I hear this almost every time I speak at conferences and workshops — “Cool Talia, I can see how emotional marketing works for B2C. But it doesn’t work in B2B, right?”
It’s a simple and common misconception about B2B buyers. They’re often viewed as methodical thinkers who only make purchase decisions based on logic.
Basically, we’ve somehow convinced ourselves that B2B buyers are robots. But the truth is that B2B buyers are human beings with a mixture of fears, concerns, and questions all based on emotions.
When it comes to making decisions, they have to consider not only their own emotions, but also the team around them and everyone else who’ll be impacted by their decision.
That’s a lot of people and a lot of pressure to choose something everyone will like, agree to, find useful, get on board with, and use regularly.
In this guide, I’m taking a closer look at how emotions work in B2B marketing and showing you how to develop an emotional marketing strategy to improve your B2B sales.
How B2B Buyers Think And Make Decisions
PSA: All human decisions are based on emotion. Yes, that includes both B2B and B2C decisions.
That’s why it’s important to look at what researchers say about how humans make decisions because, unless proven otherwise, B2B buyers are humans too. Here’s a brief video that will help you learn more about why emotions matter in B2B marketing.
Now, let’s look more closely at what researchers have to say about how humans make decisions.
Emotions And Decision-Making: What Does The Research Say?
Gerald Zaltman, Professor of Business Administration Emeritus at the Harvard Business School, conducted research on the subconscious mind of the consumer and published his findings in his book How Customers Think: Essential Insights into the Mind of the Market. His pivotal discovery was that 95% of purchase decisions occur in the subconscious mind — the area of your brain that controls your beliefs, previous experience, memory, skills, and emotions.
Professor Zalman isn’t alone. Recently, there has been more research by neuroscientists and other professors that support his discovery. Dr. Robert Cialdini, who wrote the book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, highlighted seven persuasion principles that influence emotions in marketing:
- Consistency and commitment
- Social proof
Then there’s Professor Dan Ariely’s research. He looked at whether past emotions influence future actions and discovered that recklessly poor emotional decisions often guide later seemingly rational moments.
Antonio Damasio’s research also proves that emotions directly impact our decisions. He discovered that patients with brain lesions on the part of their brains that impact emotions could no longer make good decisions.
An Example Of Emotions In B2B Marketing
My team and I have been working with Teamwork to convert more people who fit their ideal customer profile (ICP). Teamwork had a challenge that isn’t uncommon in the B2B world; there are several well-known players in their niche thus making it difficult for them to stand out.
They had to understand key details about their ICP — all the people involved in the decision-making process, the emotions that drove each person’s decisions, and how to represent those emotions in a way that would lead to conversions.
That’s where the Getuplift team came in. We helped Teamwork:
- Increase conversion rates from comparison pages by 54%
- Experience a 172% increase in ICP signups from landing pages
- 7x the conversion rate from the homepage
All of this could only be achieved through emotional marketing research. One of our first findings was that Teamwork’s customers were comparing, and they were comparing hard. They also went through a clear three-step decision-making process which you can learn more about in the full case study where we also dive into the details of our process and why it worked.
There are many other B2B brands that use emotional marketing to appeal to their target customers. RandFishkin, Founder and CEO of SparkToro, shared how emotion plays a huge part of SparkToro’s marketing success:
Emotion is a huge part of SparkToro’s brand, marketing, and the reasons people convert. We lean hard on the idea of being a good guy fighting against the “bad guys” of the Facebook/Google/Amazon monopolies. Our entire marketing funnel from top to bottom is designed to lean on the emotional resonance of what we do — helping people, being a trustworthy resource, offering a generous free version, making it easy to cancel, and providing no-questions-asked returns. We mix a lot of logic and reason into our arguments for SparkToro (and the audience research we help people accomplish), but it’s always tied up with emotional positioning, too.
At GetUplift, the ‘bad guys’ (bad approach) are companies that see customers or clients as data points, not humans. These are the brands that rely very heavily on information like browser, device, age, and geographical location, but don’t have a clear understanding of who their customers are — the PEOPLE behind the screens.
Demographic and behavioral data explain the ‘what’ (what’s not working and where) but they don’t explain the ‘why’— why should the customer care? Why is this problem happening? Why do people buy from them? That’s where qualitative data comes in; it uncovers how customers feel about your brand, puts customers at the center, and encourages brands to actually care.
Emotional Marketing In The B2B Sales Funnel
B2B sales funnels depend on the sales cycle of the product. Oftentimes, B2B products have sale cycles of three months or more because of their high price points. These costs mean that the decision process is longer and involves multiple stakeholders within the company. This is what truly distinguishes B2B from B2C — more people are involved in the decision-making process and there’s usually a greater investment required.
Whereas with B2C someone can buy something for $50 and then get an upsell, B2B decision-makers have to figure out if spending more on a more expensive option is worthwhile. They’re typically looking at options that require thousands of dollars.
You need the emotional value and appeal to sell that in-house at a company.
Going back to the Teamwork example, we discovered that their ideal buyers took four to six weeks to decide using their “shopping list” as a guide. That shopping list included:
- What they’re looking for in terms of features and capabilities
- Who they’re trying to serve on their teams (multiple people, thoughts, and emotions)
We understood that these customers needed to see information in a particular way during their four to six weeks of decision-making. Also, we looked closely at the pages they needed to see and the order in which they needed to see them in for the best outcome. Helping them feel confident in their decision, despite the length of their decision-making process, led to more conversions.
It’s important to really understand the full picture of a B2B buyer’s journey because B2B purchases take more time. That information will help you address each step of the journey at the right time. Sure, we all know a buyer won’t follow a linear progression through a sales funnel. There are multiple ways for the buyer to experience the brand and come to a conclusion. That’s why you have to be there every step of the way to identify what happens, where they go, and what they’re looking at.
I believe emotion matters for all customers. Inherent to good marketing is addressing people’s problems. And problems are painful — they’re emotional. If you can’t feel your customers’ pain, then it means you don’t care enough.
6 Steps For Using Emotional Marketing In Your B2B Sales Funnel
Although B2B and B2C customers are first influenced by their emotions to make purchase decisions, there are more layers to peel through in B2B marketing than there are in B2C marketing. The B2B buying process is filled with multiple stakeholders who each have their shopping lists and need to be convinced that your product is the right investment. The six steps I’ve outlined below come from years of experience working with various B2B brands. It’s a process that works.
1. Identify Your Prospect’s Stage In The Journey
There are four basic pillars of customer research — surveys, interviews, review mining, and competitor analysis — and those pillars are important in both B2C and B2B marketing. Your research should begin with this main question:
Who are we actually speaking to?
- Who are the people making the decision? Oftentimes, these are not the people who will using the solution on a daily basis.
- Who are the people that will actually trial this product and use it? These may very well be different people from those making the purchase decision
If you want to drive more trials, demo requests or sales, you have to cater to these two types of people in your B2B sales funnel.
You need to understand their pains, emotional triggers, and what’s motivating them individually to try your solution.
At GetUplift, we’ve learned that B2B buyers are usually motivated by one of the following:
- The business is now struggling to get something done (for example, a new problem they never had before has come up and they’re navigating it from scratch).
- The way they’re doing something just doesn’t cut it anymore (for example, something that could have been done using a spreadsheet in the past is no longer relevant).
- The business has grown and they need an entirely different solution (for example, they’ve outgrown their current solution, and now they need something more robust).
It’s important to understand what’s not working for the B2B buyer now and why it’s not working so that this information can be clearly communicated throughout the sales funnel. Many B2B brands miss this step which is why many B2B industries seem to be filled with brands that look the same.
What’s your promise to them?
Your customer research should be dedicated to uncovering their individual challenges, desired outcomes AND how you solve those problems for them.
Sure, you have a lot of features – but so do your competitors. The question is, how do you stand out?
Through extensive AB testing, we’ve found that by shining a light on the customer’s outcomes and highlighting how they’re going to FEEL after using your solution makes the whole difference (for them, and your conversions).
As Teamwork’s customer explains:
The B2B industry is slammed with competitors. You could have an amazing tool and product but if you’re not explaining how it benefits people and the change it’s going to bring to their lives, they’re just going to go for what they know which may be the biggest competitor in the industry. Either that or they go with a cheaper option.
Focusing on detailed B2B buyer research makes your brand the purple cow — the B2B brand that stands out.
It’s also important to understand the relationship among the decision-makers in your ideal B2B buyer’s organization. Here’s an example. Let’s say there’s a designer who needs a specific software tool to create wireframes. The designer is the person who will be using the software but he reports to the project manager who reports to the Head Of Creative, the person who signs off on the purchase. In this case, you’re selling to multiple people:
- How will you make the designer confident that this is the solution they should use so that they’d want to recommend it to the project manager? And then,
- What are you going to say to the project manager who’s now evaluating your solution, so that she can ‘sell’ your solution to the Head Of Creative?
- How will you convince the Head of Creative to sign off on the software?
Each of these types of customers wants and needs different pains solved, AND they each require help selling your solution to the person above them. The way you speak to them individually on your site, funnel, and emails will have a direct impact on whether this team purchases your solution. This means you have to build a relationship and understand them individually.
Giacomo Guilizzoni, Founder and CEO of Balsamiq approach their B2B customer research with this in mind:
We believe that talking to B2B customers is absolutely essential. Since day one we’ve opted to invest in fostering a tight relationship with our customers. The quick feedback loop we get with them on various channels (email, forums, social media) has been instrumental to our success. We vastly prefer this approach to using analytics. In fact, we’ve never even set up a funnel on our site!
For a few years now we’ve had a person fully dedicated to interviewing customers. It’s a big investment for a small company like ours, but one that pays off day after day. By talking to customers, she’s able to help us with small questions like “what should we call this new feature” as well as large strategic questions like “where is the market going”.
They invest a lot in research at SparkToro too:
We do a wide variety of research, some quite formal (in particular, we work with Claire & Gia at Forget the Funnel to have interviews and surveys of our customers and free users every 6 months) and other much more informal (responding personally to every support ticket, doing lots of demos, webinars, podcasts, interviews, and conversations that applies our product to customer problems with them right next to us, etc). What we’ve learned helps us inform what to build on our product roadmap, how to talk about SparkToro publicly, how to write conversion copy on our landing pages, and how to position the product overall (e.g. it helped us switch our primary terminology last year from “audience intelligence” to “audience research”).
Customer research is what will help your B2B brand stand out in a crowded market and will answer that important question: Who you’re ACTUALLY speaking to.
As Rand and Giacomo shared, this research helps improve your messaging and your product so that you’re reaching your ICP and truly solving their pains.
2. Break Organizational Silos: Go Beyond The Marketing Department
Once you’ve identified who you’re speaking to, it’s not enough to just do good work in the marketing department, everyone in the organization has to align around it.
For conversion optimization to truly work in B2B, the product, sales, marketing, and customer success teams all need to be on the same page about who the business is targeting so that your brand can be positioned correctly. Otherwise, any conversion optimization work you do will produce limited results. That’s why the next step in the process is presenting the findings of your research to all the relevant teams in the organization and getting them on board.
Everyone needs to be on the same page. You could do great work with the marketing team to get hot leads from landing pages. But if the product team hasn’t developed software features that match the customer’s expectations, that lead won’t amount to anything. There needs to be cohesion among the teams so that the customer has a consistent (and great) experience throughout.
3. Map Out Your Content Hierarchy
Now that you’ve identified who you’re speaking to, their challenges, and your promise to them, and you’ve gotten everyone on the team aligned, it’s time to map out the content you’re going to include on your web pages. This isn’t the actual copy, but a wireframe (think Google Doc) that breaks down each section of the page:
- Who we’re speaking to
- What message we’re sending
- What we’re asking them to do
Example: The Homepage header
- Who: Person trialing the software (not the final decision-maker)
- What: If you trial this software, your outcome will be X
- CTA: Start your free trial
Example: Homepage, section 2:
- Who: Person trialing the software (not the final decision-maker)
- What: Details about their pains, what hasn’t worked for them and why. Why this solution will work for them.
- CTA: Read case study.
Example: The header of X feature page
- Who: Executives (people using the software once a month)
- What: Get all the information you need at a glance – less time, get the big picture in minutes, know what to do immediately.
- CTA: Get a demo
To know what to include on your Homepage or a landing page for example you need to consider their stage of awareness, what you uncovered in your customer research, your business goal, and the action you want them to take.
You can follow this basic structure that includes four core sections every landing page should have. Let’s look at a landing page example from Typeform.
CThe content hierarchy here is Header —> CTA —> Typeform Example —-> Social Proof —-> Features —-> CTA —–> Automations —–> Social Proof —-> CTA. This content hierarchy works for Typeform because of who they’re targeting and the goal they’re trying to achieve. Your aim should be to figure out the content structure that would work best for your ICP and the page you’re creating.
4. Write The Copy And Create The Wireframe
Now that you know the order of the content on your page, the next step is writing the copy and creating the wireframe. Your copy should focus on the language your customers use (feel free to use wording directly from your customer interviews), the pains they’re experiencing, and answers to their most pressing questions about what you have to offer. It also should be the first thing you write. Copy first, design after.
Laura Roeder, Co-founder of Paperbell, explains how she approaches creating customer-first copy for her landing pages, emails, and B2B content:
Something I do a lot is revisit our reviews. We’ve put a lot of work into cultivating many reviews on G2 and Capterra, and we have over 150 real reviews across the two platforms. I often skim through these reviews before writing copy. They’re an instant way to get inside the customer’s head and remind myself how they describe problems and solutions. I hear the words ‘relief’ and ‘ease’ a lot from our customers so I focus on these feelings instead of just going down a feature checklist.
Jane Portman, Co-founder of Userlist, also shared how she and her team approach customer interviews and use those insights for website copy:
Images are another critical part of your wireframe. Your image strategy should focus on using real, relatable images that show your product in action or things to which people can relate. And no, I’m not talking about screenshots of your product’s dashboard! Also, images shouldn’t be busy and distracting. Instead, they should enhance the copy.
Many B2B brands like to follow trends when writing their copy and building their wireframes. “Everyone is using animations on their pages so we should too!” Or, “everyone is using carousels so that’s the best way for us to go”.
Design shouldn’t lead the way, copy should. In fact, my team and I have found that many web design trends actually lower conversions. What’s a pretty page if it isn’t converting traffic?
I want to go back to the Typeform example and point out some of the good copy and design elements.
The Header – The copy here speaks to people who want to easily build attractive landing pages. It focuses on the pains of the target customer, not what makes Typeform exceptional.
The Example – This is a great way for a prospect to see how Typeform’s landing page actually works. What’s particularly great about this example is that there are prompts on each slide that explain the benefit to the customer.
The Testimonial – The testimonial used here speaks specifically to a common objection some of Typeform’s customers probably have — does this landing page actually help bring in conversions?
The Features – Typeform showcases the pain and the desired outcome in each feature description. Here’s an example.
- Pain: Not getting quality data.
- Desired Outcome: Get people to give better answers through only showing relevant questions that make the experience feel like a conversation.
Images – The use of simple, clean images illustrate the points being made without taking away from the copy.
CTA – The CTA is consistent and is the only object on the page that’s in black. This makes it easy to spot as you scroll.
Your copy, landing page structure, and landing page design should clearly show who you’re targeting and the outcomes your ICP should expect. The focus is on the customer, not your product’s amazing features. Bridget Harris and her team at You Can Book Me use their customer research to speak directly to their customers. Here’s what she had to say…
5. Use Heatmaps And Screen Recordings
The thing with conversion optimization is that you can’t just create one variation of whatever page you’re working on and call it a day. My team and I have gone through five variations of Teamwork’s homepage alone! What matters most is running AB tests and using the data from those tests to choose the most successful variation. Oftentimes, the most successful variation isn’t what we expect.
B2B brands often face a challenge with AB tests though. They often don’t have enough traffic to make an AB test viable. If they do have enough traffic, it’s only for a limited number of pages. A viable AB test has at least 150 conversions per variation. If you don’t have that number of conversions, you could go about it in a different way:
- Run a heatmap for at least 10 days prior to making the change on your site, and then launch a new one when you make the switch.
- Screen recordings are also really helpful since you can see how users interact with a page in real time according to specific dates.
- 10 days after launching the new variation, analyze the heatmap and compare how people use that page before and after.
You should also be looking at the data in Google Analytics at this stage. Make an annotation to show where you made the change to a new page, and later compare the results and conversions of each of the pages individually. It’s not 100% accurate, but it’s better than simply launching the new page without monitoring or tracking it in any way.
6. Create A Report That Explains The Winning Variation
Presenting your results to key stakeholders within your organization is key for long-lasting results. My team and I typically divide our reports into three sections: the problem, the solution, and an explanation of the messaging and design that will bring the best results based on the data. We include screenshots of the previous design, screenshots of the variation we’re testing, and the results.
The report keeps everyone in the loop with what’s happening, documents the process for future reference, and provides proof that the changes made were actually helpful to the brand. The more data you can use to show the impact of using emotion in your approach, the better.
Add Emotional Marketing To Your B2B Sales Funnel
Emotions matter in B2B marketing. Highlighting your customers’ emotional outcomes, value and the results they’ll walk away with will help you stand out from your competitors and increase conversions. Remember, B2B buyers are humans too and there are multiple emotions and people to consider within this buyer journey. When you make it about them, their complexities, the outcomes they’re looking for and how they will feel after using your solution, you have a better chance of standing out and getting the results you’re looking for.
PS – I teach my B2B and B2C students how to use my emotional targeting methodology to increase conversions. Many of my students have seen dramatic improvements in their conversion rates by the time they complete the course. Want access to this tried-and-proven system that I’ll personally guide you through? Enroll in Emotion Sells today.
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Very important post. Quite often I see B2B landing pages that are purely informational and not emotional at all. Thanks for the reminders.