For all the powerful processing work the human mind can do, it's still prone to making bizarre assumptions or jumping to an illogical conclusion every now and then. Problem is, we don't even recognize these patterns as strange. They're built into the fabric of our thought -- so to us, they just seem normal.
But upon examination, they're revealed to be anything but normal. Why else would we buy Beanie Babies in bulk? Or consider a rhyming tagline to be "truer" than a non-rhyming tagline? Thanks, psychological biases.
Like it or not, these biases are part of us. So those in the business of persuasion can benefit from learning how to spot and play to them. Below are 10 psychological biases that relate to decision-making. Not only can these help you understand why you make the choices you do, each also has a sales takeaway attached to help reps use these brain quirks to sell better.
1) The 'Ambiguity' Effect
Imagine I gave you two lunch choices. I could either take you out to a place you know and like (although it isn't your favorite), or I could take you somewhere completely random that neither of us have ever been to nor read any reviews about. It could be great, but it could also be awful.
Which would you choose? If your brain works like most people's, you'd probably opt for the first option rather than risk a very unpleasant midday meal.
Ambiguity effect causes people to avoid options with uknown results or those about which they lack information. Now you can tell your significant other there's a scientific reason why it's so hard to venture away from your tried-and-true bar or restaurant.
Sales takeaway: Make sure buyers are informed about what results they can expect if they implement your product, and quickly answer questions or fill in knowledge gaps they might have. If you're so inclined, you could also cast a shadow of doubt over competitive products -- making prospects feel as if your choice is the only sure bet.
2) The 'Anchoring' Effect
Like your kindergarten teacher always told you, you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. Too bad that our brains are hard-wired to do just that.
Whether for good or for bad, the first piece of information we receive about a person or situation will color our overall perception. Why? The initial detail acts as an anchor -- to which all further information is compared.
Sales takeaway: First impressions matter. Carefully plan out how you will introduce yourself and your product. Make sure the first snippet of information the buyer recieves about your offering sets a positive tone and high expectation for the rest of the buying process.
3) Hyperbolic Discounting
Offer a toddler a candy bar now, or one (or two or three) later on, and you'll see hyperbolic discounting in action. Now is always better than later. You probably won't even finish your sentence before they latch on to the treat and gobble it down.
Turns out, this doesn't really change much as we grow up. Our brains are naturally biased toward rewards in the short-term than those in the long-term. The "discounting" part of hyperbolic discounting refers to the fact that the perceived value of a reward decreases the farther it is in the future, until the slope eventually flattens out.
Sales takeaway: Emphasize the quick wins a customer can expect to see shortly after buying your product or service -- especially if the main benefit won't come for months. Build in immediate rewards as much as possible.
4) The 'Bandwagon' Effect
Beanie Babies. Pet rocks. Troll dolls. Looking back, these toy fads seem kind of silly. But did you buy or have one? Well, yeah, but ... everybody else was doing it!
No need to feel ashamed. There's a reason why you hopped on the trend. People naturally gravitate towards products or services they see other people using. And the larger the crowd, the more powerful the psychological pull.
Sales takeaway: Social proof is more powerful than you might think. Play up the number of customers your company has, and introduce prospects to current clients.
5) The 'Decoy' Effect
Are you having trouble deciding between two choices? Maybe adding a third will help.
... Huh? My sentiments exactly. But although the decoy effect is totally irrational, it's been scientifically proven.
In a study conducted by Duke University, a researcher gave participants two dining choices: a five-star restaurant that was far away, and a three-star that was nearby. The diners were torn. But after introducing a third possibility -- a four-star restaurant even farther away than the five-star -- suddenly it was easy to choose the five-star option. It was the best quality and only moderately far away (when compared with the third choice).
Sales takeaway: Use options to your advantage by presenting multiple versions of an offering or contract. If the prospect is really struggling to decide, introduce a decoy that will reinforce their innate predisposition.
6) The 'Rhyme-As-Reason' Effect
"If it doesn't fit, you must acquit." With this simple couplet, Johnnie Cochran cemented his defense of O.J. Simpson to the jury during the former football player's infamous 1994 murder trial.
While rhymes are naturally easier to remember, Cochran could also have been exploiting the rhyme-as-reason bias. This psychological quirk causes people to perceive rhyming statements as more truthful than non-rhyming ones containing the exact same message. It pays to be a poet -- and now you know it.
Sales takeaway: Reformulate your value proposition or a key takeaway about your product into a catchy rhyme. It can also help to apply this tactic to an aspect of your offering that is dubious or unclear.
7) The 'IKEA' Effect
There's no avoiding the inevitable confusion when trying to decode assembly instructions from the Swedish furniture outlet, but that's not what this bias is about. Instead, the IKEA effect refers to the fact that people value things they had a hand in creating more than similar -- or even superior -- products created by others.
While this can have a downside for creators (as their ownership of the project could make them blind to flaws), this brain trick can be exploited for salespeople's benefit rather easily.
Sales takeaway: Get prospects involved in customizing or putting their unique spin on your product or service. The more they feel like the offering is "theirs," the more positively they will feel towards it.
8) The 'Illusory Truth' Effect
How do hypnotists put people to sleep? At least in movies, they repeat over and over, "You are getting sleepy ..." At first, the patient's eyes are wide open, but eventually their eyelids begin to flutter, and ultimately close. What happened?
One possible explanation is the illusory truth effect, which establishes that the more times a person hears a statement, the truer it seems to become. If this sounds impossibly basic (or maybe even insulting to your intelligence), you're not alone. "It seems too simplistic that just repeating a persuasive message should increase its effect, but that’s exactly what psychological research finds (again and again)," writes Dr. Jeremy Dean. "Repetition is one of the easiest and most widespread methods of persuasion."
Sales takeaway: Determine your core message, and then deliver it over, and over, and over again.
9) The Peak-End Rule
It's not just first impressions that matter -- speakers often strive to end on a high note. Why? Because people's brains are wired to remember two moments of a presentation above all others: the apex and the end.
For instance, if you were to attend a mostly boring movie with a fantastic ending and a single stellar scene, this bias holds that you would remember it more favorably than another movie that was good throughout, but never extraordinary.
Sales takeaway: Make sure that sales presentations hit a deliberate high, and end on a thought-provoking and memorable point. If you're pressed for time, skew your preparation efforts to the ending and a critical moment rather than spending an equal amount of time on the entire presentation.
10) Loss Aversion
With the exception of serial gamblers, most people's brains are risk-averse. Losing something that is already owned has been shown to be far more painful than gaining something advantageous is pleasing. And this knowledge can be valuable when framing product benefits and other sales messaging.
Sales takeaway: Emotions are powerful motivators. Depending on what you sell, play up what prospects stand to lose by sticking with the entrenched status quo (another cognitive bias!). They'll be more willing to take a risk if they feel that something they own is at stake.
Originally published Jan 31, 2015 8:00:00 AM, updated May 02 2019