Why the Future of B2B Must Be Guided by Emotion

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By Michael McLaren, Global CEO, Merkle B2B

The days of cold, rational B2B sales and marketing based solely on product details and features are coming to an end — and that’s a good thing.

All too often in the past, communications throughout the B2B buying cycle have been largely product-centric and fact-based. And in many cases — boring. Our customers are real people who are not always rational and fact-based, and they’re rarely boring. So why would we market to people in that way?

At the end of the day, companies don’t buy products and services; people do. And it’s not just one person. Companies now have entire teams of people involved at every stage of the buying process – from qualifying, vetting, verifying, running proof of concept to making a final decision, many of which will cost well over seven figures. In many cases, these people are putting their careers on the line over these transactions. How could these not be emotional decisions?

The new decision-makers

As Millennials and Gen Zers become more senior in the B2B world, they’re bringing a whole new set of criteria to the purchase decision-making process. They’re considering how a given transaction aligns — or doesn’t align — with both their company’s and their own personal core values and position on broader societal issues. These generational shifts have given rise to a whole new ballgame in B2B marketing.

When faced with a potential buying decision, up-and-coming business leaders are asking questions like: What do these brands stand for? What are they doing for their communities? For the environment? What are they doing to support diversity, equity and inclusion?

They’re adding a new dimension to the B2B buying cycle that the industry needs. They’re encouraging brands to be more transparent about their values and to reprioritize what matters most to them. This new generation of executives is course-correcting the B2B decision-making process and creating a much more conscious and values-driven environment within their industries.

This is something that needs to be embraced by all, and it opens up exciting new opportunities for B2B marketers looking to create real, emotional connections with their customers and prospects.

The emerging role of values-based buying

This added layer of values and emotion to the B2B transactional process is not something most industry leaders or marketers had at the forefront of their agendas ten or even just five years ago. But they can’t ignore the momentum any longer.

B2B brands need to focus on understanding, building and conveying their authentic stories. It’s not enough to just say your brand supports certain principles or positions — consumers want to see your values in action. In addition to wanting to know that your product works, they want to see concrete evidence of how your brand has delivered on a broader range of issues – such as environmental commitments or how they have driven diversity in their ranks or lifted the community around it.

If you aren’t making a conscious effort to use your brand’s platform for good, you’re going to get left behind. Yes, B2B buyers are obviously still very much concerned about whether a potential product or service meets their needs and is affordable. However, they’re also concerned about what the product means at a higher level, not just what it can do.

The personalized future of B2B is human and emotional

The B2B buying cycle is more customer-centric than it’s ever been. Today’s marketers can’t treat potential buyers as anonymous individuals on a spreadsheet anymore. They must create deeper relationships by constantly looking for ways to make the customer journey more humanly relevant, more convenient and more valuable.

Today’s business leaders expect B2B marketing and sales outreach to be as personalized to their companies’ needs and values as possible. The person who is going to win the sale is the one who understands and connects with the company on a deeper level. It’s about knowing the distinct wants and needs of a company’s decision-makers at any given moment.

The future of B2B will increasingly be driven by emotion. Marketers need to capitalize on the industry shift by continually learning about their audiences’ needs and aspirations through every step of the buying process and finding out what matters most to them. That commitment to building a deeper sense of understanding is, and will continue to be, a key differentiator in the B2B landscape.

Michael McLaren is the Global CEO of marketing agency Merkle B2B. Prior to Merkle, McLaren held several executive positions at marketing services firm McCann Worldgroup, including president of ad agency McCann Erickson US and the dual role of CEO of McCann Worldgroup Japan and regional president of McCann Worldgroup Asia-Pacific.