Overcoming Cognitive Biases


Cognitive biases run our lives, whether we realize it or not. They get a bad rap, but they can often be useful.

For instance, when you’re walking down a set of steps, your brain must calculate how far the drop is to the next step. Thankfully, it’s almost always about 8 inches tall and our brains know that and adjust accordingly, without our really having to make conscious decisions about how far to bend our knee, how much to engage our quads, how sharply to point our toes before we will find purchase. Can you imagine having to consciously calculate every single function that has to happen when there is even a slight change in elevation? Cognitive bias can be a good thing.

But going down a staircase or choosing which shoes to wear aren’t deal-breaking decisions. We can afford (in fact, we need) cognitive biases in those cases. But in a sales capacity, cognitive biases can lead to big problems.

While you can learn to recognize and overcome your own cognitive biases (ie - you having a bad experience in a restaurant because they were suddenly overwhelmed by a large, unexpected party is not likely to happen again and you will probably have a great experience if you give them another shot), overcoming other people’s biases is not as easy.

Everyone’s had to overcome a bad predecessor. Whether it was the person who held your position before you or the person who met with the potential client yesterday, it’s hard to get a prospect to lose the bad taste a terrible salesperson left in his mouth.

You may have also encountered a prospect who is happy with how things are – they see no need to change, even if it’s clear that the product you are presenting has better features or more promising results.

Or what about when you’ve told a prospect that his purchases in the past have been inefficient for any number of reasons? People don’t like to be told they are wrong, and this can lead to Confirmation Bias.

There are dozens and dozens of types of cognitive biases. Just check out this Wikipedia article to see all the ways your sales could be affected by them.

So we know they exist; now how do we overcome cognitive biases?

Overcoming cognitive biases in sales is possible, but it takes time. Don’t go into a client’s office thinking you’ll be able to overcome all of his biases in one meeting. It’s never that simple and this is where the fostering of relationships becomes so vitally important.

Be a Consultant, Not a Salesperson
We talked about this in our August 5 blog post.  No one wants to be sold to. No one wants to have a salesperson assume to know their needs.  Listen, engage and find solutions…don’t just sell a product.

Back Up Your Claims
It seems like a no-brainer, but make sure you have information to back up your client stories. It’s great to hear about the successes of someone who has used your product but being able to show numbers and facts to go along with them will help to overcome a number of types of cognitive biases.

Make Transitions Easy
Pat yourself on the back if you’ve gotten a client to try your product. That’s no easy task! But, as any good salesperson knows, the real sale begins now. You can’t just take their money and run…your job is to make sure your product is implemented into their plan seamlessly and with as little pain as possible. Doing so will aid in your continued good relationship and give them confidence in you and your abilities.

Be aware of cognitive biases, but don’t be scared of them. We all have them and they aren’t all bad! Those that do pose a problem can be overcome with a little extra vigilance and time.

Tell us about your experience with cognitive bias in the comments below.

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