefully induce him to click, read forward, call the toll-free number, etc.

  • I believe all buying decisions are emotional.

    The mistake is thinking “features” aren’t emotional. Even a dry-as-a-bone feature bullet could have a strong emotional appeal to a techie who has wasted days doing something a product should have done for him.

    Techies often understand the implications of “features” and can often translate them to benefits without our help. Consumers of less technical products often need the picture drawn for them (or one created for products with real little differentiation).

    This isn’t to suggest that techie-bound creative needs to be dry and boring, but it certainly explains their oft-stated preference for facts instead of fantasy.

  • B2B customers are as diverse as consumers, and blanket statements don’t apply to all of them. Tech buyers are different from warehouse managers are different from office supply clerks are different from safety managers and so on.

    I try to make emotional appeals backed up strongly by factual benefits – something like “our systems get you home a little earlier” followed by hard facts on how they do that. Presenting just the dry facts doesn’t work for anything, but it’s necessary in many B2B markets. Presenting the same features with benefits that try to connect them to the customer’s frustrations will almost always work.

  • Yep

    B2B is simply Business 2 People the same as B2C is Business 2 People.

    No difference.

    Emotion buys and logic rationalises, whatever the sale – even with geeks.


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  • Fear of loss, want of gain, emotion, logic, whatever. It all depends on what you’re selling and who you are talking too. Find their “hot buttons” speak with conviction, but please don’t stereotype buyers, products or people!

    It’s different strokes for different folks, so find out what the customer is looking for (or “just looking” for), then justfy with features and benefits (not price), and ask for the order with total confidence you have sold it.

    If you don’t know how to do that, learn or find a profession that doesn’t require a beharioral science awareness in order to achieve success.

    Sales is a great profession, but it takes a special person to do well. The good news is that, like everything in life, it is simply a matter of learning. In sales, “the more you learn, more you earn” concept proves to be valid a lot quicker than most professions.

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