Do Enterprise IT Buyers Dream of Electric Sheep?

Our Surprising Discovery When Mapping Emotions on the Buyer’s Journey

The title is an homage to the classic Philip K. Dick novel, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” upon which the movie “Blade Runner” was based. The book tells the story of Rick Deckard and his mission to “retire” six highly advanced Nexus-6 androids in 24 hours in a futuristic, post-apocalyptic San Francisco.

“So, what does that have to do with Enterprise IT?” you ask.

mapping emotions on the buyer's journey

Imagine you are pitching a solution to a B2B technology buyer. You have perfectly sound reasons why your product or service is superior. You show bulletproof facts and figures backing up your claims. There should be no answer but ‘yes’ to your proposal, yet your prospect isn’t persuaded. “Impossible,” you think. It makes no sense! What’s going on here?

Some marketers seem to share a prevailing attitude that B2B technology buyers are more like androids than human beings; that they are perfectly rational, decision-making machines, devoid of emotion and impervious to emotionally-driven messaging.

Science says that this is decidedly untrue.

Emotions are essential to decision-making.

Famed neuroscientist Antonio Damasio studied people who were unable to feel emotion due to the presence of brain lesions. His research showed that when presented with even simple decisions like what to eat, these patients found it very difficult to make decisions. They could describe what they were doing in logical terms, such as weighing the pros and cons, but with no emotional inputs, they were unable to pick a path forward.

Metaphors activate brain regions associated with our senses.

Neurologist Krish Sathian proved that words related to texture activate areas of the brain associated with touch – even when the message had nothing to do with tactile sensations. This implies that metaphorical language can drive sensation, and that the right metaphorical language can influence feeling, and indirectly, decision-making.

Feel good stories make us, well, feel good.

Several studies have shown that likeable or emotionally moving posts on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook increase in dopamine or oxytocin in readers. In short, people feel good when positive emotions are stimulated.

As humans, we are moved by and engaged with language on a physical level. Words make us feel. Feelings guide our decisions. Arguably, even decisions we believe are logical are really based on emotion.

The top challenge for 60% of content marketers is producing engaging content, says a Content Marketing Institute survey. Integrating emotionally-driven messaging into content can help B2B marketers address that challenge. Creating such messaging starts with mapping emotions to specific stages of the buying journey or buying scenarios to deliver more relevant, engaging content. Consider the results from a recent IDG Research survey of emotional responses among IT decision makers. We presented 200 ITDMS with a unique buying scenario and used a proprietary algorithm to classify open-end emotion words into key themes and behavioral tendencies.

The Scenario:

Imagine a technology company whose products you are very familiar with, but have not purchased in the past. The sales person for the company, who you know well, asks you to refer a lead within your company.

We asked each participant to answer both of the following prompts:

  • You said ‘no,’ that you do not want to provide a referral. Thinking about the situation. How does saying ‘no’ to referring a lead make you feel?
  • You said ‘yes,’ that you do want to provide a referral. Thinking about the situation. How does saying ‘yes’ to referring a lead make you feel?

What we found

  • Referral requests put ITDMs in a no-win situation – whether they say ‘yes’ or ‘no’

Overall, the decision whether or not to refer a lead is complex, involving two competing motivations. First, there is a primal expectation to help others – in this case, the salesperson. Respondents reported considerable guilt and sadness associated with not helping. At the same time, there is strong motivation to avoid downside risks from the referral. Many feel that the referral may hurt their relationship with their internal colleague. Others fear that the referral may be construed as an endorsement, which may call their judgment and ethics into question.

  • To sales professionals, an emotional map of known ITDM responses is invaluable when seeking referrals:

These findings provide important guidance for a salesperson seeking a referral. To be successful, it is essential to reinforce the positive emotions, and reduce the negative emotions felt by the person being asked.


  • Reinforce the good feeling (emotional reward) from helping others. Underscore the potential for a win-win outcome – that the referral will not just serve the sales person, but can be helpful for the referrer’s colleague (the lead).
  • Alleviate anxiety by reducing the perceived risk that there may be negative consequences. Assure the person making the referral that it will not be positioned as an endorsement, recommendation, or even a command. The person making the referral must feel no anxiety that his/her referral will be construed as unethical or dishonest, or that it may jeopardize the referrer’s relationship with the lead.
  • Acknowledge that this is a difficult decision for many people, and that the request is not made lightly. Be very careful not to trigger anger. This is a strong active emotion which can motivate long lasting, negative reactions.

Look for future posts about emotion mapping from IDG Research (RSS link).

Contributed by Aran Bride, Director of Research Intelligence at IDG Research.  Aran helps brands identify and unlock business growth opportunities by developing new consumer, B2B, and marketplace insights.



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