The 4 Key Emotions In B2B Decision Making

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The days of believing that b2b buyers are making purchase decisions based purely on rational thought and logic are long gone.

And why would they? B2b purchases are often long, drawn-out and complex decisions between suppliers that, on the surface at least, offer little differentiation in terms of features and benefits. The stakes are also much higher. B2b purchases are often high-value with significant strategic and financial risk.

The pressure on b2b decision-makers to make the right choice can be overwhelming, and so it’s no surprise that they turn to their emotions to help make that choice.

This is especially the case right now. In a world of great uncertainty and with emotions running high across all businesses and industries, b2b marketers need to pay special attention to the emotional needs of their target audience.

The Evidence

The role of emotions in b2b decision-making has long been discussed but until recently, never studied in any great depth. So, the team at B2B International recently went out and surveyed 2,000 business decision-makers as part of our ‘State of B2B’ study to unearth exactly how b2b buying decisions are made and how emotions influence each part of the journey.

What immediately became clear is that emotions play a starring role across the entire b2b buyer journey, from the very start at the pre-contact stage all the way through to the final decision.

For example, 95% of b2b buyers state that even before contacting a supplier, feeling a sense of connection to a supplier’s brand is as important as feeling confident about what they do.

And once all possible options have been evaluated and they’re left with a decision between the final two suppliers, emotional factors account for 56% of that final decision.

The 4 Key Emotions in B2B Decision-Making

So, we know that the brands winning the attention of their customers (and their business) are the ones evoking a positive emotional response throughout the buyer journey.

But which emotions are most important?

In the same piece of research, four emotions were found to have the biggest influence on the final supplier choice. These are:

  • Trust in the supplier’s credibility
  • Confidence in the supplier’s ability to deliver
  • Optimism about what the supplier could do for their organization
  • Pride in the prospect of partnering with the supplier

The existence of these four key emotions alone increases the chances of the supplier winning the business by 50%.

And it’s easy to understand why. These four emotional responses go a long way towards alleviating the inherent risk and pressure involved with b2b decision-making, both on a personal and business level.

A Framework for Emotional Engagement

To help b2b marketers develop stronger emotional connections with customers, we created the “4 Steps of Emotional Engagement” framework.

Brands that perform strongly on as many of the four steps as possible stand a much greater chance of evoking a positive emotional response in the customer and ultimately, winning their business.


While the four levels do not represent a linear process, building trust should always be the first step as it creates a solid foundation for the rest.

It goes without saying, but a brand has to be trusted to enter the consideration set and earn a place on the all-important supplier shortlist. This is why trust was the most influential of the four key emotions in our research.

Reliability, expertise, ease of doing business and local customer support are the biggest drivers of trust for b2b buyers.

Large established brands are often at an advantage here as they enjoy high awareness and have the scope to support buyers across all locations.

Detailed descriptions of product features and benefits, clear examples of past work including reviews and client testimonials and playing an active role in the community by attending and speaking at industry events all help to establish trust.

Also, the key is delivering seamless and frictionless customer experience across all touchpoints, making sure to respond quickly to requests, sticking to set deadlines and delivering on every promise.


A brand needs to demonstrate an understanding of the buyer’s needs, pain points, fears and desires to instill confidence in their ability to deliver.

As we already know, b2b buyers are under a lot of pressure to make the right calls and look good in front of their bosses and teammates. Make the wrong decision and it reflects badly on their ability to do the job. Make a good decision and they’re elevated to hero status.

Building a strong brand reputation, clearly communicating experience and emphasizing an abundance of support and resources are key to putting the buyer at ease. “Nobody got fired for buying IBM” is a famous catchphrase that perfectly captures this idea.

Also important is creating website copy and thought leadership content which speaks directly to the buyer’s specific problems and clearly communicates that their brand is the one who can solve them.


Beyond understanding the buyer, the more emotionally resonating brand is one that makes a significant impact on the user experience and empowers buyers to achieve more.

It’s at this level where brands create an emotional response around optimism.

We know that buyer emotions run deep when thinking of the future implications of a business decision. Will this supplier help their business thrive? Will this supplier help to achieve their goals?

Thought leadership content, case studies and customer success stories play a major role in helping buyers feel optimistic by demonstrating a deep understanding of the buyer’s needs and providing evidence of how they’ve helped others in the same situation. Put simply, buyers are looking for inspiration.


The ultimate level of emotional engagement and the hardest to achieve is when the brand is held in high esteem by buyers, to the point that they are proud to associate themselves with the brand.

These are typically prestigious brands or those that comprise a degree of exclusivity.

With only 1 in 4 chosen suppliers able to evoke a sense of pride in the buyer, achieving this level of emotional engagement is both a major challenge and a major opportunity.

The key driving factor in evoking pride, and the golden rule for all brands to remember, is to make the buyer look good in front of their colleagues and industry peers.

Anyone who has read the book Cashvertising by Drew Eric Whitman will know that every person is wired with 8 key desires. 2 of these desires in particular are central to the idea of evoking pride in a buyer; the desire to rise above our competitors and the desire to be socially accepted.

Buyers want to work with the very best products, services and suppliers. Not just one of the best, but number 1. Buyers want to feel a sense of status and achievement when they work with a supplier. They want to feel like they’ve got a significant advantage over their competitors, and they want to feel like heroes in front of their bosses and teammates.

So, what can brands do to evoke this sense of pride? Firstly, brands need to offer the very best product or service in the market. Secondly, brands need to communicate that buying this product or service means you’re joining an exclusive club of winners and achievers. This can be done through case studies that show clients have achieved not only good or great results but market-leading results. Brands can also highlight individual successes, such as customers who have delivered such strong results in their organization that they’ve been promoted.

Harnessing the Power of Emotions

With b2b buyers relying heavily on emotions to make purchase decisions, it’s down to marketers to ensure they both understand and can effectively meet these emotional needs throughout the customer journey. By evoking trust, confidence, optimism and pride, brands can increase their chances of winning a prospect’s business by 50%. The ‘4 Steps of Emotional Engagement’ framework provides an invaluable roadmap for marketers to begin to harness the power of these all-important emotions and establish stronger emotional connections with their customers.

For more information on our study, please contact Conor Wilcock, Director at B2B International at or visit

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