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Cognitive Dissonance

Let’s look at an example of ‘Cognitive Dissonance’ in Sales

I had to phone a supplier to tell him he had come in as second in a tender.  He asked if he could have some feedback on their proposal, and what they could do to improve their position for the next opportunity.

Sound familiar?

Cognitive Dissonance in Sales

The truth was that there were three proposals totalling; $13k, $8.5k and $6.5k.  So, we chose the middle one.  Also sound familiar?

We couldn’t really assess the difference ‘technically’ between the three proposals.  However, if we were pushed we could have identified several, rational and valid reasons for our decisions.  And we would honestly believe that it was due to these reasons that we made our choice.

In our situation there was a group making the decision.  And while this adds another dimension to the situation, the same psychological behaviour is at play.  Cognitive Dissonance.

Cognitive Dissonance refers to a situation involving conflicting attitudes, beliefs or behaviours. This produces a feeling of discomfort leading to an alteration in one of the attitudes, beliefs or behaviours to reduce the discomfort and restore balance etc.

For example.

  • People smoke (behaviour) while they know that smoking causes cancer (cognition). Yet they justify it as an important social activity.
  • When confronted by a complex choice – such as determining the best technical solution when you can’t really tell the difference – you choose the middle option.

Sales Postmortems

So, is performing a postmortem, after a sale is lost a valuable exercise?

Yes, almost definitely. There any number of benefits.  However, you have got to be on your toes because the rationale for the decision you’re getting, even if delivered to you honestly and in an effort to help you, may not be the real reason you lost the sale.  You might just have lost to the middle choice.