Using Bias and Emotion in B2B

by | Aug 6, 2020 | Content Marketing, Copywriting, Digital Marketing

Just because you’re in B2B marketing doesn’t mean you can’t use an emotional appeal in your copy.

Reputed to act on logic alone, the Commander of the Starship Enterprise, S’chn T’gai Spock, once remarked, “May I say that I have not thoroughly enjoyed serving with Humans? I find their illogic and foolish emotions a constant irritant.”

What Spock meant here is that emotion clouds judgment, and where there’s emotion, there’s bias.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “bias” as “an inclination of temperament or outlook, especially a personal and sometimes unreasoned judgment.”

There are two types of biases: cognitive and emotional. And as you might expect, cognitive biases are based on conceptual trains of thought—the accuracy of which is determined by the strength of the sources supporting them.

Emotional biases, on the other hand, tend to be impulsive and based on instinct. This means that these kinds of biases happen in the moment.


Biases can affect business decisions. For example, consider the unconscious bias Google demonstrated when YouTube—a Google-owned company—launched their video upload app. Approximately every one in ten videos uploaded in the app turned out to be upside-down.


Take out your phone and hold it up with your right hand as if taking a picture. (If you’re left-handed, try the opposite.) Do the same thing with the other hand. Notice the hand you’re dominant with didn’t have to rotate the same way your other hand did to get the same result?

That was Google’s mistake.

They didn’t account for left-handed people and unintentionally designed the app to work properly for right-handed people.

So what?

This is a great example of unconscious bias functioning in B2B.

Emotion and Bias in B2B

That’s why we have committees in the B2B buyer’s journey—to remove emotion and biases from the process. That may be true, but it’s also true that decisions cannot be made without at least some emotion motivating the behavior.

For example, consider the work of neuroscientist Antonio Damasio. He looked into how the brain makes decisions by conducting a study with brain-damaged patients who had trouble feeling emotions.

Damasio found that the patients were capable of making logical and rational decisions, but couldn’t make simple ones usually ruled by emotion, such as choosing what to wear.

Persuasive Copywriting by Andy Maslen

This was recorded in the book, Persuasive Copywriting: Using Psychology to Influence, Persuade, and Sell, by established B2B copywriter, Andy Maslen:

According to Somatic Marker Theory (SMT), proposed by Antonio Damasio, the limbic system [emotional control center] plays a key role in guiding and driving behavior, especially decision-making. Somatic Markers are bodily states such as anxiety, marked by increased heart rate, sweating, and fearful feelings… We rely on Somatic Markers to help us decide which of two competing options will benefit us the most.

One interesting finding that supports SMT comes from Professor Damasio’s research with patients who had suffered brain injuries. Patients with damage to the limbic system could explain which of two options would be a logical choice. But they were unable to make even a simple decision such as which flavour of ice cream to choose.

In other words, decisions are motivated by some level of emotion.

Using Emotion and Bias to Sell

In order to capitalize on such findings, you can use a selling technique best known by its framework: SPIN. SPIN Selling, by Neil Rackam, introduces this strategy.

It’s about asking prospects and clients a series of questions about their Situation, Problem, the Implications of that problem if left unaddressed, and what they Need to solve it. SPIN.

Book Cover for Neil Rackham's SPIN Selling

For an example of SPIN in action, consider these snippets from a sales call from the above book. (Situation questions have been omitted because the client knows what their situation is):

SELLER: (Problem Question) You’re getting too many mistakes?

BUYER: (Implied Need) Some…

SELLER: (Implication Question)… Does this mean some of those mistakes are causing you difficulties in the documents you send out to clients?

BUYER: Sometimes…

SELLER: (Need-payoff Question) Suppose you didn’t have to spend that time proofreading. What could you do with the time you saved?…

BUYER: You’re right.

The beauty of using SPIN Selling in B2B is that the questions you ask prospects or customers arouse emotions in and of themselves.

For example, according to sales automation and lead generation software, Klenty:

In 2016, at the APS Conference, Rackham spoke about his latest research where it showed that top performing salespeople still ask four times as many implication questions than their average peers.

This shows that Implication is still the most important aspect of SPIN selling. They help the prospect visualize the consequences of the problem if they aren’t dealt with. This reinforces the need for a solution – which you will provide by connecting the two; problem and solution.

So it’s clear that there’s a positive relationship between the questions in the SPIN framework, emotion, and improved sales numbers.

In terms of a business that uses SPIN, consider the low-carb diet brand, Atkins. They wanted to understand their clients better and to help Atkins business developers feel more confident. So they applied the SPIN technique to a 400-person project.

The result? Atkins wants to implement a worldwide program based on the SPIN methodology. The point is that prospects and customers get emotional when you ask them about their problems, regardless of whether it’s B2B.

Bias, Emotion, and SPIN

Since you’ve got the prospect or customer all “fired-up” from the probing questions you’ve asked–a psychological process known as priming–it’ll be easier to sell to them.

For example, because it is implied that products related to, say construction, are strong by default–a type of unconscious bias–Caterpillar developed a video called “Stack,” for their “Built For It” campaign.

Essentially, the video is “the world’s biggest Jenga game using Cat excavators and 600-pound blocks.” Jenga is a game involving 54 wooden blocks organized into a tower. The point is to remove as many as you can without toppling it, each player picking the tower apart piece by piece. If the tower falls on your turn–you lose.

The results of Caterpillar’s game–the video–was that they created a video that hits on customers’ emotions, rooted for some viewers in nostalgia.

According to Marty Dains, the Facility Marketing Manager for Caterpillar, Inc.:

Customers are going to be excited to say, ‘Yeah, you know, I’ve been in one of those situations; I’ve been working with another piece of equipment around something that had to have some real precision skill or capabilities from a controllability standpoint, and relate to that.’

The point is that you can sell to someone if you get them emotional. For example, even the creators of the “Stack” video–specifically the Caterpillar workers, got emotional making the video. They felt pride seeing what Caterpillar’s equipment was capable of.

In the same way, being a B2B marketer, you can use emotion to make your job easier. How? Business2Community, an open community of business professionals, has one way to get the answer:

Always use the same words or phrase to describe your number one feature and benefit. Let these become the words that your customers automatically use to describe your products and services. Create a memorable tagline. Think GE’s “Imagination at Work,” or 3M’s “Science. Applied to Life.”

Even if you’re not using the SPIN methodology, you can use questions to learn more about the prospect’s or customer’s problem. That should get them emotional, and once they’re primed, you can sell to them using the emotions and bias the questions uncovered.


Emotions are a tricky thing. They can be overwhelmingly telling or extraordinarily inaccurate. That’s why effectively questioning your prospect or customer to uncover their emotions and biases is so important to selling to them.

Have you used the SPIN method or another emotion based strategy before? Tell us your experiences in the chat below.

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Marketing Agency

MESH is a digital marketing agency that has pioneered Account-Based Marketing via our proprietary Outcome Driven Marketing (ODM) methodology. We keep our focus on tightly integrating (or MESHing) lead generation, inbound, and outbound methodologies. We help you understand the hidden levers that impact your customers’ buying decision process, develop the right marketing strategy for your unique business case, and effectively execute and measure all aspects of your Account-Based Marketing program.

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