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Unreasonable behaviour?

Why wiring emotion into B2B client experience delivers competitive advantage

From transaction to relationship; from offer to experience: everyone wants to get closer to customers and demonstrate how they can better meet their needs. But few businesses are capable of truly delivering on what is of greatest intrinsic value to the individuals they serve – because these “irrational” factors are overlooked in traditional insight-gathering approaches.

The problem starts with the way most research is set up: focusing on identifying satisfaction with the functional experience of dealing with a business and its offer, whilst neglecting to probe what this makes people think, feel and do as a result. Syndicated benchmark reports (with their broad “buckets” of attribute statements) are often too blunt an instrument to uncover the nuance of unmet needs; relationship audits can be stymied through lack of objectivity and ad-hoc insight studies can focus too much on what’s being sold, rather than the real difference it makes to someone’s working life. Often the emotional drivers or benefits of a decision are ignored entirely because it feels uncomfortable to suggest a customer isn’t a rational, objective individual. The problem is, none of us are.

As humans, we’re by degrees messy, disorganised, warm-hearted, paranoid, selfless, selfish and soppy. We’re unreasonably emotional – and that matters in business as much as it does elsewhere in our lives.

Simon Sinek







“Tangible things rationalise our decision-making, but they don’t inspire behaviour”

– Simon Sinek

Fundamentally then, rational research approaches fail to get to meaningful insight because they don’t consider how our brains are wired. 95% of our decision-making takes place unconsciously in the highly-emotional and intuitive limbic part of our brain[1]. And because this cortex is also designed for self-preservation, it also makes us inherently risk averse (as Rory Sutherland notes, “people feel loss more than they feel pleasure”).

In the working environment, making the wrong decision can literally be career-ending. It’s little wonder then, that a survey of B2B buyers found that half of people buying for their business had wanted to buy a new product or service but failed to speak to colleagues about it.[2] The net result of all this irrational inertia is that when research respondents are asked to account for their actions, they then post-rationalise (in the less influential conscious part of the brain) in order not to appear silly.

So how do we create client experiences that speak to the emotional as well as the rational?

The first place to start is in establishing whether individuals feel comfortable in a situation. We can do this by exploring factors such as perceived fairness, status and predictability of the business relationship. Once these basic “threats” to the irrational mind are removed, the basis for building trust can be established. We can then examine higher-order motivations which are powerful enough to overcome inertia – such as how a provider’s products and services can ultimately enable autonomy, mastery and purpose in the customer’s working life.[3]

Personal value benefits (linked to career advancement, social status, confidence and pride) have twice the impact of functional business value benefits on commercial B2B brand performance.

– CEB Marketing Leadership Council / Google

It was with the goal of establishing a rounded and human picture of decision-making that we created a bespoke client understanding programme for a global investment management company. Moving beyond expected rational benefits, we were able to identify powerful emotional motivations related to personal and career advancement, as well as the contribution of specific touchpoints to delivering these benefits. It turns out that excellent fund performance is an expected table stake – the differentiation (and perceived value) is in the more irrational drivers of preference.

Critically, we then brought these elements together in a quantifiable framework which could measure the relative importance of motivations to specific audiences and how well the firm was performing in satisfying customers. Colleagues could now determine what to focus on at each touchpoint – for example, whether contact centre staff should focus on efficient response or tailored guidance and support.

Four clear ways that strategic marketers can use emotion to shape their client experience:


Bring real, tangible meaning and activation to your organisation’s brand, purpose and values

Scale and replicate client relationships across geographies and departments

Focus resources on the most important areas for improvement and for innovation

Drive competitive advantage and retention through a distinctive, compelling experience

It means reaching beyond the rational and accepting that people are inherently unreasonable. This acceptance has some huge implications for the way in which you construct your client experience – it should encourage B2B marketing strategists to investigate ways in which they can create less rational and more human interactions. Unreasonable? Not a bit.


[1] Roger Dooley, Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers with Neuromarketing (2011)

[2] CEB Marketing Leadership Council / Google, From Promotion to Emotion: Connecting B2B Customers to Brands (2013)

[3] Daniel Pink, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (2011)


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