The Tao of B2B Buying Behavior – Why Emotion Trumps Logic


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B2B Buying Cycle Emotion

I’ve always wanted to use the word “Tao” in a blog post because the term has such profound (albeit esoteric) implications. Browse Amazon’s selection and you’ll see many offerings, including the Tao of Leadership, Physics, Dating and Pooh. According to Wikipedia, Tao or Dao is a Chinese concept signifying “way,” “path,” “route,” or sometimes more loosely, “doctrine” or “principle.” This is relevant because as a B2B marketing and sales practitioner, I want to know everything I can about the “path” buyers take on their purchase journey.

Two recent posts on LinkedIn helped spur my thoughts in this area. The first was by Kevin Thomas Tully, who shared the following infographic about the impact of emotion on the B2B buying process. Many of us have long given lip service to the concept of the higher importance emotion and personal value take in the buyer’s motivation – but the survey this graphic was based on quantities the principle. Two key findings: personal value has two times the impact of business value on the purchase decision, and 68% of buyers will pay a premium price if they perceive personal value.


B2B Buying Behavior

Influence two is courtesy of Jim Hale, CEO of Mprove Sales, who wrote an article titled, It’s not just the ROI that Drives the Buy! for the blog. According to Jim, “The single biggest motivator in buying is not data, nor is it facts; it’s emotional response. Humans buy when they feel comfortable, when they feel they can trust you, when the process feels natural and reassuring, and when they come to believe that buying will make them feel good…Customers need to feel that you will deliver their desired outcome and that you will meet their measurement for success. That measurement may not be the traditional business case ROI but rather what they have established as success.”

Note that Jim Hale says that you must deliver the customer’s desired outcome using their measure of success. We are always talking about proving ROI to motivate B2B buying behavior. But what if we are missing the mark and should be thinking more about proving personal value – by meeting their measure of success, not yours. Not in a blatant way, of course – everyone wants to be seen as a good corporate citizen who makes decisions primarily for the good of the company – but in a way that answers the prospect’s duty to his or her company while offering personal value, in areas like:

  • Increased job satisfaction and fulfillment
  • Learning a new skill that increases the individual’s economic value
  • Saving time that can be used for home and family
  • Making the person a “hero” among their peers
  • Trying something new, fun and/or interesting
  • Offering a product which can also be used at home (e.g. new device like tablet or smartphone)

Remember that the person who is your B2B prospect during the day is someone else’s B2C prospect when off duty. Yet, they have the same desires, interests and motivations. Give them what they want on a personal level and provide the right data, including ROI, to help them justify the purchase decision.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Christopher Ryan
Christopher Ryan is CEO of Fusion Marketing Partners, a B2B marketing consulting firm and interim/fractional CMO. He blogs at Great B2B Marketing and you can follow him at Google+. Chris has 25 years of marketing, technology, and senior management experience. As a marketing executive and services provider, Chris has created and executed numerous programs that build market awareness, drive lead generation and increase revenue.


  1. Your post is a further recognition, and endorsement, of the critical roles of subconscious emotion and memory (per Kahneman’s Peak-End Rule) in customer decision-making. In b2b situations, even the most tangible, functional, and rational of value elements has an emotional, or trust, underpinning. When trust is more negative than positive, or is not reinforced interaction to interaction, this can create risk and/or facilitate churn. Some degree of rationality must, of course, inevitably enter into decison=making; but most organizations continue to emphasize the tangible and functional over the emotional and memorable. This feels, perhaps, more like yin (tangible, functional, and rational) and yang (subconscious emotions and memories) than tao.

  2. Christopher, I understand and agree with what you wrote. It is hard to accept that people make business decisions at least partially based on individual feelings, needs and emotions. In “What Customers Want”, author Anthony Ulwick says that his company’s data shows that B2B buyers have between 50 and 150 metrics of project success and that many of them are personnel.

    I think the challenge for the sales team is to address these individual needs without coming across like a suck-up or someone trying to manipulate a purchase decision. More challenges for the sales folks!

  3. Thank you both for your thoughtful comments.

    Michael, I agree that even in situation where pure rationality should prevail in the buying decision, there is an emotional underpinning.

    Sam, the data you reference from Anthony Ulwick is very interesting. Great sales people seem to be able to quickly hone in one which of the 50+ success metrics are important to a particular prospect – while the not-so-great reps are saying: “Can’t figure out why I lost that deal”.

    Chris Ryan


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