Posted in practice on March 20, 2017 3:02 pm EDT

Company A, B or C? A Client’s 7 Psychological Influencers

Do you ever wonder how clients make their final choice? What makes them choose your firm or someone else's? Here, a Church Designer reporter identifies 7 key psychological influencers that play into the process.











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TAGS: aec industry, business, clients, intelligence, success,


By Cathy Hutchison

While we like to feel that our companies are chosen for projects because of clearly superior talent or experience, the reality is that our clients and potential clients are all very human when it comes to decision making. Considering this truth and understanding it may help give AEC teams a leg up when it comes to gaining business.

Here are seven psychological influencers that play a role in why clients choose what they choose:

1. Limited choices make us feel better

Dr. Sheena Iyengar conducted a famous experiment regarding jam samples offered to shoppers in a supermarket. One table offered shoppers 24 choices. The other table offered only six options. And while it would seem that having more choices would result in people feeling better about their decision, the reality is that when we are overwhelmed, we often decide not to choose.

Of the customers who sampled all 24 flavors, only 3% purchased, but of the customers who sampled only six, 30% purchased. Ten times more people purchased when the decisions were limited. Iyengar’s work also revealed that the more retirement fund options a person has, the less likely they are to save for their old age. Limiting the choices presented to a client works in your favor by making it easier for them to feel good about what they choose. When we have too many options, we frequently opt not to make a choice.

2. If the competition is tight, it's best to be first interview

Stanford professor, John Krosnick’s research shows that being listed first on a ballot improves your chances of winning an election by 2%. Research also shows that when students get test questions incorrect, they do so by picking the first choice offered to them.

Uri Simonsohn and Francesca Gino tested the influence of order on choice by analyzing 10 years of data on M.B.A. applications to an American business school. They found that the judgment of candidates later in the process was heavily influenced if there were high ratings of candidates early in the process. The people selecting tightened the criteria if they felt like they were judging too many people too highly.

If you are presenting an innovative angle on something, you want the client to hear it from you first.

So, if you know that the other people who are being interviewed are also good firms, it helps to take advantage of primacy bias and go first when given the choice. Another way the first interview can be of great benefit is that people are often over-reliant on the first piece of information they hear. If you are presenting an innovative angle on something, you want the client to hear it from you first.

3. Sometimes people make decisions based on how defensible they are

For procurement officers in the public sector, the ability to make defensible decisions is a necessary career skill. When you are under close public scrutiny for your purchasing choices, you need to be able to have your decisions be judged as sound ones regardless of the outcome.

Church committees and leadership are under similar scrutiny to public procurement officers. They are making decisions with donated funds and will inevitably have to defend those decisions to the congregation at large. Consumers need reasons to justify choices. Making it easy for clients to defend their choice in selecting you, can go a long way in making a team feel confident in the decision. And sociologists have proven we prefer certainty, even if it cuts us off from other advantages.

4. Choices are affected by social comparison

In his book "The Paradox of Choice," author Barry Schwartz writes, “The more options we have, the more difficulty we have gathering the information to make a good decision. The more difficult information gathering is, the more likely it is that you will rely on the decisions of others … by forcing us to look around at what others are doing before we make decisions.”

When a decision seems extremely difficult, we can be overly swayed by the popularity of another’s choice. Social comparison theory states that we determine our own social and personal worth based on how we stack up against others. In the case of decision making and churches, this dynamic explains why we often prefer to replicate what the church down the road is doing rather than launching something new.

5. Loss aversion can overly influence

Many times, clients have a hard time voting against a concept in which there is substantial time, energy and money invested, even when they know it isn’t the best path forward. Loss aversion can have a powerful effect on our decision-making. Framing decisions in terms of gains to help mitigate loss can make it easier for clients to choose the right thing. After all, we feel much better using a soap that is 99% pure rather than one that is 1% impurities. This framing can have big impact.

Jonah Lehrer, in his book "How We Decide," explains that people are much more likely to buy meat when it is labeled as 85% lean rather than 15% fat. And that twice as many patients opt for surgery when told there is an 80% chance of surviving rather than a 20% chance of their dying.

6. No short list? You can bank on decision fatigue

Decision fatigue is a term for the deteriorating quality of decisions made after a long time spent having to make a series of choices. In a 2011 article by John Tierney on the topic, he referenced that prisoners who were seen by judges early in the morning were 70% more likely to receive parole than those seen later in the day. The concept also helps explain why we may stick to a diet during the day but find it impossible to stay out of the ice cream late at night.

There is a good chance that if the project you are pursuing has a lengthy list of companies on the interview list that you will waste money pursuing the project. Not because of the decreased odds, but because the process will not favor good decision-making by the interviewers.

7. Salience can be leveraged in crafting an offer

Salience is anything that is noticeable compared with its surroundings. This can be about attributes like vivid color or lighting. It can be about an object’s position in the field of vision. It can even be about a gap between the observer’s expectations and what is experienced. Salience is always dependent on context and has been shown to influence human perception. This is the reason that marketers focus so much on differentiation when it comes to image and messaging.

Often when people are choosing, if everything in a field appears mostly the same, they will be drawn to the option that stands out. This can be especially effective when crafting an offer. If all the other proposals pair similar skills with a similar price, the one that contains additional features bundled in the price may be viewed as the better value because of salience.

Understanding the cognitive biases of the number of choices, primacy, defensible decisions, social comparison, loss aversion, decision fatigue and salience, can help us help our clients in making decisions. Because it doesn’t matter how good we think we are at evaluation, all of us have human brains that can be easily influenced by bias and emotion.



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