The Rational Case for Earth Emotions


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“Irritating? Ah yes, one of your earth emotions…” mused Spock when Captain Kirk accused him of playing an “irritating” game of chess.

However, despite Spock’s detachment from feelings, he doesn’t entirely live up to his anti-emotion rhetoric. He even allowed himself an enthusiastic shoulder grip and smile when he discovered that he hadn’t in fact killed his Captain in hand to hand combat. (bonus points if you can name the episode)

Those of us that live in the B2B technology world tend to think of it as being an intensely rational environment. Purchasing decisions are based on a reasoned analysis of the features, how it integrates into the existing technology stack, how the product roadmap aligns with the internal infrastructure roadmap and so on. Complex stuff, decided on rationally by very smart people.

And yet, when you actually sit down and talk with the people who make these decisions, and who are responsible for making these systems run, their words are charged with emotion.

Take for example this system administrator discussing a system upgrade: “The stress on my team was unbelievable. I am never putting us through that again.”

He felt eviscerated because while he was performing a version upgrade of one of his enterprise systems, he had critical processes that went down for hours at a time. He and his team had to field angry emails and calls from over 10,000 employees.

Needless to say, he wasn’t really happy with his vendor during that upgrade cycle.

Or this lawyer describing a very useful feature in an electronic documents processing application: “When I show my lawyer colleagues how to do this, their jaws drop. They are totally blown away.”

Or this comment discussing common user configurations that need to be done manually: “I spend hours every week doing this over and over again. It gets really annoying. It should take only a few minutes.”

On one level, you can look at those comments and notice that they are discussing features. But that’s only the surface.

What always strikes me is that the way they talk about those features is in the language of emotions. If you met these people in a social setting, you would perceive them as quite nerdy. They might even speak Klingon (or at least Esperanto). But even among the geekiest of the geeks, emotions still play a prominent role in the way they interact with their world.

Emotions are rarely discussed or even acknowledged in the context of B2B technology, which is strange, considering how high-stakes these deals usually are.

Someone buying a new CRM system for their organization could lose their job if they choose a vendor that can’t deliver. Or they might have to face an endless stream of angry employees who can’t figure out how to use the expense reporting system they approved, or some of their customers’ livelihoods might be in jeopardy if their data integrity was compromised.

The Canadian government recently rolled out a flawed payroll system which has resulted in over 80,000 people not being paid properly, or at all. As a result, government employees are losing their homes, or are not able to afford critical medication. Every night, there are thousands of people that are lying awake, stressed out and losing sleep because of this payroll system.

On the surface, B2B products seem cold and unemotional. When I say “payroll management system”, the primary emotion it triggers is boredom. Did your eyes glaze over just now?

We tend to think of even running shoe purchasing decisions as being more imbued with emotion (“Just Do It!”), but really, what’s the worst that will happen if you buy the wrong shoe? On the other hand, when a payroll system grinds to a halt, it can have life-changing reverberations for thousands.

Here’s the bottom line: If you want to provide excellent customer experiences, you have to acknowledge that emotions are what defines that experience.

Just because your buyers are technical and smart, it doesn’t mean that emotions aren’t part of the picture.

Photo credit: JD Hancock

Jana Sedivy
Jana Sedivy is Founder and Principal of Authentic Insight, a consulting practice specializing in Voice of Customer research and strategy for B2B tech companies. Over the past 17 years, she has lived at the intersection of people and technology and holds 21 patents about how to make that interaction as smooth as possible. She helps tech companies take the guesswork out of product decisions by helping them understand their customers better, providing market insights throughout the product life cycle. She is also deeply uncool but has finally made peace with it.


  1. Great article, Jana. You touch on what I think is one of the greatest misconceptions about B2B marketing. Yes, buyers are purchasing for their organizations, but they are individuals, too. It is very difficult to partition human emotions and rational decision making.

  2. Yes exactly. Furthermore, B2B products are typically much higher stakes than consumer products. Glad you enjoyed the article!


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