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The Emotional Dog and Rational Tail in Enterprise Sales

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Shareholders would like to believe that officers in a company always do a thorough rational cost/benefit analysis of any decision, leaving aside any personal bias, but decision makers have the same biases that all human beings do. An individuals’ values are key in understanding what motivates them in such situations, and specific value orientations are associated with specific emotional profiles that can be leveraged in enterprise sales.

How do businesspeople choose vendors and suppliers? Shareholders would like to believe that officers in a company always do a thorough rational cost/benefit analysis of any decision, leaving aside any personal bias. But if you ask people who actually work in business to business sales (e.g. this survey of B2B buyers), they will tell you something different, specifically that people do business with people they like and want to do business with. Want proof? Consider how much money quality salespeople earn and how big their expense accounts are, across organizations. Clearly, there is some benefit that they are providing beyond simply presenting the factual case for why their product works.

The fact that decision makers are not purely rational actors is unlikely to surprise those who follow recent social science work. Books like Blink, Predictively Irrational, T"he Social Animal":http://www.amazon.com/The-Social-Animal-Character-Achievement/dp/0812979370, and my colleague Jonathan Haidt’s books, The Righteous Mind and The Happiness Hypothesis, all document scores of studies showing that human beings are far less rational than they believe themselves to be, and far more easily influenced by emotional and social factors.

In decision making, this same experience (called “"confabulation":http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confabulation”), is documented in study after study, and so it is no surprise that the same phenomenon occurs in enterprise sales, where perceptions of business reasons for making a decision are minimized, allowing non-business concerns to dominate. Most corporate officers are not corrupt selfish individuals, but rather are social animals who follow their emotions first, and then often construct reasons for their decisions afterward. This is not to say that reason plays no part in such decisions, as clearly there are limits to the power of emotion to sway decision making, but when choosing amongst similar vendors with similar offerings at similar prices, as is often the case in enterprise sales, the company that gets the sale will often be the one that connects best with the decision maker.

So should companies spend even more money on fancy dinners and even more outgoing salespeople? Such inauthentic tactics may win over some, but a lasting business relationship has to be based on something more authentic. Listening to customers, understanding what they want at a more emotional level, and truly connecting with them is what we all would like to do, but that intuitive ability is hard to teach and even harder to do in marketing materials that lack human context. Fortunately, the same body of research that shows how easily influenced we are by our emotions, also can help us connect with others at a deeper, more emotional level. Specifically, an individuals’ values are key in understanding what motivates them across situations and circumstances, and specific value orientations are associated with specific emotional profiles. It is no accident that jeep ads use military imagery while ads for the environment try to get us to empathize with animals. We often intuitively understand this connection, but at Zenzi’s Social Values project, we are making these connections explicit through data-driven analysis of how one can use values in one’s marketing campaigns explicitly. If this post resonates with you and you are interested in improving your business to business sales by making authentic value based connections, we invite you to contact us to learn more about our process.

- Ravi Iyer

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