How Even a Brief Knowledge of Cognitive Biases Can Help You Sell More

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Have you ever agreed with the majority view, even though you held a very different view at the time? Do you avoid using £50 notes, but readily use the same amount of money broken down into smaller denominations? These are all hard-wired cognitive biases; irrational patterns of thinking that lead us to make faulty judgments, or making decisions that deviate from rational thought. However, used judiciously, they can be used to encourage others to make the right decision by shifting them out of indecision when they appear to be holding back for no apparent good reason.

Here are six biases that sales professionals frequently use to encourage their customers to move away from the status quo (another cognitive bias).

1. Decoy Bias

People exhibiting this bias find it difficult to choose between two options. However if you give them a third choice, they will find the decision-making easier.

How to use it: Offer your client different options; if they are struggling to make a decision, introduce a ‘decoy’ to reveal their innate predisposition.

2. Hyperbolic Discounting

This bias occurs when we place greater value on the instant gratification we get from quick wins than the long-term rewards. We ‘discount’ the perceived value of a reward based on time: the further away the benefits we perceive, the lower their value.

How to use it: Customers may need to see quick returns from their money, so emphasise the benefits they are likely to see sooner rather than later, to play to this bias.

3. The Bandwagon Effect

This is the same as what is now commonly known as “social proof”. We have all seen trends come and go; words that were frequently used in office discourse are no longer used, and have now been replaced by other words (‘ecosystem’ is doing the rounds now). We want to be like the group, so we behave as they do; some have likened the mass grieving for deceased celebrities as a ‘bandwagon’ response. The larger the crowd, the more potent the effect.

How to use it: Emphasise the number of users your product has, the number of peer-reviewed trials your drug has been through, or introduce potential new customers to aspiring ones.

4. Loss Aversion

Fear is a potent motivator, and many people refrain from making decisions because of fear of the unknown. Loss aversion is the fear of losing what you already have, so much so that you hold on to it rather than try something new.

How to use it: Ensure you emphasise what your client stands to lose by not taking your product.

5. Priming

People are more likely to accept an idea if they have already been introduced to a related idea. This is priming; you can read an interesting article about it here.

How to use it: Seek to gain acceptance for the concept underlying your product or service first before discussing how your product or service fits in with this.

6. Ambiguity Bias

Ambiguity bias is a response to the unknown: we prefer to stick with the status quo rather than opt for uncertainty or situations that lack the information we need.

How to use it: Evidence is key. Ensure you have all the facts, figures and scientific validation where appropriate for your product or service. Emphasise any recognition your product has achieved and any credible authorities that back your product.

Cognitive biases are common to all of us, though we may not be aware of them. The aforementioned ones can be helpful ways of moving a client from an entrenched status quo. Use them carefully, making sure that your clients’ best interests are always your main consideration.

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