By Amber Kemmis

If you think that principles like reciprocity, reverse psychology, or scarcity are the key to growing your B2B sales funnel, guess again. Now, I’m not saying that you should completely rule them out, but before you start applying psychological principles in an effort to grow your B2B sales funnel, you have to understand that these principles only work when used in the right context. In the context of a B2B sales funnel, using psychology works but not as it would in a B2C scenario.

For example, using the principle of scarcity (people feel compelled to act when something is in short supply or uncertain) on a B2B website that provides consulting services isn’t going to be nearly as effective as using this principle on an eCommerce site where users can instantly purchase. In the latter case, the purchase is much more impulsive and easier to make. In the former, a buyer searching for a marketing or IT consultant, as an example, will likely have to jump through a few more hoops and experience more friction when making a purchase than simply clicking "Buy now" and entering a credit card. The sense of urgency that scarcity aims to create only causes more friction in a B2B buying process, and a quick or urgent decision typically isn't possible.

Many of the psychology articles you’ll find in the first 10 minutes of searching Google tell you all about psychology principles that can be utilized in growing sales, but most of them fail to discuss how this applies to a B2B buyer and the unique relationship that accompanies this relationship.

In this post, I’ll focus on the principles that matter most for growing your sales funnel in a B2B landscape.

Research, research, and more research

In our personal lives, as well as in business, we’ve become so accustomed to having at least a thousand options to choose from. At Starbucks alone, there are more than 80,000 different ways to order a beverage. In business, the amount of options may not be 80,000, but they are plentiful. For example, if you check out a G2 Crowd review for customer relationship management software, you’ll find more than 400 results. The point here is that today’s buyers have a lot of options, which is why this, along with the ease of online research, has caused us to become research fanatics.

According to a 2014 study from Acquity Group, 94 percent of B2B buyers research online before purchasing. How can psychology explain why so much time is spent researching before a purchase? First, humans are much more concerned with ensuring they don’t lose something than they are with gaining something. With Google at our fingertips, ensuring that we don’t lose is even easier. This phenomenon is known as loss aversion.

In one study investigating loss aversion, participants were provided $50 and given the option to choose between 1) keeping $30 and 2) gambling with a 50/50 chance of keeping or losing all of the $50. With these options, the participants chose to gamble 43 percent of the time. In the next part of the experiment, the options changed to 1) losing $20 and 2) gambling with a 50/50 chance of keeping or losing all of the $50. With these options at play, the number of participants who chose to select the second option grew to 61 percent. The idea of losing $20 caused participants to choose the seemingly less risky option. This study and many others have demonstrated the power of loss aversion and the human tendency to avoid losing.

While all humans research in an effort to avoid losing, the effect may be even stronger in business, specifically for businesspeople who are successful. This can be explained by a term coined by psychologist E. Tory Higgins known as promotion focus. When you are promotion-focused, the focus is on achieving goals and attaining success. Once you reach a high level of success, however, the focus is shifted to avoiding failure. In other words, you reach the top and have nowhere to go but down. Thus, you do whatever you can to avoid failure—you become prevention-focused. Avoiding a risky business decision drives extensive research, which in turn has also contributed to longer sales cycles: two very important things to keep in mind when trying to grow your B2B sales funnel.

Using this to grow the sales funnel: Buyers are going to research, and most of that research will be conducted on their own. While traditionally growing your sales funnel has required the dialing and prospecting of your sales team, today it requires you to provide buyers with information online that facilitates their research. With loss aversion, prevention focus, and a more extensive research process in mind, inbound marketing is key to growing your sales funnel, because buyers feel less like they are risking a loss. To learn more about inbound marketing and how it can help grow your sales funnel, check out this post.

Getting down to business isn’t that logical or rational

Although business leaders often go to great lengths to make decisions based on logical and rational reasoning through extensive research, the reality is that, more than anything else, emotion drives behavior and decision-making. In the words of neuroscience business expert Janet Crawford: “We are more slaves to our biology than we realize.” Research including fMRI neuroimagery has shown that humans, even in business, are emotional decision-makers, which is important to keep in mind when trying to grow your sales funnel.

In one study conducted by Antonio Damasio that investigated people with damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, the part of our brain that produces emotion, Damasio and partners found that emotion wasn’t the only brain function that suffered from the test subjects’ condition. They also had difficulty with decision-making, despite passing tests of intelligence. The missing link for these patients in being able to make a decision was a lack of emotional connection. Thus, decision-making is not only influenced by emotion, but it requires emotion for the function to work effectively.

In a more business-relevant example, a report titled Only Human: The Emotional Logic of Business Decisions surveyed more than 720 business leaders. In the report, 65 percent of executives stated that in today’s business it has become increasingly difficult to base decisions on “cost, quality, and efficiency.” Even further, 62 percent of those surveyed said they rely on “gut feelings” and find “soft factors” just as important as “hard factors.” So while business leaders utilize logical measures such as data and analytics to ensure decisions are as rational as possible, the reality is that soft, emotional factors influence decision-making.

Using this to grow the sales funnel: In a data-driven world, marketers and salespeople tend to put emphasis on providing logical reasons for gaining buy-in; however, you can’t neglect to build personal connections in the website experience as well as content that you provide. Understanding your buyers through buyer persona research will help you know how to build an emotional connection. From there, the content and conversion opportunities you develop based on your buyer personas will help you grow your sales funnel.

Tracking behavior and making new discoveries

Like any other field of science, new discoveries are constantly being made in psychology through research. In fact, it was less than 100 years ago that neurons were discovered, and scientists have just begun to map the functionality of each of the hundreds of thousands of neurons in the brain. So although I’ve shared two important psychological factors in growing a B2B sales funnel, you have to keep this in mind: While humans tend to behave in predictable ways, the field of psychology has a lot to discover yet. This is especially true in the context of online behavior. Not to mention, the human brain is rapidly evolving. For example, the human attention span was 12 seconds in 2000, but with the surge in smartphone use, the attention span has shortened to eight seconds (goldfish have an attention span of nine seconds). The important takeaway here is that you’ll want to learn as much about your buyers and how they interact with your company online to ultimately help you grow your sales funnel, because psychology is a science, and there’s a lot to learn.

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Using this to grow the sales funnel: How can you track behavior to better understand your B2B buyer? Use software like Google Analytics, HubSpot, Crazy Egg, and Hotjar to better understand the interactions and behavior of your users and prospects. Software such as this can show you what users are doing and if they are interacting more with particular areas of your website. If you have a blog, you may notice that users gravitate toward particular topics as they research. Or you may also notice that users seem to bounce around or off your site, which is a sign you aren’t providing the information or that the user experience is confusing or time-consuming for their short attention spans. Bottom line: Track behavior so that you are able to discover more insights and provide the right information, conversion opportunities, and experience to grow your sales funnel.

This is just a glimpse of how psychology can be applied to marketing and sales. To learn more insights from psychology, download my eBook The Psychology of Inbound Marketing.

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Amber Kemmis

About the author

Amber Kemmis is the VP of Client Services at SmartBug Media. Having a psychology background in the marketing world has its perks, especially with inbound marketing. My past studies in human behavior and psychology have led me to strongly believe that traditional ad marketing only turns prospects away, and advertising spend never puts the right message in front of the right person at the right time. Thus, resulting in wasted marketing efforts and investment. I'm determined to help each and every one of our clients attract and retain new customers in a delightful and helpful way that leads to sustainable revenue growth. Read more articles by Amber Kemmis.

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