Ray Collis

Is The Buyer Struggling Unnecessarily With Your Pitch?

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Many sellers are unknowingly doing things that make it harder, rather than easier for the buyer to buy. They are making simple mistakes that have the potential to turn a straight forward nod of the head from the buyer into a puzzled frown. As a result they are unnecessarily over-complicating and slowing progress towards a decision.

Cognitive Ease in Selling

Do you ever struggle to get your message across? Well relax! It may not be you, or your proposition that is to blame! New research highlights the simple ways in which salespeople can unknowingly put unnecessary strain on the buyer and as a result potentially stall the deal.

For buyers the research reveals the myriad of factors that impact on the level of rigour and analysis that is likely to be applied to the decision.

Putting The Buyer At Ease

The typical sales job description includes identifying needs, pitching solutions, writing proposals and so on. But there is an activity that in most cases is missing – that is putting the buyer at ease. Now it may sound simplistic, but recent research shows that its absence could help explain slow, or stalled deals.

‘Cognitive ease’ is the term used by Nobel Prize winning scientist Daniel Kahneman for what the seller may refer to as making the decision ‘a no-brainer for the buyer’.

The Processing Fluency Of Your Proposition

Another word for cognitive ease is processing fluency – the ease with which information is processed in the mind, including the ease with which it can be perceived and retrieved.

Essentially the message for the seller is ‘don’t make the buyer have to think (or to have to think too hard) about what you are communicating or proposing’.

Why does this matter? Well because research shows that cognitive strain changes the nature of decision making. It is linked with believability, acceptability and other emotions on the part of the buyer.

Now we are not saying that cognitive ease will close the complex sale, however the lack of it could slow, if not stall what could otherwise be relatively straightforward steps or interactions within the buyer’s process.

With that in mind let’s examine 4 steps that sellers can follow to ensure cognitive ease on the part of the buyer. These points can be used by buyers to better understand why some decisions are inherently more straight-forward than others.

Step 1. Make Sure What You Are Selling Is Familiar

Repetition creates cognitive ease and generates a feeling of comfort and familiarity. More important still repetition leads to liking. The mere exposure, even unconscious, to a sales pitch or brand over time can generate preference over an unknown, or unfamiliar alternative.

The implication is that it is more difficult to sell something that is new and unfamiliar – no surprise there! This is exactly why organizations invest in demand generation and awareness building forms of marketing.

However even the salesperson can apply the principle of familiarity, for example priming the buyer to be ready and comfortable with information, concepts and terms that are an important element of the sale.

The priming of terms, information and solutions makes what is being communicated not only more familiar but also more cognitively accessible for the buyer and even more trustworthy.

That means the seller should avoid introducing new language or concepts late in the sale. Another approach is to use the language of the buyer, rather than replacing it with the sellers own terminology. If you are selling something new and unfamiliar, then link it to something that is familiar to the buyer. In this respect it can be helpful to re-frame the decision, for example using metaphors, or parallels.

Step 2. Ensure A Conducive Decision Environment

Famous negotiators have written their negotiation tricks including withholding toilet breaks, food and drink, or increasing room temperatures in order to force a decision. However research on cognitive strain would suggest that this is counter productive.

‘When you feel strained, you are more likely to be vigilant and suspicious: [you] invest more effort in what you are doing, feel less comfortable, and make fewer errors, but you also are less intuitive and less creative than usual.’

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

The concept of cognitive strain also means that pressure related closing techniques are more likely to slow the decision, causing the buyer to undertake more analysis and to rely less on intuition. So, sellers need to give attention to the context and environment of the decision.

Step 3. Put Greater Clarity Into Your Proposals & Pitches

The seller must focus on facilitating the straight-forward processing (and acceptance) of the sales message by the buyer. That requires addressing those factors that create cognitive strain (the opposite of cognitive ease) in respect of the sales pitch, or proposal, such as;

  • Using difficult to read colours and typefaces in proposals and pitches.
  • Difficult to pronounce sources of reference.
  • The unnecessary use of big words or technical terms.

In short the believability of a factual sales message can be influenced by such factors as; changing its font, making it rhyme, or repeating it. It may even matter how nice it looks!

Surprisingly, some fonts sell better than others. Research shows that ‘bad font influences judgements of truth and improves cognitive performance (i.e. deliberation, critiquing, etc.)’.

So do your proposals look and read like legal correspondence, with stilted language, packed text, few headings, long paragraphs and no visuals? Making your pitches and proposals easily read has gained new importance.

However cognitive ease goes well beyond the choice of typeface. The familiarity of the message is critical too.

Step 4. Check That The Buyer Is In A Good Mood!

It will come as no surprise that it is easier to sell to somebody who is in a good mood. Here is the scientific explanation why:

‘Being in a bad mood results in cognitive strain where the buyer is less creative, less intuitive, more vigilant and more careful-precise.’

So if a seller calls on an a buyer only to find that he, or she is clearly out of sorts or under pressure, the salesperson might be better served to opt out of meeting and come back again at a better time.

But it is a two-way street, as cognitive ease, both results from and contributes to a good mood on the part of the buyer. So putting a smile on the buyers face is important! To finish by again quoting Daniel Kahneman:

‘When in a good mood people become more instinctive and more creative but also less vigilant and more prone to logical errors.’

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