Sales Effectiveness
5 min reading

3 cognitive biases: how to thwart them?

Cyprien Borios
Published on
cognitive biases that deceive salespeople

Human beings are full of contradictions.

In the morning, I want a small salad for my lunch, and BAM. 3 hours later, I'm eating a pizza.

Did you know that there are about 250 cognitive biases!

Some affectour perception of things (we don't see everything). Others disrupt our memory by selecting our memories. Others lead us to make bad decisions, and finally the most annoying ones go as far as to generating total illusions in our minds.

As a reminder, a cognitive bias is "a deviation in the cognitive processing of information. This term refers to a systematic deviation of logical and rational thinking from reality. These biases lead the subject to assign different importance to facts of the same nature.

Yes, a hard blow to humanity.

Between your "perception of reality", and "intrinsic reality" (as it really exists), the difference is huge - and much more than you think.

You can see where I'm going with this: the impact on any business is colossal.

As each sale is a series of decisions, it is all about psychology. On both the buyer and the seller side, a multitude of biases interfere with your understanding of needs. The result: some "easy" sales don't happen - and some "impossible" sales, against all odds, do!

However, by being aware of these biases, they can be countered.

Forget Cartesian thinking and all those economists who assume that human beings are governed by reason. Today, here are 3 psychological biases that deceive sales representatives, and how you can outsmart them?

I. We are attracted by what confirms our own convictions

Confirmation bias

"Confirmation bias refers to the biasof favoring information that confirms one's preconceptions  (without regard to the veracity of this information) and to giving less weight to hypotheses that work against one's conceptions.

As a result, we selectively sort through each piece of information we receive and interpret it in a biased way. This is what we call "pulling reality" to ourselves.

  • I hear something that I think is true ⇒ I automatically agree with it.
  • I hear something I think is wrong ⇒ I look for a reason that will prove it is wrong.

Consequences for your sales:

We unconsciously seek to validate our preconceived ideas about a market, a prospect or a problem, instead of listening to what the prospect is really saying and relying on facts.


  • During a meeting: Every situation is different. Take the time to leave without preconceived ideas with each new prospect, and to validate each of the assumptions you rely on.
  • After a meeting: Replay your discussion: Were the questions you asked real open-ended questions, or were they directed questions to validate your assumptions?
  • Hint: The longer your questions are, the less "open-ended" they are.
  • After a meeting: Once a week, replay one of your calls with a colleague without giving him the context: What did they think of the exchange? What did they understand? How are they perceiving your answers?

II. We think we know what others think

Curse of Knowledge bias

"The curse of knowledge refers to the difficulty, when we have acquired a skill, knowledge in a particular field, to put ourselves in the shoes of someone who does not have this knowledge."

A scholar, an expert, a salesman... often has a hard time putting themselves in the shoes of the uninformed, compared to a novice. These "knowers" have a poor understanding of how the "ignorant" can react or respond. They have difficulty understanding non-experts, and thus rallying them to their cause.

Consequences for your sales:

We know our products and services inside out, but we tend to forget that our prospects do not! We then fail to explain these obvious things and we find ourselves facing embarrassing misunderstandings:

  • In the best case, you are forced to backtrack to explain the basic operation of your solution.
  • Otherwise you'll quickly hear "Oh that's great, but ... I don't think it's for us". Ciao.


Imagine selling your solution to your grandmother.

  • Upstream: List ALL the things that your offer is based on that seem "obvious" to you: Would they really be obvious to your grandmother? What is the premise for what you are saying?
  • During an appointment: Note the objections and questions your interviewer asked you ⇒ What lack of knowledge led my interviewer to ask this question?
  • During a meeting: Ask your interviewer: "Just to make sure we're on the same page, could you rephrase what I just told you?

III. The first impression we give will determine what happens next

Anchoring bias

"Anchoring refers to the difficulty of detaching from a first impression. In the case of a contact with a person, the subject will be strongly influenced by the first impression, negative or positive. In the case of a negative reaction, it will be more difficult to have a positive feeling towards this person later on."


Your interviewer will form their opinion of you in the first few seconds. At this point, you must set the tone. The question then arises:

What image do you want to project?


This bias takes place in the mind of your interlocutor, so you can't neutralize it. However, you can take it into account! To do this, be clear about the image you want to project. Identify what you are doing today, and adjust your presentation in accordance with this image.

And to understand what you are doing today, there are 2 methods:

  • During a meeting: Pay attention to what you say, and how you say it. I know, it's difficult since you're already focused on everything else. That's why ...
  • After an appointment: Pair up and replay only the first minute of ten or so of your calls. How does the first minute of each of your appointments go? What image do you project?

Also, don't hesitate to watch the first few seconds of other sales representatives' meetings. How do they do it? How do they introduce themselves? What do they do differently?

Identify these elements, adapt them to your liking, and move forward ;)


Learn to take a step back from yourself. Record yourself, and open a new eye to your own performance. By asking your colleagues for feedback, you will gain a new perspective that will complete your picture of reality.

This is also what allows you to progress twice as fast as others.

I will conclude with a little known story, the story of the 2 woodcutters:

Woodcutter A cuts wood all day. Woodcutter B takes frequent breaks and sits down.
At the end of the day, Woodcutter B has cut 3 times more wood than Woodcutter A.
Woodcutter A exclaims, "How can that be? You spent your day resting!"
Woodcutter B replies, "I wasn't resting, I was sharpening my saw."

That says it all. If your sales pitch is your saw, then re-listening quickly becomes the best sharpener ;)


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