The Debrief: convincing in B2B with the power of emotion


An Alven <> Ogilvy Consulting exclusive webinar – Summary of January 21st session

B2B was long thought to be the place of purely rational choice and, unlike B2C, there was no room for non-rational arguments. However, comments such as “Nobody would get fired for choosing IBM” became almost a cult as early as the 1980s, reflecting the importance of this human aspect in the workplace.

Reduction of the risk of self-reproach, confirmation bias, preference for the short-term, defensive decision-making, the search for qualifiers and differentiators… our simplified and non-rational misconceptions are countless and guide all of our choices in B2B. In the corporate world, more than a third of decision-making is based on emotional criteria.

But irrational does not mean unpredictable, and those who manage to handle the cognitive and emotional dimensions of B2B will gain a clear advantage over their competitors by bypassing decision-making and convincing more easily.

In our webinar, Dylan Buffinton explains how to leverage the power of emotion in three steps:

  • Overcoming the stereotypes of B2B
  • Identifying the unsuspected cognitive biais in our decision-making
  • Making the most of these biases

Powerful insights

  • 27% of choices in B2B are based on non-rational criteria, ranking those criteria before price and the technical specificities of an offer. The choice in B2B is therefore driven as much by emotional criteria as in B2C.
  • Inspired by Maslow’s Pyramid, the Harvard Business Review has determined a pyramid of decision-making elements in B2B. The “lower layers”: the operational value of an offer (from an economic and performance point of view), followed by the ability of a solution to ease business (productivity, access, relationships, operational or strategic simplification such as risk reduction).
    The criteria of the 2 highest layers: the individual value ( in particular the impact on one’s career, and personal impact such as personal development or anxiety reduction), then the inspirational value (social responsibility, vision, hope).
  • These elements lead to numerous cognitive biases, listed in the “Cognitive Bias Codex“. These biases are as many opportunities and threats to be known and leveraged or avoided in a B2B startup position.
    We have focused on some of these biases:
    1. Decision Fatigue: “the quality of the decisions taken by an individual deteriorates when too many options are available to him” >> be careful not to drown your audience in a series of features, and to present, first, a clear valuable proposition, even if it means specifying some aspects in detail later on.
    2. Dunning Kruger effect: “People tend to overestimate themselves and see themselves as better than they are” >> like Salesforce, which has renamed its customers “Trailblazers”, one can play on this bias by highlighting its innovative and ambitious side.
    3. Zero Risk Bias: conversely, “Individuals prefer to choose the “safest” option and tend to reduce risk-taking, even if an option would have been rationally better” >> it can be a obstacle for startups, so it is important to reassure your prospects (social proofs, references, testimonials, etc.).
    4. Hyperbolic discounting: “Individuals prefer to choose an option that has an immediate benefit rather than an option that will be profitable in the long-term, even if the associated benefit will be greater”. >> can be as much an obstacle as an opportunity.
    5. Ikea Effect: “Individuals give more value to the products or services they have helped to develop”. >> an opportunity to allow customers to take ownership of the product by including them in its customization.

To capitalise on these biases, 3 tools:

  • The brand, the vehicle for emotional differentiation
  • The nudge, to provoke specific behavior -with several strategies such as chunking, incentive, salience.
  • The ethnography, to understand the hidden part of your targets’ behavior


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