How An Elephant and Rider Help B2B Sales

The Elephant and the Rider

This interesting metaphor is described in Jonathan Haidt’s book, “The Righteous Mind.”

Haidt describes the rider as our rational mind, while the elephant, with its sheer force and power, is our emotional mind.  We have been conditioned that the rider (our rational mind) is in control of the elephant (our emotions) when making business decisions.  We operate with the belief that logic, sober reasoning, and factual analysis are the cornerstones of all B2B decisions.  Each day this axiom is reinforced.  To illustrate, here is a current example of how companies are messaging to the market.  Note the heavy emphasis on logical reasoning:



But what if we got it wrong? What if the elephant (our emotion) plays an equal or bigger role in our business decision making?

Emotional Reasoning in B2B Sales

Many of the top brands believe in the power of emotional decision making. Watch the following commercial to see Microsoft’s emotional message of empowering individuals:


Microsoft shows how its technology is empowering a young boy, Braylon, to experience life in new ways. One thing Microsoft does not do in the commercial is appeal to logical reasoning. We see no numbers, no percentages, no explanations about why we should buy Microsoft products.

In B2B decisions, are businesses missing an opportunity to connect the emotional and rational? Rarely do we see the emotional and rational reasoning come together in this realm.

Quantifying Risk and Credibility

We readily accept the role emotion plays in our consumer purchases, but have we considered a more provocative point — that emotion may play a bigger role in our business purchases, as well? If I make a bad decision on buying a watch or shoes, I am out the money.  If I make a bad decision on enterprise software for my company, I am out something far greater, like my credibility or even my job. There is greater personal risk in business, and therefore greater emotion involved in making decisions than we may realize.

A study conducted last year by FORTUNE Knowledge Group, titled “Only Human: The Emotional Logic of Business Decisions,” supports the finding that subjective or emotional factors play a significant role in business decisions. Of the executives surveyed, 65% believe that subjective factors (factors beyond cost, quality, or efficiency) are the deciding factors in business decisions.


By excluding emotionally-based reasoning, businesses are bypassing the opportunity to fully connect with as much as 65% of their stakeholders!


Results: 2015 Case Study

Without connecting the emotional and the rational, many companies are missing out on a significant opportunity to make the value of their products and solutions clear. We are working with a Fortune 50 client right now where we are interacting with the client’s customers in intimate, 2 hour sessions.  In each of these sessions, customers candidly discuss their frustrations, aspirations, and motivations in their jobs.  We listen carefully to their language — the words and phrases that instantly evoke emotional response.  One CIO spoke passionately about his personal credibility being at stake in his job.

We map this language into what we call a “Personal Value Driver” and augment it with visuals and imagery to accentuate emotion.  Our client is now engaging prospects and customers in discussions on both rational economic value drivers and emotional personal value drivers.  The result: a 34.1% increase in close rates.  Success comes when the elephant and rider are both engaged.

Questions to Consider

  • Does your customer messaging include both the rider (business value) and the elephant (personal value)?
  • What are you doing to understand your customers through the language they use and the emotions they have in their jobs?
  • How are you taking this insight and putting it into a scalable framework for others in your company to leverage?

About the Author

Chad Quinn

Chad Quinn

Chad is the president and founder of Ecosystems. For the last 15 years, Chad has led the organization, focusing on helping Fortune 500 companies set up Value Management Offices (VMOs) to quantify, capture, and report on business value. Chad’s passion is to impact the lives of others. At Ecosystems, he focuses on clarifying the impact of investments on business strategy and operations. Within his community, he focuses on the impact of local organizations while serving as the Chair of the McLean Community Center Governing Board.

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