Really! Did I lose my deal because of being confirmation biased?

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You are telling me that I lost that deal because I was confirmation biased? It may be a surprise, but there is a good chance confirmation bias was part to blame.

Let us roll back time… Remember back to when we first met that sales lead we just lost. Looking at our sales data, we know if our solution is a good fit the discovery process is quick. We did our discovery and it was quick, so what went so wrong for us to lose the deal?

We were excited about the sales lead’s potential and quickly added it to our sales pipeline. Following our discovery, we were confident this deal would help us get across the line to achieve our sales quota target. There it is, just there, did you notice it slip unannounced into your mind?

That mindset is known as confirmation bias, and it is dangerous if we allow it to take control of our mind.

Confirmation bias is when we search for information and feedback that confirms our pre-existing idea or belief. In the above example, we will be biased towards feedback that confirms this sales lead will help achieve our sales quota target.

When confirmation bias takes control of our mindset, we unconsciously filter out any information that does not fit our idea or mindset. In other words, we are unconsciously looking out for information that confirms what we think. We are convinced we had the ideal solution for this sales lead. Unfortunately for us, we let our guard down moving quickly through the discovery phase. We asked the wrong questions or asked the right ones and did not hear the facts that would have alerted us to an upcoming challenge.

We have to deal with confirmation bias in our business every day

Let us step back for a moment and reflect on what goes on in our businesses. Consider quarterly business reviews or what we call QBRs. These are meant to be tough meetings for a reason. However, we see people pumping each other up and sometimes hear. “We’re going to smash this quarter, just look at this forecast!”

If the sales leader does not trap it at that point, then the QBR will have just been derailed. Everyone’s judgement becomes clouded as our minds become overwhelmed with confirmation bias. We spend our time looking at the end game and promises made. Consequently, we fail to hear or ignore those red flag comments and feedback that do not align with our idea or mindset.

The situation becomes compounded when we are among other people suffering from the effects of confirmation bias. It takes the strength of character to raise our hand and say,

“Wait a minute, have you considered…”

These are dangerous waters for sales leaders and their teams to navigate. So how do we avoid these treacherous seas to remain in safer waters?

It is natural human behaviour because we start most activities with a sense of high expectations and feelings. The same is true for an exciting new sales opportunity that promises to deliver a lot. The beginnings are always exciting. Returning to the QBR meeting, we are starting on a new quarter and have a great set of sales leads in our pipeline. We prepare for and head into the QBR meeting with our boss and colleagues confident, maybe even overly confident.

The problem with confirmation bias is that we do not see the dangers ahead of us. We drop our guard and become overly confident.

In our mind we have already won that deal we are forecasting.

If we are running a QBR, sales pipeline review or any other sales related meeting. As sales leaders, our task is to pull everyone back from getting caught up with confirmation bias. These meetings need to be tough for that reason; we need to develop a challenger mindset. To support us develop a challenger mindset is one reason sales prospecting tools like the Conversational Solution Sales Scorecard are so valuable tallowing us to remain objective. They help us close the door on becoming confirmation biased.

The same is true if we are members of a supporting team such as pre- or post-sales, or marketing. While contributing to those meetings, we need to be mindful, focused and emotionally strong to keep confirmation bias at arm’s length.

Be aware of letting in a hidden deal killer

I mentioned earlier how fast we can move through the discovering phase with the right solution. If we are to win the deals we are forecasting; delays offers us an important clue. Stalling is an indicator this deal may not be an ideal fit.

However, if we allow confirmation bias to slip into our minds and meetings, we have left the door open to a hidden deal killer. When we announce to everyone, we are going to win this deal at the beginning of the quarter. Or we feel the time pressure during the middle and end of the quarter to close a forecasted deal. That stress and time pressure will naturally make us more confirmation biased. Under pressure, we unconsciously listen for confirmatory evidence backing up our view this is an ideal fit.

Here are some of the steps we can take to close the door shut to allowing confirmation bias to enter our mindset or a meeting.

  1. We need to counter that elevated high feeling we naturally get at the beginning when forecasting a new sales lead. Do this by developing a challenger mindset, which means we need to become a healthy sceptic.
  2. Being a healthy sceptic helps us avoid our mindset, becoming confirmation biased. Sales prospecting tools like the Conversational Solution Sales Scorecard help guide us where we need to focus. A challenger mindset enables us to become skilled at asking challenging questions and be persuasive. These skills help us discover the evidence we need to competitively positioned ourselves to support sales leads address their most pressing priority needs.
  3. This evidence allows us to quickly identify the high potential opportunities and time waister sales leads. Stalling is a clue we may be dealing with a time waster if we have closed the door shut to confirmation bias. Knowing we are dealing with high potential opportunities early on releases valuable time and resources. High potential opportunities are the high-performance fuel we need to be successful. That is because we are focusing our finite resources and time working only with our high potential opportunities. These are the opportunities that support us achieve our business growth, revenue goals and ambitions. Releasing time is one reason we can focus and move these sales leads quicker through the discovery phase.

Develop a challenger mindset

Having a challenger mindset also opens our mind to uncovering incidental findings. These are problems we did not set out to find but are valuable insights that strengthen our business case.

When our mindset is confirmation biased, we become softer. Questions we ask typically do not challenge our audience. Our questions are less persuasive and more geared towards getting a response that confirms what we think or want to hear.

We need to be asking questions that challenge and force our audience to reflect and reconsider their situation. We need to be prepared, open-minded and objective. The answers we get back could well challenge our views and assumptions. If we were confirmation biased, we would filter them out. Being objective and focused on the task at hand, allows us to better align with our sales leads’ journey rather than what we are biased towards.

Spend more time winning deals than losing them

Avoiding a confirmation bias mindset requires we focus on developing a challenger mindset. We must not be afraid to ask challenging questions – it is the key to our success. Doing so ensures we spend more time winning deals than losing them.

Because we are objective, we use our finite time and resources more effectively to win deals.

We have created a Guide to help you improve how you serve your sales leads and clients

Download the Guide Using Sales Prospecting Tools to Improve Sales Pipeline Reviews.

About the Author

Treve Wearne is the founder of Nazca Services Limited. Treve supports businesses and sales teams positioning themselves and increasing sales revenues. Improving sales forecasts, talent development and retention in the most challenging business environments.