The Role of Heuristics in Home Improvement Sales

Couple with sales person

Adaptations During Consultations

The brain is hugely complex, but we don’t need to fully understand neuroscience to be aware of it and its effect on our behaviour.

Knowing a bit about heuristics is helpful in understanding how we and our customers process information. That is relevant for you as salespeople because of the adaptations you have to make to your consultation as you take in what is happening and what the customer is saying. It is also relevant in understanding your customers because their brains use heuristics to quickly understand the information that you are presenting to them. This relates to the information on ‘why customers buy and why they don’t’.

The synapses are important because they stand in the way of your success. They can prevent you from doing what you want if you don’t take control of your thoughts.  Professor Steve Peters wrote a couple of books – The Chimp Paradox is the most famous.  I believe that what he describes in saying that there is a chimp in your brain is describing the same or a similar thing.  I often refer to it as having an evil twin.

The-role-heuristics-in-the-brain-

Brain processes are full of contradictions. The brain’s primary function is to keep you safe and comfortable – in your comfort zone. The weak spot is that it has learned from you what your comfort zone is.

It’s you that has taught it that you’re more comfortable smoking than giving up. It’s you that taught it that eating doughnuts is more comfortable than salad.

It’s you that tells your brain that you feel bad when you don’t get an order, so it tries to protect you by preventing you from trying.

Success in any field requires a certain amount of attention to controlling your own mind, but in sales, it takes more self-motivation.

When you have a job, you turn up, and the work is in front of you; you can get by putting one foot in front of the other until the day ends.

In sales, we are only as good as our last sale, and everything we think and do affects our ability to be motivated and to sell successfully. We just won’t ‘get by’ on a bad day if it means that we don’t fulfil the needs of the customer.

Heuristics and Synaptic responses have an effect on your:

  • Motivation
  • Courage
  • Productivity
  • Your demeanour
  • Your ability to ask for what you want
  • The way that you’re perceived by your customer
  • The way that you process your environment and react to it.

They also affect your customer in the way that they understand you and their ability to make a decision.

Heuristics reduce the mental effort required to make choices and decisions.

They play an important role in problem-solving and decision-making. They enable you to make snap decisions – not all of them are correct. One of the first times you will use heuristics to judge your customer is by the house they live in or the car in the drive. Your perception of their value will give you a clue whether your customer values quality. An old colleague of mine said he always judged his customer by their shoes. He said that even if rich people are dressed down, they will always wear quality shoes.  Both are examples where heuristics have relied on your experience but can also limit your thinking because those judgements are not always correct.

When you are in an appointment, you must be instantly reactive to what is said and are constantly making decisions about what to say next, how to react, and behave. You cannot analyse all possible scenarios before deciding what to do. You would be paralysed by indecision, and your calls would take a long time. Not to mention that your customer would think you’re a bit slow.

We need these mental shortcuts to come up with quick solutions. To process and cope with the amount of information we encounter and to speed up the decision-making process, the brain relies on these mental shortcuts to simplify things, so we don’t have to spend endless amounts of time analysing every detail.

Your brain is constantly scanning the environment, just as it is when you’re driving. You notice vehicles up ahead, the traffic behind, road signs, exits, brake lights and indicators and make instantaneous decisions on how to react.

Your heuristics allow you to quickly think through the possible outcomes and arrive at a solution.

If a child runs towards a road, you don’t stand there thinking about what to do and the possible outcomes of various actions. Your brain sends a shortcut, and you spring into action.

Decisions are made based on how easy it is to bring a solution to mind. When trying to make a decision, you might quickly remember a number of relevant examples that you have direct experience of. They have happened before. Since these are more readily available in your memory, you will likely judge these as the best solution. If you don’t have a ready solution, you may take longer to think while you search your memory or ask a few more questions. 

During an appointment, where you rely on the customer to lead, you must be constantly alert and hope that you react in the best way and that the information is readily available in your brain. The more experience you have, the bigger the database in your brain to call upon.

Heuristics are relevant in several ways for the salesperson.

  1. Heuristics can be unreliable. If you’re not relaxed, you can be either too quick to respond, picking the first option your brain offers you, which is sometimes to say yes when you really should say you don’t know, or you can be too slow as you try to sort through the thoughts in your head and not come up with a solution quick enough.
  2. You can only do so many things at once, so when you are on the alert to be reactive, you will miss non-verbal and verbal signs.
  3. You don’t know what you don’t know, which means that you assume that what you know is correct. 
  4. Sometimes it’s only later that another answer comes to mind, and you realise that you gave them the wrong information.
  5. The other negative aspect of Heuristics is that it stores bad experiences, which is great for avoiding making the same mistake again, but in sales, you must face negative experiences because you cannot sell to everyone. When the bad experiences add up as it does in a bad run of a few appointments without sales, those are the most recent memories that overshadow the memories of the good appointments, leading to a lack of confidence. Lack of confidence leads to not selling, and so begins a vicious cycle.

So that our brains don’t sabotage our success, it’s essential in sales to learn to control your mental state.

When you have a process that you have learned and practised, it reduces the mental chatter in your head. You don’t have to be reactive or overthink. You can rely on your process regardless of the situation. This allows you the headspace to take in your surroundings. Just as it does when driving. The driving processes are automatic, so you have time to watch what’s going on around you. If you remember when you first learned, it was up to the instructor to watch what was going on with the road because you had enough to worry about with steering, changing gears and using the pedals.

When you have a process you can rely on, you can sit back, take your time, listen to the customer instead of thinking more about what you want to say and watch for non-verbal signals.

Heuristics also play a part for your customers. You expect them to take in a lot of information and decide how to spend their precious money. They couldn’t do that if they didn’t have this mental shortcut facility.

Of course, some customers are better able to use this than others because intellect and experience play a part.

In the introduction, they sum you up very quickly by how you look. It may only be that you share a similar characteristic with someone they know. Good or bad. If you resemble their grandfather, they may be inclined to trust you instinctively. If you look like their cheating daughter-in-law, they might not trust you. You may be judged if you have tattoos, are unshaven, or your skirt is too short. That’s not me being judgemental. It’s no different from you judging them by their house or car. It’s the way that heuristics work and is dependent on the experience of the individual. If you wear a priest’s collar or a nun’s habit, they will trust you unless they recently heard of a spate of burglaries carried out by thieves dressed as clergy.

You can use heuristics to your benefit during your presentation by creating as many shortcuts as possible in your descriptions. This is why we use storytelling and social proof. To help the customer process information as quickly as possible so that all questions, conscious and subconscious, are answered.

Providing a great customer experience also plays a part in heuristics. When people are in a good mood, they are more likely to focus on positive aspects. If they are not enjoying the experience, they are more likely to focus on the negative.

Their ability to decide on the spot will also rely on heuristics as they have to think about what is happening in the moment and the consequences. The consequences they come up with will rely on heuristics to tell them the likelihood of it being a bad decision. Have they recently heard of someone having a bad or good experience? How much pain would it cause them if they made a wrong decision?

Knowing about heuristics helps us understand what the customer is experiencing and underlines the need for good discovery questioning.

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