Want a “Yes?” Make B2B Decision-Makers Emotional

by | Jun 30, 2020 | Content Marketing, Copywriting, Digital Marketing

Get through to account decision-makers with this ad strategy.

B2B decision-makers may not be made of tin helping young girls find their way home on a yellow-brick road, but they do have hearts, despite popular opinion. Decision-makers in B2B get a bad reputation.

They’re often thought of as being stoic and emotionless. Some common words used to describe them are:

  1. “Certain”
  2.  “Strong”
  3. “Purposeful”
  4. “Tough”

Certainly, these aren’t words commonly associated with being emotional. In fact, decision-makers are often considered unemotional.

For example, consider Bill Lumbergh from the 1999 film, Office Space. Gary Cole’s portrayal of Lumbergh represents just how decision-makers are thought to be. Rational. Procedural.

As they should be, right? I mean, that’s why committees exist—to take the emotion out of the B2B buying cycle. A real-life example of a decision-maker could be anyone who’s part of the C-suite.

In Idea Selling, Sam Harrison grouped characteristics found in all decision-makers and organized them into a framework called DISC. DISC is a spectrum that represents the 4 different traits of decision-makers. It stands for:

  • Dominance
  • Influence
  • Steadiness
  • Compliance

Based on which traits a decision-maker exhibits, they’re more dominant, influential, steady, or compliant in their leadership style.

Idea Selling by Sam Harrison

Harrison says that knowing the traits that fall into these categories is a process founded by trial and error. But decision-makers have emotions, too, if you know how to get at them.

Emotions and Decision-Making

Decision-makers possessing an emotional side goes against the grain of conventional wisdom. Just ask any B2B marketing forum on LinkedIn about their views of emotion in decision-making.

In particular, one such group is called “Marketing Communication”–a group on LinkedIn with a member base of over 800,000 marcom professionals. B2B Social Media Management platform, Oktopost, asked members of this group what they thought of emotions in B2B marketing.

The response Oktopost received was overwhelmingly negative. Emotional appeal was viewed as an underhanded tactic to get what you want. Yet there is some validity to it at the same time since you’re trying to get people to trust your brand.

And trust is an emotion.

Even neuroscientific evidence confirms that emotions can influence decisions. In the book Persuasive Copywriting: Using Psychology to Engage, Influence, and Sell, by Andy Maslen, he describes in detail how emotions can’t be divorced from the decision-making process.

Persuasive Copywriting: Using Psychology to Engage, Influence, and Sell, by Andy Maslen

In particular, Maslen calls out neuroscientist Antonio Damsio, and his research on decision making and emotion:

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.

What this means is that emotion plays a role in decision-making. This is shown by patients with brain damage (which can impair the capacity to feel emotions in and of itself) struggling to make decisions that would be motivated by emotion, such as an ice cream preference.

So emotion plays a role in decision-making, and there’s physical evidence for it. In the case for emotion in B2B, that’s the purpose of the buying committee—to take the emotion out.

Refer to this post for more information on leveraging psychology in your copywriting.

How to Take Advantage of Emotions and the Brain

But you can’t write for a committee–at best, it produces ineffective copy. There are ways around it, sure, if you know what to do or where to look. By and large, though, writing for a committee is a recipe for disaster.

Even though committees are formed to take the emotion out of a B2B decision, you can get through to the committee by targeting the individual members.

This isn’t just a disciplined approach for Account-Based Marketing. Work together with other departments to do some research on the individuals of the committee to find out their preferences and what makes them tick.

Once you find that out, you can take advantage of their brain’s negativity bias–the tendency to prioritize negative information over positive–by crafting a negatively-charged headline to gain their attention.


Master copywriter, John Caples, is well-known for having crafted the one-word headline, “HERNIA.” The word, “hernia,” is not negative in and of itself. But to those who suffer from this medical condition, it’s most certainly a negative thing.

Once you have the attention of the group you want, you then want to quickly shift the emotion from negative to positive for two reasons:

Decision-makers may dismiss negatively-framed copy at the onset because they want to solve their problems. They don’t need to be told about new ones, or be retold about the ones they have.

That’s why you want to start saying “yes” as soon as possible after introducing the negativity. According to Arthur H. Bell, author of How to Write Attention-Getting Letters, Memos, and E-mails:

Your appropriate enthusiasm for your products or services can be contagious for the reader. There’s a fine line, of course, between upbeat enthusiasm and “step-right-up” carnival behavior. Demonstrate the energetic, optimistic spirit of a winner in your sales letters to motivate your reader to say “yes” to your sales appeal.

An example of this in action might look like a print ad run in late 2014 for the cough drop manufacturer, Ricola:

Source: Ads of the World

What Ricola does here is grab your attention by introducing a pain point into an otherwise neutral headline–the cough. But now that they’ve grabbed your attention with the attention-getting color, yellow and the oversized type of the problem, Ricola puts their product next to the positive words, “Good news.”

And in doing so, people will associate Ricola with good news–the good news that it can solve your coughing problem. Moreover, Ricola made decision-makers emotional without even knowing it.

See, Ricola used the negativity bias; they took a problem, highlighted it, and then quickly pivoted to positive. In the same way, target members of the buying committee, leverage their problems to get them emotional, and quickly pivot to positive, as Ricola has done.

Use this approach with caution, though, because research shows that people tend to view things negatively when introduced that way. This is what’s known as an anchoring bias.

For example, consider first impressions. When you meet someone for the first time, if you come across negative, there’s a good chance that you’ll continue to be viewed as negative. That’s why first impressions are hard to break.

Whether through engaging decision-makers by activating their emotions, or through a combination of negative and positive copy, knowing how to access those emotions is valuable.

You may not get a second chance to make a first impression so make sure to be negative for only as long as necessary to get the decision-makers’ attention. Once you have it, sell them with kindness for the win.

What strategies do you use to make B2B decision-makers emotional? Let us know 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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