Confirmation Bias - Selling Friend or Foe?


Confirmation Bias is the psychological concept of perceiving you know something and any new information received seems to confirm what you believe you know is true... even if the new info is actually evidence of a different conclusion. My fist sales manager used to call it "Happy Ears"!

A small example we all experience in sales is our perception that our point of contact on an opportunity is our champion. They spend time with us, seem to respond favorably to our value props, give us great information and tell us we're just what their company needs! Wow, they are great!

Don't get me wrong... they are great, but may not be our champion! What we often don't know is their level of influence inside their own organization. In other words, does their advocacy for us and our solutions matter inside their own company? Does it really help us or hurt us? Will anyone listen to them when they sell on our behalf when we are not there?

So, we decide to explore their internal influence just to be sure we know how big their support will be for us. And guess what, every bit of insight we gather on their influence convinces us that we were right about them and they are someone we can rely on to guide our sales strategy for the deal! Classic Confirmation Bias! We're potentially hearing and seeing what we "want" to believe.... Happy Ears!

The key to avoid the potential trap of Confirmation Bias lies in the practice of "triangulation". In this case, let's hear about our supposed champion's influence from other sources. Let's test their level of influence by asking them to get us access to their executives... or share info about our competitor's approach... or help us influence decision criteria. Bring in our peers, managers, folks in our network that don't have this potential big deal on the line, to challenge our thinking. If after all that, we now have "evidence" (vs. emotions) that we have a champion, then leverage the heck out of them! Otherwise beware of overestimating their influence and the leverage their support provides!

Confirmation Bias can also emerge when we are qualifying a deal, assessing our competitive advantages or even forecasting. The key is to be aware it exists in all of us, so the best sellers know to challenge its tendencies early and often over the life of a deal. This often requires "outside counsel" from managers and peers, perhaps in a deal review to expose our Happy Ears!


  • Joe Huber
    Joe Huber Member [Pro], Administrator Posts: 242

    This is great, Tim! Thank you for sharing!