Just so you won’t be guessing from the beginning of this post, confirmation bias is defined as interpreting information in a way that confirms what you already believe. You see what you’re looking for and hear what you’re listening for. Confirmation bias causes people to seek to confirm existing beliefs rather than challenging them, regardless what information is presented.
My closest friend and his wife attend a church where, after 30 years at the helm, their beloved pastor retired. He was the only church leader most folks in that congregation had ever known. My friend was asked to serve on the pastor search committee and soon thereafter they found and vetted a great candidate. This fellow happened to have been a former missionary. He was invited to come and preach one Sunday and meet the members of the church. He was also asked to bring his family for an opportunity to size up their potential new home town.
All went well except that one member of the search team kept mentioning that the retiring pastor always said that “former missionaries don’t make the best pastors.” He couldn’t get that (confirmation bias) out of his mind and began to have sidebar conversations with various members prior to the church-wide vote. When the votes were counted, you guessed it, the candidate failed to get the required majority. This tragedy was due to the negative lobbying efforts of this one man.
Sales reps too, fall victim to confirmation bias when they ask prospects loaded questions as they search for specific answers. For example, if a rep thinks a prospect could benefit from additional attic insulation he might ask the following question. “Would you like to save money on your energy bill each month?” Of course the answer will be yes. The rep immediately responds, “Then you should add a six inch cap of insulation in your attic.” The problem is that without an energy audit/inspection there’s no way to confirm the additional insulation is actually needed.
While it’s helpful to have research-backed assumptions prior to talking to a prospect, reps need to remember to be open to new information and be ready to admit their “educated guess” might be incorrect.
Confirmation bias also impacts your buyers, both residential and commercial in several different ways. If people on the buyer’s side of the table already have a preferred vendor when you come along, the chances are great that they will interpret whatever you say as positive in favor of your competitor. This will happen regardless how convincing you feel your presentation is, meaning you lose the competitive scrum.
This bias can also cause them to prefer a highly advertised solution over yours, even if yours is objectively better. This is due to the tendency of the human brain to believe information encountered early over information encountered later.
Even if the person researching your solution is open to your ideas, confirmation bias can cause snags later in the process. This occurs when a higher level decision maker or influencer has a strong preconceived preference for a competitor. Those people may interpret your information in a way that confirms their bias, rather than considering your solution on its own merits.
Googling the Internet for information has made this bias even stronger. It causes opinions to be formed about products and services prior to ever coming face-to-face with salespeople. This now occurs so frequently and impacts sales so often that salespeople must counter it.
To have a shot at overcoming this bias I suggest using a circular strategy, with four simple steps to help bring prospects and buyers around to your point of view:
Empathize along the vein of agreeing before disagreeing. Empathy encourages cooperation and relationship-building, rather than confrontation which acts like a magnet for reinforcing confirmation bias.
Explore using open-ended questioning that can lead buyers to discover the “warts” in their current thinking. This process makes them more likely to consider your thinking and your solution.
Encounter their existing beliefs by connecting discomfort and pain with the path they are currently traveling. If you succeed you may be able to nudge their thinking in your direction.
Execute by making your alternative suggestion attractive, positioning it as the path of least resistance back toward their comfort zone.
This is a tough one so it won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.
————Much More than Basics————
My initial choice of words was “getting back to basics” when reading Doug’s book. But after finishing, it is so much more and I have already learned some new things! Plus, I love the funny stories and examples throughout the book. Tina Mabry, Lifetime Member, Million Dollar Club Realtor, Georgia
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