We might like to think logic rules in business-to-business decision making, but our emotions play a surprisingly powerful role – especially when uncertainty and risk run high. That’s why the smart money’s on those who know that to close more deals in B2B, you’ve got to appeal to people’s emotions as well as their reason.
B2B Decision Making Has Never Been Just About the Facts
“I hear you train people on Cialdini’s Weapons of Influence. Can you come over on Tuesday and teach them to my sales reps?”
That’s how the CEO of a local tech firm introduced himself when I picked up the phone one Thursday evening several years ago. He explained that months before, he had sent a copy of Robert Cialdini’s Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion to all his salespeople around the country. He’d told them to read the book and come prepared to discuss the author’s “Weapons of Influence” during their annual sales meeting – which was now just days away.
This tech executive admitted he had no plan, no one lined up to train his reps in how to use the Weapons of Influence.
I agreed to meet with the CEO at his office over the weekend to learn more about the firm’s competitive environment and sales challenges. Then on Tuesday, I spent an hour during the company’s sales meeting presenting Cialdini’s six persuasive principles. Next, we asked the account reps to work in small groups for an additional hour and a half, brainstorming ways they could use the Weapons of Influence in their specific sales environment.
If you know the tech industry, you’re probably not surprised by the short lead time I was given in this story. You may be more surprised to learn that the CEO of this B2B software firm was willing to dedicate nearly three hours of a one-day meeting to the psychology of selling. After all, shouldn’t business-to-business sales be driven by logic and hard cold facts – rather than emotion?
That may be the ideal, but it’s far from the reality.
Emotions Play a Powerful Role, Too
In How an Elephant and Rider Help You Sell More, Chad Quinn, CEO of Ecosystems acknowledges that “we operate with the belief that logic, sober reasoning, and factual analysis are the cornerstones of all B2B decisions.” But, he asks, “what if [our emotion] plays an equal or bigger role in our business decision making?”
Quinn points to a 2014 report from Fortune Knowledge Group and gyro, Only Human: the Emotional Logic of Business Decisions. In this study, a majority of senior executives admit that when making B2B buying decisions, they rely as much on soft factors like “gut feelings” as on hard factors like cost and quality.
“Business decisions are made emotionally and justified rationally,” Christoph Becker, CEO & Chief Creative Officer for gyro reminds us in the Only Human report.
The folks at Ecosystems understand that without connecting the emotional and the rational, many companies will find it hard to make the value of their offerings clear. To overcome this hurdle, Ecosystems fosters discussions with their clients’ prospects and customers that are designed to surface decision makers’ “emotional personal value drivers” as well as more rational economic value drivers.
Using this approach, Ecosystems recently helped one Fortune 50 client increase close rates by nearly 35 percent.
The Stakes Only Get Higher in Business-to-Business
In business-to-business decision making, the stakes can be much higher than in business-to-consumer. Quinn knows this all too well. “If I make a bad decision on buying a watch or shoes,” he says, “I am out the money. If I make a bad decision on enterprise software for my company, I am out something far greater, like my credibility or even my job.”
For a number of years, Chad Quinn and I worked together selling supply chain management software. In that arena, the sales price often topped a million dollars and making the right (or wrong) buying decision could make or break your career.
That’s why, when I first came across Cialdini’s Weapons of Influence several years after working in enterprise software sales, they immediately made sense to me.
Human Psychology’s a Powerful Hidden Driver in B2B Sales
Robert Cialdini spent years studying people whose job it is to get others to say “yes” to them. From this research, he identified six fundamental psychological triggers people use to influence others. He called these persuasive tactics “Weapons of Influence.” A number of these principles gain their greatest power in situations of high risk and uncertainty.
In retrospect, I could clearly see how these psychological levers had been used to help win deals in supply chain management software. I no longer wondered why my company had lost certain sales campaigns in which every logical decision making factor had seemed stacked in our favor. Or why other huge sales opportunities had seemed to just fall in our laps, they were so easy to close. Armed with insights from Cialdini’s work, I understood that in each case, there had been powerful emotional drivers in play. The psychology of selling had taken over.
That’s also why it came as no surprise when the account reps attending that tech executive’s national sales meeting were able to come up with so many ways they could use the Weapons of Influence to close more business, faster.
Share Your Thoughts
Think of one example you’ve seen where emotions played an out-sized role in influencing business-to-business decision making. Were you surprised? Were you prepared? Share your thoughts in the comments below or on social media.
P.S. If you liked this piece, you might also like Get Ready: Data’s Going to Transform Sales and Marketing and How to Lead Others With Cialdini’s Weapons of Influence – Part I
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