Every so often when I’m facilitating sales training workshops, I’ll play a little game.  I’ll ask myself the question:‘If I was a customer of this group of people, which of them would I most likely buy from?’

A couple of weeks ago, whilst delivering a two-day programme for a new client, I asked myself exactly that question.  It was a tough call – of the fifteen participants in the room, two had really stood out.  We’ll call them John and Sarah.  Both had demonstrated high levels of competence in: understanding customer needs and outcomes, bringing customer relevant insights to the conversation and differentiating their organisation from the competition.

Objectively, based on my interaction with the two of them, there was nothing to choose between them.  I knew though that if push came to shove, I would choose Sarah.  As I trawled my mind for why that was, the only reason I could logically site was that during a chat over the lunch break on Day 1 Sarah and I discovered that not only had we grown up in the same town, but we had also previously worked for the same local business.  Was I selecting Sarah because she was the better salesperson?  Nope.  Was I choosing her because she demonstrated a more customer focused approach than John?  Nope.  Was I choosing her because I felt more of an affinity towards her?  Now there’s a thought…

The topic of Unconscious Bias has increasingly permeated the workplace over the past decade.  It’s based on the premise that as a result of our upbringing, previous experiences and numerous other social factors, our perceptions are conditioned in ways we may not be aware of.  This can manifest itself in prejudices.  A mountain of research suggests for example that characteristics including age, gender, race, height and weight are open to unconscious bias as part of the recruitment and selection process.  As businesses increase their focus on diversity in the workplace, forward-thinking clients I work with have taken steps to address this, such as removing names and ages from CVs at the screening stage to prevent potential bias around gender, age or race.

Unconscious Bias need not always though be based on physical characteristics.  As in the John and Sarah example, the unconscious bias in my selection of Sarah was based on having something in common with her – an affinity bias.

So how does all of this relate to the world of sales?  The answer is…massively.  For the purpose of this post we’ll focus on just a couple of areas.  First, Sales 101 tells us the importance of building rapport with others.  You’ve probably heard the clichés ‘People buy from people’, ‘We like people like ourselves’.  Clichés are clichés because usually there’s an element of truth in them.  My experience with John and Sarah re-affirmed to me the importance of trying to find something in common, creating an affinity, with those you’re trying to influence.  Though she had not done this intentionally, in Sarah’s case it was what differentiated her from the competition.  When you identify areas of commonality with your customer, their unconscious bias could naturally draw them towards you.  That’s good news!

Be warned though – the flip side also applies.  Think about the customer relationships you have.  Which stakeholders do you spend your time with?  Are they the key influencers, the key decision makers?  Or do you spend a disproportionate amount of time with less influential stakeholders, because your affinity bias draws you towards them, as opposed to others who could accelerate the buying process or increase the size of the deal?

It may feel comfortable to spend time with those you have the most in common with, but is it holding you back from achieving better results?

– Dan