Cognitive Bias – How the Mind Helps and Hinders Sales

The most merciful thing in the world… is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents (H.P. Lovecraft)

DO YOU EVER defend a purchase you’ve made – even though you may wonder whether or not it was truly a wise decision?

Have you ever considered that you may champion ideas and products you think are right for YOU, while not always acknowledging signals that those things may NOT be right for the prospect across the table from you?

Everyone exhibits what psychology calls “cognitive bias.” You, me, our prospects, customers, and clients – ALL of us are afflicted.

Here’s the big question: How might that influence the sales process?

Could a knowledge of cognitive bias help you make and KEEP more sales?Click To Tweet

Cognitive bias in a nutshell

You may not feel like it’s true all the time, but your brain is considerably more powerful than any computer. Your mind can think a whole lot faster than you can consciously keep up with.

Consequently, the brain makes many snap decisions all by itself.

For instance, do you think first impressions are important?  (It’s been said you only have 7 seconds to make a strong first impression on those you meet … or be summarily dismissed from consideration.)

Now, consider this: Do first impressions ever result in unwarranted bias?


Cognitive biases help you get through the day with minimal stress. To keep you from having to make decisions constantly, the brain serves up its best suggestions moment-by-moment.

That’s not always a GOOD thing. Sometimes, it pays to stop and think deliberately.

What if you were able to identify cognitive biases that come up, then purposely determine whether or not to accept their decrees?

What if you could recognize cognitive bias in others – and help THEM make better decisions?

Would that be of benefit in sales situations?


You may not feel like it’s true all the time, but your brain is considerably more powerful than any computer.Click To Tweet

Examples of cognitive bias in business

For instance, a client told me a story related to his work as the online content editor for an international health products firm.

One summer, his team was assigned an earnest young intern who was being groomed for management. The 20-something fireball was eager to make a big splash and immediately announced that the company blog was too dull – it was in severe need of a new, modern look that would appeal to his generation.

My client (the editor) politely explained to the eager beaver that the blog’s audience (and the company’s customers) tended to be Baby Boomers, not Gen-Y members.

Amazingly, though, the intern STILL didn’t get it.

He had plenty of book learning, but very little experience. Moreover, he suffered under a delusion brought on by a certain cognitive bias: Mirror imaging.

Making business mistakes due to mirror imaging bias

Mirror imaging bias makes me believe everyone probably thinks just like I think – that the world is a reflection of myself.

  • Doesn’t everyone love warm weather? (Yes, that’s why I live in Arizona!)
  • Isn’t public speaking a joy?
  • Wouldn’t you just love to work for yourself and not have to punch a time clock?

The list could go on and on – that is why it is so very important to do your best to put yourself in the other’s shoes.

I can’t make an educated guess at what’s best for YOU until I have seen the world through YOUR eyes.

EVERY sales presentation – especially the initial discovery conversation or presentation – should be given over to a whole lot more listening and question-asking than to talking and advising.

You don’t have to be well-schooled in psychology to be successful in sales, but understanding it helps ease your stress around the sales process.

It also helps you understand the foundational principles of Trust-Based selling.

(And every discussion is, in some way, a sales presentation.)

I can’t make an educated guess at what’s best for YOU until I have seen the world through YOUR eyes.Click To Tweet

Looking at the dangers of anchoring bias in sales

Anchoring bias causes us to give undue weight to a few traits we feel are most important. It can lead you to agree with people your age and older, but discount the advice of younger folks.

Or it can cause you to make a purchase based on color, but miss a crucial consideration concerning quality.

You may not be aware of this going on, but it is happening … daily.

In a Trust-Based relationship you are seeking to discover the truth of your prospect’s situation. Part of that is to identify the anchors most important to the prospect.

Unless you recognize and then value those touch-points, your chances of having a successful outcome are reduced.

Remember: Your own mirror imaging wants you to focus on the points most important to you – and, when one bias is confronted by another, sparks can begin to fly.

Often, this is when the salesperson begins to defend his or her point of view in an attempt to convince the prospective client to abandon her own bias.

That is almost always a losing battle.

Perhaps your prospective client may believe on-time deliveries are crucial to the contract. But how would you know that if you haven’t had a conversation to focus on what is important to the client?

By neglecting to focus on discovering the prospect’s biases (call them “preferences,” if you choose), you might choose to play up color choices as your differentiating reference point and inadvertently play down the importance of on time deliveries.

Do you see where the recognition of bias factors can make or possibly break a sale?Click To Tweet

Confronting the pull of recency bias in business decisions

One more example of cognitive bias is the tendency to accept the new and reject the old.

A characteristic I see in many small business entrepreneurs is the tendency to switch gears from new idea to new idea. Often, they are listening to the latest theories and hopping on every marketing bandwagon that passes by.

“Recency bias” describes the phenomenon of a person most easily remembering something that has happened recently, compared to remembering something that may have occurred a while back.

The next time you are in a brainstorming or mastermind session, note the outcome. Chances are really good that the chosen idea will be one of the final suggestions presented.

That is recency bias.

Why is it easier to sell clients who are on an upswing – even if they were in a three-year slump not that long ago? Recency bias causes them to make decisions based on the latest data.

Why is it more difficult to sell clients who are seeing a downturn – even if the prior three years were fantastic? You got it – recency bias.

Try this: Come up with some examples of recency bias from daily life. The next time you are faced with a prospect who is balking at “doing something right now” consider whether recency bias is influencing her to run a little scared.

IF you have been establishing a conversation and a relationship based on TRUST, you will see you can potentially have the opportunity to discuss this influence and help your prospect move through this obstacle that may be stopping her.

Do you see yourself in any of these three potential enemies to clear thinking? Remember, they aren’t all bad all of the time. Cognitive biases help your brain wade through the ocean of data it is presented with on a daily basis.

The trick is to know how to identify bias and use that knowledge to help you and your clients make better decisions.

Shall we go over a few more cognitive biases in a subsequent article?

If that would be of interest to you, do let me know in the Comment section below.

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