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    How to harness cognitive bias to win more sales

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    “I like the sound of your solution, but I’ve already spent a lot of money with this vendor, so we’re going to keep trying to make it work.”

    “You seem to have built an impressive solution, but we really put a lot into our in-house solution, and even though it’s not working right now, we like it, so we’re going to keep building on it.”

    “Everything you had to say makes sense to me, and it seems to fit our situation best, but I see a lot of people getting amazing results with your competitor, so we’re going to go that route instead.”

    We’ve all heard statements like these from buyers, and we all groan because we know they’re not logical. Well, at least not from our perspective. In previous blog articles, I’ve talked about the cognitive biases that influence and sometimes interfere with sales, including the sunk cost bias, confirmation bias, bandwagon effect, spacing effect, and Ikea effect.

    But what if you could make cognitive bias work in your favor during the sales process? Here are five cognitive biases and how to use them to win more deals.

    1. The sunk cost bias

    The sunk cost bias is the cognitive shortcut that causes us to “throw good money after bad”–i.e., continue with something we’ve already invested in, even if it’s not working for us. It works against us when buyers choose a worse solution because they’ve already spent money or time on it.

    But you can make it work for you by engaging buyers in an interactive sales process that encourages them to invest time and thought with you. For instance, your sales process may:

      • Require salespeople to slow down during discovery and ask lots of probing questions. By thinking deeply and engaging in this process, buyers come to feel that they have invested with you.
    Harness cognitive bias to your advantage to help customers achieve more.
    George Brontén
    • Ask buyers to engage with interactive tools and conversations that help them refine their understanding of their problems and potential solutions, and navigate their decision-making process.
    • Take a consultative approach that gives buyers substantial value in exchange for their time, so that they want to invest time even before they’ve purchased the solution.
    • Use tools that help buyers envision the value of your solution in detail, such as DecisionLink, which asks them to contribute substantial time and data to create visual and numerical reports on the impact your solution could have. Having “invested” emotionally and in imagination, the brain comes to believe it has invested materially and responds with a desire to invest more.

    By engaging buyers extensively in ways that feel valuable to them, you encourage them to continually invest more and more in the sales process. In this way, their investment in you can work in your favor, and counterbalance any natural inclination they may have toward other solutions they’ve already invested in.

    2. The confirmation bias

    The confirmation bias is the natural tendency of humans to readily accept information that confirms what they already believe, to interpret new information in ways that support what they believe, and to reject information that is contrary to what they believe

    In other words, it’s our tendency to keep believing what we believe, and continually strengthen that belief, regardless of evidence. It can be incredibly frustrating to encounter “in the wild.” In sales, it works against us when buyers come into the process already prejudiced against us or in favor of a competitor.

    But you can make it work for you by ensuring your marketing, sales process and customer service build rapport and trust, and continue to build trust over time. When buyers already trust you, they will naturally interpret everything you do to confirm that trust–in this way, you win the right to make a few mistakes and not be perfect, and still win deals. For instance, your sales process and training should incorporate:

    • Be educational in your marketing efforts by sharing insights and knowledge beyond your product and services. Share industry-specific knowledge and best practices that you have seen their competitors or peers doing successfully.
    • Rapport building skills so that salespeople are always prepared to make an excellent first impression.
    • Storytelling: share stories that resonate and provide social proof
    • Customer service skills, so that buyers have a great experience to support their trust

    3. The bandwagon effect

    The bandwagon effect is the natural human tendency to want to do what everyone else is doing. It can hurt sales when a competitor’s solution becomes trendy or when you’re competing against an 800-pound gorilla.

    But you can make it work for you by including social proof in your marketing and sales process and teaching salespeople to use their referral networks effectively. For instance:

    • Focus on a clear niche market and create case studies that show that you are a significant player in that space. Make them readily available to salespeople at the right points in the sales process through a tool like our Content Hub
    • Train salespeople to effectively use testimonials and customer references, and tell stories that resonate with your buyers
    • Train salespeople to leverage existing warm relationships to build trust in their wider network and to grow the impression that they are well-liked and respected, so that each of your salespeople become their own bandwagon

    4. The spacing effect

    This is the tendency that our brains have to remember information that we hear repeatedly over time better than information we receive in one large chunk. It works against you when your salespeople jump to presentation or do “info dumps” with buyers.

    It works for you when your sales process and salespeople are designed and trained to deliver information in smaller chunks, over time, and aligned with what buyers are ready and wanting to hear. To harness the effect:

    • Develop a formal sales process that guides salespeople through when and how, and with whom, to share information in a measured and effective manner
    • Train salespeople in your process, and coach them in avoiding info dumps
    • Reinforce correct behaviors over time, so that you harness the spacing effect to improve the results of sales training

    5. The Ikea effect

    The Ikea Effect is the natural tendency we have to love and cherish things that we have made ourselves, regardless of their actual relative value. It can damage sales when buyers are overly attached to in-house solutions and other things they feel they’ve created for themselves.

    But it’s remarkably easy to harness this effect by using many of the same techniques you use to harness sunk cost. For instance:

    • Establish a sales process that engages buyers in quantifying their own problems and building their own solutions
    • Use interactive tools that require salespeople and buyers to analyze and synthesize information and co-create solutions
    • Engage as many of the relevant stakeholders as possible, as early in the process as you can

    Aside from these five, there are hundreds of cognitive biases that can impact sales. By becoming aware of them and learning to work with them, you can use HOW you sell to differentiate yourself from your competitors and win more deals.

    Learn more about cognitive bias in the articles that I linked to at the beginning of this article, or contact us today to discuss how our software can help you harness it on your teams.

    George Brontén
    Published January 29, 2020
    By George Brontén

    George is the founder & CEO of Membrain, the Sales Enablement CRM that makes it easy to execute your sales strategy. A life-long entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in the software space and a passion for sales and marketing. With the life motto "Don't settle for mainstream", he is always looking for new ways to achieve improved business results using innovative software, skills, and processes. George is also the author of the book Stop Killing Deals and the host of the Stop Killing Deals webinar and podcast series.

    Find out more about George Brontén on LinkedIn