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Perception kills sales

It is hard to believe that perception still plays a key role in business decisions. It is akin to judging the contents of a book by its cover; by creating preconceived and often biased views about customers, suppliers, services and products. Too frequently we see examples of sales personnel discriminating against customers they think do not have the purchasing power or inclination to buy from them. 

First impressions

Preconceived ideas can stop us sellingThis is usually based merely on naive first impressions created by the way a customer may look, dress or speak. Equally, business owners often show a marked reluctance to buy from suppliers who, for a variety of reasons, may not fit within their own ethos or perceived ideals. This unwillingness to trade can stifle valuable sales - often on a whim - that can stem from all manner of prejudices that might include such inane reasoning as disapproving of a particular member of the supplier's staff,  taking a dislike to the way they answer their telephone or some other illogical reason. 
We have all been angered by a maitre d' of a high class restaurant who has been objectionable or refuses you a table if he feels you are inappropriately dressed - or a salesman of upmarket cars who lacks enthusiasm for a customer who is scruffily attired and unshaven who wants to test drive an expensive model. 
While a restaurant may have a dress code, this can often work against an establishment especially when they might ignore their own rules by welcoming someone with celebrity status who turns up in jeans and jacket, while an ordinary customer dressed exactly the same would get turned away. Too frequently we build an impression of a customer's spending power by the way one dresses, looks, speaks or even walks even though that individual's money is as good as the next persons.  
At one time the BBC would not employ anyone as a radio or television presenter if they had a strong regional accent and while that tendency has, thankfully, now diminished plenty of businesses still refuse to take potential new customers seriously if they fail to live up to the owner or sales person's perceptions of their ideal customer. Why?

Thinking fast or thinking slow

In his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman describes how our minds all work at two different speeds and as there is a neurological energy cost of doing any serious thinking (the slow kind) we attribute lots of behaviours, skills, attitudes, and knowledge with something or someone else on the basis of almost no information at all. His expression for this is “fast thinking” but perhaps it’s more accurate to say that it’s acting without thinking, or purely by default reactions. Fast thinking is good because we’re enabled to make very quick decisions when they matter most. However, they’re bad because we employ the same low energy (lazy) approach where there’s more time to make a better decision, such as when we first meet someone, either professionally or socially.
By accepting any of our own instinctive and intuitive ideas about a prospect when we first meet or talk to them we could be missing out on valuable opportunities - not just by risking an immediate sale, but also by turning away someone that might buy from you in the future? 

Prejudice or thorough fact find?

We should never allow our prejudices to stand in the way of conducting a thorough fact find and making a relevant and meaningful proposal. Plenty of millionaires prefer to dress down; most lack an Eton or Sandhurst accent and some even enjoy testing the preconceptions of those they wish to buy from.
Every potential customer should be given the opportunity to be treated fairly and equally, without prejudice or preconception. Failing to acknowledge this can be extremely costly in terms of sales and the reputation of your business, and how can you ever know whether that person you shun for having a Cockney accent and who prefers to dress down will become a loyal lifelong customer? 

Made up your mind already? Stop and ask yourself why...

So if you find yourself making up your mind about someone very quickly – stop. Ask yourself why? Shine a light onto your own fast thinking, question it and challenge it by engaging some slow thinking; ask your prospect a range of decent intelligent questions and consider the evidence that provides. Look inside the cover, dig beneath the skin, brush off the dust – there could be a real gem inside…
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