For all the powerful processing work the human mind can do, it's still prone to making bizarre assumptions or jumping to illogical conclusions. Unfortunately, we don't usually recognize these patterns as strange. Since they're unconscious, they seem normal.
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 one? 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. The psychological biases below 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) Ambiguity Effect
Imagine you had two lunch choices. You could either visit a place you know and like -- although it isn't your favorite -- or somewhere completely random. This second restaurant 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 an unpleasant midday meal.
The ambiguity effect causes people to avoid options whose results are unknown or untested. Now you can tell your friends there's a scientific reason venturing away from your tried-and-true restaurant is hard.
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.
It's often said 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 colors our overall perception. Why? The initial detail acts as an anchor -- one which all further information is compared to and viewed against.
Sales takeaway: First impressions matter. Carefully plan out how you will introduce yourself and your product. Make sure the first details the buyer recieves about your offering set a positive tone and high expectation for the rest of the buying process.
3) The Backfire Effect
When you’re talking to someone with a deeply held belief, presenting them with facts that clearly contradict that belief won’t change their mind.
In fact, thanks to the backfire effect, they’ll actually be more convinced they’re right. Debating the truth of your statement with you pushes them further toward the side they already favor.
Sales takeaway: When prospects hold a false opinion, don’t directly challenge them with conflicting information. Instead, ask them to explain their reasoning. They’ll discover the holes in their argument by themselves.
4) Hyperbolic Discounting
Offer a toddler a candy bar now, or two tomorrow, 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 phenomenon still influences adults. Our brains are naturally drawn toward rewards in the short-term over 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.
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.
5) 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. Highlight the number of customers your company has and introduce prospects to current clients.
6) Decoy Effect
Are you having trouble deciding between two choices? Maybe adding a third will help.
Huh? My sentiments exactly. The decoy effect is irrational, but 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 or a three-star venue 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.
7) 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.
8) 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 effect can be disadvantageous for creators (ownership of the project could make them blind to flaws), salespeople can use it to their benefit.
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.
9) Illusory Truth Effect
How do hypnotists put people to sleep? At least in movies, they repeat over and over, "You are getting sleepy ... so 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 suggest frequency leads to belief. In other words, you're more likely to believe a statement you've heard 10 times than five.
"Repetition is one of the easiest and most widespread methods of persuasion," explains Dr. Jeremy Dean.
Sales takeaway: Determine your core message, and then deliver it multiple times.
10) 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 seize onto two moments of a presentation: 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.
11) 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.
12) Status Quo Bias
You’ve probably heard if you put a frog in a pot of water and gradually increase the water’s temperature to boiling levels, the frog won’t jump out. People often act the same way: Because they have a strong preference for the status quo, they ignore slowly building threats or danger.
The status quo is so sticky because it’s far easier to maintain your current situation than take action. And thanks to the ambiguity effect (see #1 on this list), known options are more attractive than unknown ones.
Sales takeaway: This bias explains why nearly one quarter of forecast deals end in “no decision.”
There are two major strategies you can use to avoid this outcome. If you’re the only supplier the buyer is evaluating, thoroughly educate them on their business pain.
However, if they’re choosing between multiple vendors, it’s clear they’ve recognized their challenges. Make sure they understand the costs of costs of inaction so they're not tempted to leave this problem alone.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in January 2015 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.