Buying Bias


You know you’re on the back foot when your prospect doesn’t share their buying criteria with you. Likewise, when you get to shape such potential assessment, you’re on to a winner. In either case, what can you do to shore up your chances?

Well, In June 2011’s HBR there’s a fascinating insight into how to ‘buy’ properly in their piece Before you make that big decision. Co-authored by a Nobel prize winning economist for work on cognitive bias no less, it suggests a dozen areas where you should “unearth and neutralise defects” that can skew a key decision process.

Self interest – Emotion – Group think – Similar story – Confirmation – Anchoring – Information availability – Halo effect – Sunk cost – Over-confidence – Disaster neglect – Overly cautious

As a list of headings they’re not completely self-explanatory in our Sales context of course, and the researchers appear focused on any comprehensive change, like a merger/acquisition, not just a big ticket procurement. Nevertheless the insight that can be taken for influence on major purchase decisions are potentially significant.

Each has a pro and con side, depending on whether you feel behind or ahead of the game. For instance, exposing the Self-Interest bias of someone that seeks personal benefit regardless of corporate gain can prove a political grenade, whereas appealing to the same bias in your favour can both create and consolidate support.

So overall, here’s my Selling checklist interpretation of bias to either cement in your favour, or expose if working against you:

What Self-Interest of individual decision contributors may be at play?

Is there an Emotional connection where solutions appear to be irrationally loved or loathed?

Has Group Think held sway to place consensus above viable alternative investigation?

How strong is the reliance on a Similar, yet strangely dissimilar project experience?

To what extent do all avenues seem merely to Confirm what the decision unit were looking for all along?

Is the core criteria Anchored on an appropriate item?

How readily Available is the information that’s really required?

Is there a Halo effect around any associated projects that are scarcely relevant or hugely meaningful?

How powerful a pull are any Sunk Costs incurred?

What’s the Confidence levels for overall decision effectiveness?

Have people factored in the right worst case Disaster scenario?

Is an aversion to loss prevalent in Over-caution?

Shaping several of these your way would indeed be a useful purpose of a key theme or stage from your own sales process. One that’ll help you move from Lost to Won. Even better, there’s the huge 7 extra percentage points in return that any self-respecting exec will surely want to capture;

By using this tool, executives will build decision processes that reduce the effects of biases and upgrade the quality of decisions their organizations make.
The payoffs can be significant:
A recent McKinsey study of more than 1,000 business investments, for instance, showed that when companies worked to reduce the effects of bias, they raised their returns on investment by seven percentage points.

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