Why You are Not as Successful as You Think – Cognitive Biases in Everyday B2B Sales.
Do you f.e. know the “egocentric bias”? What perception disorders influence your (mis)success in B2B sales?
I’m pretty sure you won’t like to hear some of the things in this article. However, my advice to you is: open your eyes and get through it! It will be worth it for you…
You probably assume that your (sales) successes of the last weeks, months and years were deserved, and you are proud of your achievements. Today I will show you why, although you certainly did a good job, you still only had a negligible impact on your professional and private success.
We all know optical illusions. These are images that have been created through visual trickery in such a way that our eyes, as well as our brains, partially misperceive them. While these perceptual errors are more like gimmicks in a library optical illusion book or social media feed, perceptual errors on a cognitive level are much more far-reaching. For example, the so-called “egocentric bias,” which we’ll look at in a moment, leads individuals who frequently indulge this error to evaluate our society as fairer than others and donate less, among other things.
Perhaps you can already imagine that such perception distortions can influence one’s work and cooperation with colleagues.
In the following, I would like to introduce you to various “biases” and explain how they influence your everyday sales work. But more importantly: how you can deal with them.
1. We are Blind to Cognitive Biases
If you haven’t heard of these thinking errors before or haven’t tried to address them actively, it’s not surprising. Humans are generally susceptible to the “bias blind spot.” This means that we notice biases (if any) in other people but not in ourselves. Moreover, we also assume that we are much less susceptible to it than others.
This phenomenon is the basis for the following cognitive biases that can harm your work. To avoid the bias blind spot, only three simple steps are necessary:
1) Educate yourself about the phenomenon and the different types of bias (congratulations, by reading this post, you have already completed this first step!).
2) Accept that you are just as susceptible to the blind spot and cognitive biases as anyone else.
3) Actively think about if and where the blind spot or other biases may have impacted you.
2. We are Closest to Ourselves
I assume that you are already aware that each person lives in their little reality because they perceive everything from their individual and unique perspective. This fact gives rise to the so-called egocentric bias. Because we perceive everything from our perspective and experience the effort that we put into projects, for example, while we only see the result of our colleagues’ work, we often assume that we have done more than others. In general, we overestimate our influence on our environment and our importance in it.
This is also evident in small everyday events. For example, if we stumble out of a streetcar and fall on the ground, we may feel incredibly ashamed of it and remember it for weeks to come. However, even people who witnessed the incident and may have smirked briefly will have forgotten about it by the end of the day. Most people, however, will not have even noticed it.
Science has also already done plenty of research on the egocentric bias and confirmed that we often misjudge ourselves. For example, a 1983 study by Zuckerman et al. showed that we often overestimate the amount of attention we receive from a counterpart. The so-called Dunning-Kruger effect even proves the assumption that the more incompetent someone is, the more he overestimates himself. This quickly leads to a vicious circle of incompetence, Dunning and Kruger conclude. Because half-knowledgeable people tend to overestimate themselves and at the same time fail to recognize the competence of others, they also fail to see the need for further training and thus to increase their competence.
Even when we get to know people for the first time, we often remember their characteristics that are most similar to us. We all know statements like “Interesting that we both once lived in Spain for a year” or “Wow, we went to the same university and never met?”.
These distortions occur due to our limited cognitive capacity and our everyday use of heuristics. These help us to cope with our daily life quickly without facing many problems. So first of all, quite positive. However, if this cognitive distortion becomes too powerful, we behave increasingly egoistically and unemphatically, making teamwork more difficult.
3. “Everyone Says So”
Other biases are based on this fundamental egocentric bias, such as the false consensus effect. This describes the mindset by which individuals label their behavioural choices and judgments as usual, average, or typical and consider them appropriate. This effect occurs because we are most concerned with our own opinions and find it challenging to comprehend and remember when individuals disagree.
This bias is especially dangerous in team collaboration. If we assume that other team members agree and do not discuss individual decisions sufficiently, it can lead to misjudgements and tensions.
4. The Truth about your Success
The commonality of many studies on self-assessment in all professional and personal situations is the following: we overestimate our performance and underestimate external circumstances. The most forgotten and most significant influencing factor is: luck.
Let’s imagine a young woman named Lena, working as a sales manager for a medium-sized mechanical engineering company in Mannheim for about a year. She achieved an excellent high school diploma and performed well in her bachelor’s and master’s studies before starting her job. She had worked very hard within her professional career, attended all further training courses, and only took a vacation when the schedule allowed it.
Why do you think Lena was able to achieve such a good position? She will probably think it was because of her excellent performance and diligence. However, in reality, the basis for success was laid much earlier.
Lena was born in Germany as the daughter of two academics. For this reason, she had the necessary support as a child and was able to attend the best schools. When she had difficulties, her parents paid for tutoring and remedial courses. Even during her studies, Lena did not have to work because her parents supported her. She was, therefore, able to concentrate fully on the subject matter. At an event hosted by her father’s company, she met her current supervisor, who offered her a job a few weeks later.
What do you say now? Was it really diligence and performance that got Lena to where she is today, or rather a massive portion of luck?
5. Minimize Cognitive Distortions
Perhaps you are now thinking, “It doesn’t matter which factors have led to me being as successful as I am today, ” which may also be partly true. However, as already mentioned, it is important to assess yourself and the situation correctly, especially when working with other people, interacting with customers, and having your own egocentric bias under control accordingly. Four techniques are known to help with this:
1. The first strategy I already mentioned in the beginning is: develop an awareness of the existence of this bias. This already helps to drastically reduce its impact.
2. It can also help to use self-distancing language. This means actively thinking about what each person has contributed to a project/discourse, rather than just thinking, “How much have I contributed?”
3. Keep your own behaviour in perspective and think about what supposed facts you are making decisions or judgments based on. Some studies show that sitting in front of a mirror to arrive at a decision can help. Of course, it is also possible without such measures. The important thing is to become aware of your thinking and behavioural patterns to reduce this egocentric bias.
4. Look at the situation from different perspectives. Often it can help to use objective and predictive tools such as software programs to reduce your bias. These tools show alternative decision options and prioritize them based on historical data.
You Can Improve Things
Based on the above examples, it might seem like you, or Lena, do not influence your future, and diligence has no impact. Therefore, I would like to make it clear again that this is not true. Various studies have found that luck and performance have an 80 to 20 ratio in percent impact on success. So a majority of luck (being at the right place at the right time…) is necessary, but without the remaining 20 per cent performance, you will not reach the desired goal either.
To be a good team player and a better salesperson, it is sometimes essential to reflect on where and how much luck you had to act fair, empathetically, and comprehensibly. Use the presented tricks, especially in conflictual situations, to see the problem from other perspectives and minimize human bias.
What cognitive biases do you notice in your everyday life? Already thinking about them helps to address them. Feel free to write us your thoughts on this in the comments.
Chambers, John & Davis, Mark. (2012). The Role of the Self in Perspective-Taking and Empathy: Ease of Self-Simulation as a Heuristic for Inferring Empathic Feelings. Social Cognition. 30. 153-180. 10.1521/soco.2012.30.2.153.