5 Cognitive Biases that Help You Sell More

Cognitive biases are established patterns of thinking that occur in opposition to what we think we “should” feel when faced with a judgment or decision. They’re lapses in logic, or common sense, which happen when we prefer one set of rules to the other and make decisions based on something other than rationality.

Cognitive biases are often used to sell, to great effect. While these natural laws sound complicated to grasp, there are easy ways you can use them to boost your own conversions.

1. Hyperbolic Discounting

Generally, people would rather receive a smaller reward now than a bigger one down the line. In a famous experiment, children were given a marshmallow and told that they could either eat it now or be given two marshmallows if they resisted the one for 10 minutes. Many ate the marshmallow immediately, even though there was a better reward later on.

We’re not very good at delaying gratification. To take advantage of this cognitive bias, you can offer payment plans: even though customers pay the same amount (or, in some cases, more) the fact they’re paying less that moment makes the offer more attractive. Or, you can simply delay payment, as putting down $300 in three months feels less risky than spending the same amount now.

2. Sunk Cost Fallacy

Once someone has invested time, energy, or money into an activity or decision, they’re committed to finishing it.

This means the earlier you can get the customer to make an action, or commit – even a tiny one, such as an email address – the more invested they are in your product or service and will see it through to the inevitable end (purchase).

Lead magnets work well for this, as they exchange free value for the ability to deliver follow-up marketing. Asking the prospect to complete further small tasks – downloading an app, checking in with a daily notification, adding friends – gradually cements the feeling in their mind of having already bought, leaving payment as a logical final step.

3. Ambiguity Bias

Or, better the devil you know. People are more likely to choose options they feel are likely to succeed than those that may promise more, but whose outcomes are unknown or unclear.

People are reluctant to try new things. Case studies, testimonials, third-party reviews and endorsements go a long way to reassure customers your product or service works, and is trusted by people worthy of their respect. Your competitor may be cheaper, bigger, faster or stronger – but if you’re the one with five stars and they only have three, you’ll win the sale.

4. Confirmation Bias

This is when a person gives more weight to information that supports their pre-existing beliefs. For example, hearing that you’ve been eating too much is hard for anyone to hear – much less process in a way that leaves you open to trying a new product. Placing the blame on large corporations, or too much sugar, or past diets that didn’t work, confirms our deeply-held convictions that we can’t possibly be the problem, it’s everyone else.

Exploit confirmation bias by confirming a long-held belief your audience has and backing it up with new evidence or by calling out a common “enemy”.

5. Reactance

Everyone wants to feel like an individual, like their own person with a sense of control. Reactance is the tendency in most people to go against what they’re told to do, just to maintain a sense of independence.

Instead of positioning yourself as the authority by pushing a sale, identify a common enemy to “get on their side”. Competitor products, a corrupt marketplace, and other sources of frustration are good places to start.

Cognitive biases are latent in everyone, to varying degrees. Experiment with which ones suit your product or service best, as well as which ones your audience reacts to most.