It’s been one of those days; Ben has made several calls today with mixed results. One has really got him pondering what he is doing wrong. A customer decided to go with a competitor whose salesman has a questionable reputation. The competitive sales person promises a great deal, most of which he and his company rarely delivers. The product quality is ok yet not equal to Ben’s equipment.

Ben had questioned the customer about the purchase decision only to get a vague answer about feeling better about the other company despite the known reputation and pricing was not the issue.

As Ben pulls up to the coffee shop to take a break and clear his mind, he sees a salesperson from a different company, Susan, she is also taking a break and they sit down together for coffee. Ben tells his story about the lost sale and how he doesn’t understand what he did wrong or missed. Susan indicates she might have some insight as she knows the customer and some of his connections.

“You see Ben, this customer knows John at BBC and he thinks this other sales person walks on water, even though BBC has had problems with him and his promises. I bet John told your customer to trust this guy even though your customer knew about the problems BBC had been having.” Says Susan.

“That doesn’t make sense!” retorts Ben.

“You’re right” says Susan, “It is not logical, but you have to understand most people do not realize how preconditioning affects their decisions.”

(For those of you not in sales, hang on, this applies to all communications.)

“Now you got me at a disadvantage, what is this preconditioning you’re talking about?” asks Ben.

“I was just reading an article by Dr. Kevin Hogan; he’s the guy that studies why people make choices and why some are not logical.” “In this article Dr. Hogan sites a recent test to see how preconditioning affects our choices. It goes like this:”

Test subjects were asked to trust a total stranger in the experiment. All of them were given a written description of their intended partner’s behavior of which some indicated great trustworthiness and others being not so trustworthy. They were also told that their partners actual behavior might not fit the description they were given. In short, they might be described as an angle yet act like a complete Jerk or vise versa.

Now all of us have some built in radar that tends to pickup on such behaviors in others and of course there is the logic side of a choice as well. What happened is that even though the partner’s behavior was angle like and trustworthy, if the description was negative so was the trust. The same for the partner that acted like a jerk and showed no signs or trustworthiness but had a good written description was trusted most of the time!

What it showed is people tend to believe the information they get ahead of time rather than the new information they see for themselves. This is called preconditioning and the media, gossip and other sources do this to us everyday! As Dr. Hogan puts it, “Labels prime thinking!”

“Ok, so you think my customer was preconditioned by his friend John and didn’t take into consideration the logic of what I could provide?” asks Ben.

“Most likely that is what happened. That is the power of opinion and recommendation, it preconditions ones thinking and can override what we see as logic or good common sense!” explains Susan.

“So how do you deal with this preconditioning when you run in to it?” ask Ben.

“First of all I approach every communications with the idea that I do not know enough about this person or situation. I always ask additional questions to help me understand what and how they are thinking today. I always hold of f on the logic until I get a good understanding of how they see the situation and the players that are involved. This gives me a good insight into their current beliefs and views. Then I can create strategies on how to align with those beliefs or work on changing them.” She replies.

“Huh? What is it you just said?” ask Ben with a puzzled look.

“It’s this way Ben, “people see what they want to see”. If a person has a certain view point, belief or reference that is how they will see the situation even with new or different information being provided. It’s one of the 10 Laws of Persuasion. Just look at some of the candidates on the American Idol try outs. Do you think some of them see what they want to see or hear in this case? So our job is to try and understand why they see the situation the way they do and then figure out how to fit our solution to that view or change the view!” Susan explains with more intensity.

“Alright, so if I understand this, what I should have done is focused more on understanding how my customer was thinking rather than selling my facts and benefits to him?” Ben asks with anticipation.

“Absolutely!” says Susan. “I rarely talk facts and benefits anymore. If I can understand the other persons view and basis for that view point it enables me to present ideas in a way that they readily accept and I am not pushing something down their throat!”

Ben sighs and asks, “How do you know what to listen and look for?”

“It’s this way,” explains Susan, “If you are focused only on your product you will only hear ideas that relate to your product. If you listen for ideas that tell you someone’s beliefs and views you’ll hear them. It’s all about what you’re focused on, the customer’s situation or your product sale!”

“Great, so I focus on views and beliefs and uncover some, then what?” is Ben’s question.

“I call them “follow-up questions” and they can be any short question that gets the other person talking more about that belief or view. The question “why” is used in every encounter I have. Some others are “tell me more”, “how did that happen”, “what caused that” and about fifty other variations.

“So let me get this straight. I should be focusing on the situation and peoples views rather than my product. I should ask more open questions to get more of that information and then use the “follow-up” questions to get at the beliefs and views?” queries Ben.

“You got it!” replies Susan

“Great, so when do I use my logic or facts and benefits then?” inquires Ben.

“Once you have a good understanding of the views and beliefs, the facts and benefits can be used to show how your solution fits their current view or belief. Or they can be used to reinforce the new view or belief you have switched them to.” Replies Susan.

“You mentioned changing their view or belief several times, how is this done?” ask Ben.

“Oh my time is flying, I really want to fill you in, but I have an appointment to get to. This guy Harlan Goerger has written several articles on the concept of beliefs and how you might work with them. Check out his web site at and review his articles for that answer.” Says Susan as she quickly departs.

Ben is left think over his day and the calls he had made. He had to agree that they were very product focused rather than situation focused. His next call was going to be different!

Want more of this and other subjects about communications, sales, management, coaching and teams? Drop Harlan a line at

Author's Bio: 

Harlan Goerger is President of H. Goerger & Associates with 25 plus years in the Sales/Management training business. Contact for more about training, speaking and developing business performance.