Brain Science and Decision Making: How Buyers Decide in B2B Sales

If we understand how buyers decide in B2B sales, we can facilitate the process to the benefit of both parties.

Brain scans let us see how buyers decide

Neuropsychologists believe that emotional and rational parts of the brain may be more closely intertwined than previously thought.

Dr. Dean Shibata, Assistant Professor of Radiology at the University of Washington studies how we make decisions with brain scans. His work allows us to see how buyers decide.

Shibata scanned the brains of volunteers using a relatively new technique called functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

People making personal decisions showed more activity in the ventromedial frontal lobe, a part of the prefrontal cortex in the mammalian brain. This part of the brain is implicated in the processing of risk and fear. It also plays a role in decision making.Volunteers did not use that same part of the brain when they were thinking about impersonal decisions, such as comparing the financial cost of two events.

Intellectual arguments will not cause people to change their behavior

“Research supports the idea that every time you have to make choices in your personal life, you need to “feel” the projected emotional outcome of each choice. That feeling guides you and gives you a motivation to make the best choice, often in a split second,” says Dr. Shibata.

In B2B sales, buyers decide in the same way.

An emotional trigger event is required for a person to change their behavior

Shibata is not alone in this view, and says he was inspired by the work of neurologist Antonio Damasio, who has worked with patients who’ve suffered brain damage. Evidence suggests that when someone suffers an injury to the part of the brain that governs emotion, the person may have normal memory and be able to solve abstract problems.

But the person will often have trouble making routine, rational decisions such as when to make a doctor’s appointment. They seem to get caught in “infinite loops” where they are unable to prune through the various options and make a decision.

Does this really apply to how buyers decide in B2B sales?

You might ask, “Why does this apply to buyers? They are not making personal decision in B2B sales.”

But they are

They are making a decision to risk acting as a change agent. In B2B sales, that risk is real.

In consumer sales, the risk is lower. If you buy a new TV and it doesn’t work out, it may be a problem.

In B2B sales, the risk is higher. If you champion a project at work, and it doesn’t work, it might be a career-damaging decision.

Public failure and damage to one’s career are things we fear deeply.

The Need Diagnostic

The single most important B2B sales skill is the Need Diagnostic.

All of the best B2B sales training and modern selling methodologies are rooted in this understanding of how buyers decide. All include a structured process to facilitate the buyer’s journey to what is personally and emotionally important to her. In the Software Selling Methodology, we call it the Need Diagnostic. Need Diagnostic questions must follow a sequence that earns the right to ask the next, deeper, diagnostic question. As we go deeper, we increase the buyer’s emotional valence and help the buyer climb the wall of inertia.

In Part 2 of this tip we discuss how to help them climb the wall of inertia.