Helping customers justify their decision to others


In a recent article I wrote about research into self-justification which found consumers are much more likely to avoid unpleasant or confronting information (like calories on a menu) if they are given “cover”.

In other words, they’ll skip the café with calories on the menu if they can hang their decision on an unrelated reason, like the reviews that café received for its service.

We’re masters at finding reasons to justify to ourselves what we want to do.

But how do we justify decisions to others?

How does your customer justify buying from you to their boss or their loved one?

I call this “arming your advocate”, and it’s all about giving your customer the right blend of information to get them to get others to proceed.

“I” vs “we” decisions

Imagine a venn diagram representing your customer’s world.

One circle represents your customer.

The other, their business (or it could be family, but we’ll stick with business for now).

Your customer has personal concerns. Their own likes and dislikes, passions and pain points. This is the domain of “I” decisions. “I want this, so I’ll buy it”.

The business in which they are employed has its concerns, values and objectives. This is the land of “we” decisions. “We need this so we will proceed.”

When dealing with your customer, you need to find a balance between “I” and “we”.

Too heavy on the business reasons and your customer won’t be bothered to advocate for you at all. Sure, you might save them money, but why should they bring you in as a new supplier when it creates work for them to set up a new system, for example?

But overweight the personal reasons and your endeavour will get stuck with a passionate advocate who can’t persuade others in their organisation to proceed. It risks being tarnished evermore as Sam’s “pet project”. “Oh, that was just something Sam was into. It’s not one of our priorities.”

The sweet spot is where personal and business interests coincide.

You need to give your customer enough personal reasons to want to advocate for you while giving them enough business reasons to convince others.

Here’s how to approach it.

I. Engaging your advocate

Like with any behavioural challenge, you are seeking to influence your customer to move from point A, what they’re currently doing to point B, what you want them to do.

In this case, acting as your advocate. From not taking the decision forward to colleagues to doing exactly that.

Our first task is therefore to delve into the personal context and identify “I” considerations.

Ask yourself:

  1. What’s in it for them personally to bother? Will they get kudos? Will it save them time? Will it take a big concern off their “to-do” list?
  2. How can you make it easy to present your preferred solution? How will you present options so there is a clear winner while allowing your advocate to signal they’ve done their due diligence? What materials will they need from you to put in front of the decision-makers?
  3. How can you make them feel there’s no risk to them personally by putting you forward? That’s their neck’s not on the line? Can you provide case studies and data so you look credible?

II. Arming your advocate

Now that your customer is engaged and ready to justify their decision to put you forward, it’s time to arm them with “business” context, “we” rationale.

The key difference? When making “I” decisions people tend to rely on intuition and emotion. When having to justify their decisions to others, like in a “we” decision scenario, people not only go through a more elaborate choice process but seek and use more information (Huber and Seiser, 2001)

Ask yourself:

  1. Why would the business take this on? Will it save money, time or resources? Does it place them better competitively?
  2. How can your advocate convey due diligence in arriving at their recommendation? What roadmap will stakeholders need to understand what happens when, and feel there’s been a thorough process?
  3. What’s at stake for the business if they don’t proceed? What will they miss out on?

So when it comes to helping your customer justify their decision to someone else, remember, you need to cover “I” and “we” considerations, turning your customer into your confident influential advocate.


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