One of the realities of our global, digital sales world is that buyers have more options and easier access to those wider choices than ever before. What this means for businesses and their sales reps is that the objective and measurable differences, such as specific features or time to delivery, frequently aren’t strong enough to lock down a sale – other companies in the marketplace have similar offerings. That means it often comes down to subjective, emotional factors. In fact, the Journal of Consumer Research and others consistently report that 50% of all buying choices are made on emotion.
We know about emotional appeals from advertising, of course. Whether you take the side of the cynical bon mot, “All advertising appeals to at least one of the seven deadly sins,” or have a more optimistic viewpoint, it can dramatically alter a consumer’s perception of and interest in a product. As Exhibit A, one of the most powerful scenes in television history from the Season 1 finale of Mad Men:
Because the clip deals with advertising and marketing, we won’t analyze it further. But the essential lesson for sales holds – how to create an emotional connection when selling a utilitarian product or abstract service. The connection is readily apparent for many, if not most B2C products. In B2B, it might seem a paradox, but it nonetheless exists.
The key to understanding how to make emotional connections in B2B sales lies in being aware of what B2B buyers care about. In a recent article for the Harvard Business Review, three partners at Bain & Company noted that their research into B2B buyer values revealed a pyramid system, and that subjective, emotional components of value appear with Ease of Doing Business (involving things such as productivity improvements, strategic advantage, and operational efficiency); and Individual Values (which entails items like reputational assurance and reduced anxiety).
With that theoretical framework in mind, you’ll need to identify which of those values resonate with your target prospects. Are they more interested in streamlining their operations or in working with a vendor who has an established reputation of quality and reliability, for example?
Once you have the appropriate values identified, compare to see how your organization measures against those values and where they rank when compared to your competition. By doing this, you can capture areas of competitive advantage and construct presentations around appealing to buyers’ emotions.
If you can’t isolate the values or if your analysis reveals no particular advantage over competitors, you can shift to the traditional methods of emotional connection (and ones that should be used anyway) – superior customer service and relationship building.
In a Reddit thread where people were asked to share their best customer service stories, a user posted about how they brought in an old, cheap rifle to their local gun store to have a scope put on. The employee asked why, and the customer responded they had poor vision. Two days later, the customer returned to the store and picked up the rifle from someone else. Inside was a note, “Easy job, not gonna charge you for 10 minutes of labor. PS – my daughter has vision problems, too, know where you’re coming from. Happy shooting!”
As a result of that experience, the customer now makes all their gun purchases exclusively at that store. In a world of automation, templates, and the impersonal, detached nature of a digital society, that sort of human touch and personal connection stands out. The hand-written note has acquired an intimacy an email can’t replicate.
Obviously, this isn’t practical in all circumstances. If you work for a global company in the United States and your customer is in Japan, for example, it’d take too long to get there. But you can personalize your emails rather than relying on templates and be warm and engaging on phone and Skype calls – making sure to keep in mind a given client’s communication style, of course.
Nor is superior customer service solely about providing products or services free of charge (though that often comes up in stories). Rather, it’s about responding quickly to buyer needs and being considerate in your dealings with them. Developing empathy and using the Golden Rule in your daily interactions with people, whether in business or in personal life, goes a long way to fostering emotional connections.
While it might not be easy to create emotional connections with your clients, establishing them – whether through the development of a relationship, superior customer service, areas of competitive advantage, or some combination thereof – will improve the payoff of your sales efforts. Keep in mind the things we’ve discussed here and see how you can personalize the experience for each of your prospects and buyers.