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Preventing prospect analysis paralysis

Posted by peggy on 29, Oct, 2011

I had coffee with a psychology colleague who is a brain specialist. I told him about my recent post discussing how salespeople can inadvertently paralyze prospects through information overload.

He got thoughtful and asked if I wanted to know what actually happens in the brain when someone is presented with too much information—like when a buyer has to shop in a “superstore” versus a “bodega”. I eagerly said yes and this is what I learned.

First of all, he explained, we humans are motivated to solve problems. Problems create uncomfortable feelings and we are programmed to make those uncomfortable feelings go away. In fact, the feelings (FB) part of the brain (science speak: limbic system) has many lines of communication that are directly connected to the problem solving (PSB) part of the brain (science speak: prefrontal lobe). So when we experience discomfort about something not working right, that feeling gets sent directly to the PSB, pleading:

“Do something about this problem!”

Feeling some pain or discomfort is actually a good thing because it energizes us to gather information in order to find a solution. For example, a prospect may search websites, read blogs, or perhaps ask a trusted colleague for some solutions to his or her problem. The shopping process begins…BUT when a prospect is presented with massive amounts of information, the PSB, craving order, has to work “overtime” to categorize information in order to be able to make a decision.

The FB picks up the strain in the PSB and sends frantic messages to it:

“I’m overwhelmed! I don’t have enough time to figure out the best solution. What if I make a mistake?”

With all these distress signals going to the PSB, guess what happens? The PSB gets exhausted and gives up trying to solve the problem and instead shifts into survival mode. Your overwhelmed prospect is no longer shopping for a solution. He or she is using all of her energy to feel better.

“How can I get out of here? My problem is not so bad. I don’t really need to change anything. Good bye!”


So what can a salesperson do to avoid this from happening to a prospect? 

  • First and foremost, keep your sales communications clear, concise and well organized.
  • Use categories (sales speak-qualifiers) the thinking brain “craves” by spelling out the obvious so the prospect does not have to work so hard.
  • Gain a simple understanding of your prospect’s most important problems, identify the key ways you can help him or her and align those two tightly. (If you cannot describe how your solution solves the problem in a few sentences, then you’ve missed the mark!)

Helping buyers categorize information leaves them with more energy to make an informed purchase decision more quickly. Think about going into a superstore to buy a television. When you arrive in the TV area, you’re faced with a dizzying array of choices. Left on your own, you may get overwhelmed and bolt. An experienced salesperson, though, can prevent you from fleeing and promote thoughtful decision making by asking you a few “category promoting” questions such as:“What are you going to watch? How big is your room? Does it have a lot of sunlight? Will you be gaming on it?” This line of questioning enables you to narrow your selection and hone in on a few options to choose between.

Understanding how the brain reacts to information overload is critical to helping your prospect stay focused to make a decision. Stay tuned for Part 2 of this blog for more tips to help your prospect thrive in our “superstore” culture.

How do you simplify decision making for your prospect?

Peggy Kriss, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in Newton, Massachusetts and a consultant to VisibleGains. Stay tuned for more psychology informed blogs by Dr. Kriss.

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