Understanding Confirmation Bias

Published on February 10, 2016

Introducing Value Drivers #2

How does a customer hear you? – Understanding Confirmation Bias

Before I continue posting about the value divers of top performing sales people, it’s worth understanding Confirmation Bias, which comes from psychology research into cognitive bias.


Neil Rackham’s team of organisational psyches came to the following conclusions during a massive study into the attributes of top performing sales people on behalf of Shell, Xerox and IBM.

The team observed 35,000 sales calls in many countries and industries – at various intervals after customer/seller meetings, they returned to ask the customer what they remembered.

In what Neil Rackham called the “Boundary Conditions of Communications”, Confirmation bias is a summary of that they remembered, i.e.

  • People value what they say and their own conclusions more than the value of what they’re told, and
  • People value what they ask for more than what is freely offered.

The Rackham team also identified that customers’ retention of conversations of Features, Advantages and Benefits (FAB) was:

FAB CUSTOMER RETENTION OF CONVERSATION
Feature Almost Nil
Advantage Not Much Better
Benefit Strong where connected to Explicit Need

Top performers wait much longer than other salespeople and help clients see their situation for themselves and decide to act based on the additional value they perceive from the cost, risk or hassle involved in making a change.

Understanding Confirmation Bias is a critical step for sales and account management people to see issues through the eyes of the client and create value over and above the competition.