B2B Lead Generation, Negotiation, & The Elaboration Likelihood Model
March 2020

This week’s topic on b2b lead generation, was originally sparked by a headline I saw a few weeks ago on CNN and related to Donald Trump’s impeachment trial. However, it may be perhaps even more relevant to these strange and fearful Corona Virus days.

The headline that triggered my interest was one relating how both Republicans and Democrats were making claims about the DANGERS associated with Trump and impeachment. Republicans were claiming it’s dangerous to impeach him, while Democrats were relating that it’s dangerous to leave him in office.

The Elaboration Likelihood Model

The interesting point for marketing and b2b lead generation from a Behavioral Design perspective. Is that when we refer to DANGER, we’re actually invoking an emotion – FEAR. Any time we invoke an emotion as part of our persuasion process, what we’re doing, according to the Elaboration Likelihood Model is using the Peripheral Route for Persuasion (more about that below).

The Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) was first developed by Dr’s. John T. Cacioppo and Richard E. Petty in the 1980s. It proposes that there are two routes for persuasion:

  • The Central Route
  • The Peripheral Route


The Central Route for Persuasion

The Central Route for persuasion is when we try to persuade our counterpart through a process of logical argumentation by highlighting the facts and arguments in favour of our position, stating its benefits, and so on. For example: If you were to consider buying a car and the salesperson was to talk with you about its superior gas mileage, eco-friendliness, and convenience features, they would be using the Central Route for persuasion.


The Peripheral Route for Persuasion

Whenever we employ anything except logical argumentation to persuade our counterparty, we’re using the peripheral route. Continuing our example from above, if the salesperson happened to be a particularly well-dressed and good looking individual, they offered you a nice warm cup of coffee, and they emphasized how “cool” driving this car makes you, we’d say that they’re using the Peripheral Route for persuasion.


Benefits and Usage of ELM Persuasion Routes

The primary benefit the Central Route offers over the Peripheral Route is that it’s more effective. People will tend to hold a position they’ve adopted due to Central Route persuasion for longer than they do positions adopted due to Peripheral Route persuasion. Furthermore, they defend their choices with greater conviction.

The downside is that for Central Route persuasion to have any chance of success at all the counterpart must be in a cognitive state where they have the energy required to follow the logical progression of our arguments. When our counterpart is cognitively depleted (e.g. at the end of the day, or just before lunch), they’re unlikely to have the energy required to listen to us.

In these cognitively depleted situations, they’re actually more likely to be susceptible to Peripheral Route persuasion because their lack of energy probably means their guard is down as well (…think about the last time you were a little tipsy in the bar, and ordered another round of drinks from the good-looking server, even though it was probably a better idea to go home).


Using Persuasion in B2B Lead Generation and Sales

There’s an important insight the ELM offers for B2B lead generation and those of us who sell primarily to purchasers, procurement officers, and engineers.

Typically people in these positions are trained to and expected to make their decisions, based on the objective benefits of a bid or proposal. In other words, they much prefer being addressed by people using the Central Route, and might be uncomfortable or even impatient, when facing an agent looking to leverage the Peripheral Route – If you want to sell to procurement people, work on the logical construction of your sales presentations.

This isn’t to say that procurement people can’t be influenced by Peripheral Route techniques, but it’s best to avoid relying EXCLUSIVELY on this route as it’s unlikely to deliver the results you’re hoping for.



Before signing off it’s important we clarify that using the two routes is not an either/or paradigm. For maximum effect we should be leveraging both of them, adapting our strategy with an awareness to the audience and circumstances of the negotiations at hand. Show up to your meetings in a good mood, appropriately dressed, and possibly carrying a little gift, but make sure you have a well-constructed pitch that highlights the benefits of your solutions and provides solid answers to all your counterparts’ possible questions and objections.

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