Cognitive Bias in Sales – The DECOY

IN EARLIER articles, I’ve written about how cognitive biases can influence the sales process – but we’ve barely begun looking at the TYPES of cognitive biases anyone in sales (or in business) may confront every single day.

Whether you are a solopreneur, a small business owner, a service professional, or part of an executive leadership team – we are talking about something that can have a HUGE IMPACT on the sales process.

It could even be said that understanding this kind of information is what sets the 20% of upper level performers (those who make 80% of the sales) apart from (and out in front of) the rest of the pack.

NOW, here’s the thing: sometimes you hear it said that someone is a ‘natural salesperson”. What is probably more accurate is that the person who seems to be a ‘natural’ really just seems to instinctively understand the processes at work when cognitive bias affects sales.

Really good news: Even if you aren’t a natural at sales – you can learn!Click To Tweet

Why YOU need to know about cognitive bias

You may have a FEAR of sales. You may dislike … dare I say, even HATE sales … but that doesn’t change the fact, one iota, that you are selling SOMETHING every day.

I encourage the people I counsel to EMBRACE the SALES PROCESS. After all, nothing can help you reach your business goals quicker than boosting sales.


So let’s go talk about another manifestation of cognitive bias – and let’s continue that track for another few articles.

I BELIEVE: If you will commit to studying, learning, and putting into practice the things you learn here TODAY – your sales can’t HELP but increase.

(To brush up on the hows and whys of cognitive bias, READ THIS.)

Here we go…

What is Cognitive Dissonance?

cognitive dissonance in salesCognitive dissonance is “the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.”

Our minds don’t like indecisiveness. When we can’t decide, we lean towards a state of “cognitive dissonance.” And that is an UNCOMFORTABLE FEELING.

Cognitive dissonance is why I remind my private clients, over and over, that in the sales conversation or sales presentation if you “confuse them — you will most likely lose them’.

Great speakers, TV hosts, marketers and salespeople know the moment you confuse your audience (and/or a potential customer) with overly complex or non-essential information, you risk losing their attention.

And if you lose their attention, you risk losing a potential sale.

For example, have you ever gone to a website and been confused by the content or navigation of the site? If a visitor to a website is confused about what to do, there is a good chance of a quick exit.

And that’s why I’m continually surprised when I see companies of any size, but certainly big brand companies, that confuse visitors by using non-standard phrases for common functions.

In sales, if you confuse them... you will probably lose them!Click To Tweet

For example, a major real estate site uses the word ‘refresh’ instead of the word ‘search’ for the search button.

Ok … a savvy enough visitor may know what ‘refresh’ means, but why in the world would you use that word when far and away more people understand what is intended when you use ‘search’?

I’m astounded at how often I see confusion being created in all kinds of marketing, communication and sales conversations. Which is why I often say ‘every word MATTERS’ because it is when we lack mindfulness of the impact of the words we use we can inadvertently CREATE the confusion we want to avoid.

Don’t confuse them, else you will lose them. Because as psychology points out we create stress and discomfort when we create cognitive dissonance.

Which leads me to sharing what is known as:

The Decoy Effect and Cognitive Bias

Decoy cognitive bias

The DECOY – creative commons by Dr.DeNo

When in doubt, try another option.

For example, if not presented properly, when you offer a client two alternatives – a lower-priced option and a higher-priced option, for instance — you could be introducing dissonance.

To choose the lesser option will save money, but will it be equally beneficial?

The more expensive option will get me the ‘Cadillac version,’ but the prospect is going to have to pay big bucks to get it.

Which is the best choice? Confused buyers are quite likely to refuse to choose at all.

Here’s an approach that has been taught to many marketers and salespeople as a way to ‘deal’ with dissonance:

Bring out the DECOY!

This is the version of the DECOY most seen in use today. The prospect is not presented with two offers, but with three. One is low in price, but also low in value.

Another is higher in price AND high in value, but doesn’t seem to offer sufficiently adequate benefits to make it the wise choice.

In the middle is an offer that is sensibly priced and packs enough value to please most of your customers or clients. It is presented in a way that makes it stand out a little more.

For example, consider this ad…

using decoy cognitive bias in sales

Guess which sells more?

Yep … AND using the DECOY can up total sales volume MUCH MORE than you would get from presenting only two options and pressing the prospect into cognitive dissonance in order to decide.

Is using cognitive bias theory in sales cheating?

NOW … am I teaching you UNFAIR TRICKS?

I hope not. That is certainly NOT my intention.

Trust-Based Sales demands fair value be given to the buyer.

By being aware of the effects of cognitive dissonance and the DECOY Bias, you simply HELP the client make the best decision – and that is ALWAYS the decision most in favor of the buyer!

Can you think of examples where you’ve seen the DECOY (or other forms of cognitive bias) in action? Do you think a knowledge of cognitive bias in sales can help you sell more and increase revenue?

Let’s talk about it!

P.S. For more information, read



  1. Debbie, the study of cognitive bias — as it relates to sales — may be the most lucrative, time-smart study an experienced salesperson can embark on. Thanks for talking about the various manifestations of bias. I look forward to seeing more.

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