I serve on the board of directors for a local health services organization serving seniors, many of who have memory loss. In a number of board meetings we have heard about a focus on validating feelings rather than fact-based responses.
A practical example of this is a resident who asks frequently about the time. The fact-based answer is that it is 2:15, 2:20, 2:22…. providing the exact time whenever the resident asks. The validation method focuses on why the person is concerned about the time. For example: “Jane, you seem worried about the time. Should you be doing something?” The resident may respond that she has to make dinner for her husband because he will be home from work soon. To which the caregiver might say, “Jane, your husband doesn’t work anymore and your dinner is being cooked right now.” This addresses the feelings behind the questioning.
I thought about this concept in the context of marketing and how we marketers sometimes focus on facts without understanding the feelings of customers or prospects. We think that rattling off specifications and statistics (features) is going to convince everyone that our product or service is the best choice. We never quite get to translating those facts to a benefit that connects with the buyer’s feelings. How do buyers feel when they use the product or interact with the company?
I have an iron that worked very well, but shortly after the warranty expired I began having problems with it leaking intermittently. The iron was fairly expensive (for an iron) and every time it leaks I feel frustrated and ripped off. On the other hand I have a nice car that is now 12 years old. It has never given me any problems and other than parking-lot dings and scratches from kids getting toys out of the garage, it looks pretty good. I love driving it! In fact, we bought the same make for my wife when her previous car (a different make) reached 170,000 miles.
You also see this fact vs. feeling tension when you deal with customer service. I have a problem and am unhappy. The customer service rep tries to explain everything in logical, fact-based terms. I don’t want to hear it. I’m ticked and I want him or her to know it. The best approach? Hear me out and then say “I can see why you’re unhappy. What can I do to fix this situation?”. The rep heard and didn’t try to discredit my feelings with facts and he/she put the ball in my court to offer a solution that would satisfy me.
In the end, a decision to buy a product is often as much an emotional decision as a logical decision. Is there really that much difference between the features of two cars in a given class? Probably not. But a buyer may have very different feelings about the cars based on what people tell him/her about the model, who he/she knows who drives the car, the salesperson’s approach and, yes, even the images the manufacturers use to advertise the cars.
There is even more bias toward fact-based marketing in B2B because marketers often think every business decision is a logical choice. But we need to understand the buyer’s feelings, even if that emotion is fear about making a bad choice. When we have a clear picture of the feelings we want the buyer to have and the feelings we need to overcome, we are in a much better position.