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Emotional ROI, Part 1: The Risks of B2B Buying

What do you sell? Is it a product? A solution?

No matter what you physically sell, I can tell you this: what you really sell is the pain of change.

fear of failure

Think about it. If you’re selling a new product, you’re telling the customer that the process of learning to use and implement your product will be less painful than what they are currently doing. If you’re selling services, you are asking your buyer to believe that the pain of developing a new relationship with you as a service provider is going to be less than either a previous service provider or their internal process.

What’s interesting is that when most of us try to explain a logical, rational ROI to the customer, it is often at the bottom of their list of reasons to buy. Of course, what you’re selling has to meet their budget requirements, and they have to believe it will help them move toward their business goals more effectively in one way or another.

What they care most about, however, is what I call the emotional return on investment.

What is Emotional ROI?

Offering emotional ROI means that whatever emotional benefits your buyers are going to get out of the purchase will eventually outweigh the emotional risks present when making the purchase in the first place.

What emotional risks are at play in B2B buying? Here are just a few:

Predictability and stability.

As goofy as this may sound, prospects put their sense of peace and stability at risk every time they consider implementing a new solution or product. The pain we know is often easier to live with than the unknown.  

Even if a buyer’s future looks less than ideal with their current solution (or lack thereof), at least they’re used to the situation. We may be able to offer them something better, but there’s unpredictability and instability that inevitably comes along with new solutions.

Peer reputation.

When a prospect endorses and promotes a particular solution to their peers, they are putting their reputation on the line. If the purchase and implementation go well and business results follow, their reputation grows immensely. Conversely, if the buying or implementation process is rocky, they run the risk of losing the confidence of their peers.

This carries over into relationships with leadership, as well. If peer reputation takes a hit when a purchase goes awry, it’s possible that your buyer’s reputation with their manager will take an even bigger hit. They may be hoping for a promotion that they put at risk because they are considering your solution. In short, they may be risking a hit to their definition of success.

Workload and current projects.

By adding yet another project onto their plate, buyers are putting other projects they already have in progress at risk. If the purchasing process and implementation take too much time, they may not be able to execute effectively on other parts of their job, adding stress and other negative consequences.

summer-office-student-work-twitterWork-life balance.

Our relationships, hobbies, and other interests have a dramatic impact on our happiness. Your prospects may be thinking that the 40 hours a week they’ll need to spend implementing your solution will mean 10 less hours with their kids at home or with some other relationship. This is a balance that many buyers aren’t willing to trade in exchange for attempting to realize the promised benefits of your solution.

For your prospect to believe in the emotional ROI of your solution, they need to believe that their reputation will grow, that it will make them more upwardly mobile, that it won’t put current projects at risk, and that it will, at the very least, not hurt their outside relationships and interests.

As the Corporate Executive Board showed in “Winning the Consensus Purchase,” for buyers to advocate for a purchase, personal value must outweigh business risk. Business value alone is not enough to motivate individuals to advocate for a purchase. No matter how you highlight emotional needs, intense emotion—for the buyer personally—is exactly what you need to create intense commitment.

You know that you need to sell the pain of change, and you know how important emotional ROI is to building buying consensus—but how do you do it? Tune in to Part 2 of this series to find out.

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