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Are Your Cognitive Biases Killing Your Sales Opportunities?

Written By @RajenSanghvi

· Sales Psychology,Modern Sales,Account Executive
WYSIATI, sales pyschology

In Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman coins the acronym WYSIATI for a concept he introduces called: What You See Is All There Is.

This theory states that when the mind makes decisions, it deals primarily with Known Knowns, phenomena it has already observed. It rarely considers Known Unknowns, phenomena that it knows to be relevant but about which it has no information. Finally it appears oblivious to the possibility of Unknown Unknowns, unknown phenomena of unknown relevance.

"Thinking, Fast and Slow," accessed January 19, 2017,,_Fast_and_Slow

There are many cognitive biases that cloud our judgment on a daily basis. However, WYSIATI, is one that sales people must be acutely aware of as it can have an impact at every stage of the sales cycle; both positively and negatively. The aim of this post is to use a few examples to help salespeople become aware of this WYSIATI bias in order to create more value for their clients and win more deals.

Sales Qualification and Sales Development

Does the prospect actually know her problem well enough to know what she actually needs, versus what she thinks she needs? Typically, SDRs look to pass Qualified opportunities over to their Account Executives. If the lead matches a particular set of criteria, then it passes the 'Qualification Test' and is moved over to the AE and the SDR is compensated. Good SDRs, will go beyond the 'Qualification Test' to try and uncover the real source of the prospects pain. The prospect may think that she needs a new CRM, but what she may actually need is better sales process to manage her team. Just because the SDR has a history of working with prospects looking for a new CRM, doesn't mean that every prospect who says they need one, actually does. The best SDRs will recognize their WYSIATI bias, dig deeper to uncover the prospect's true pain, and develop highly qualified opportunities.

cognitive bias, WYSIATI, sales pyschology

Image Source: Brain by Tza via Attribution Engine. Licensed under CC NC.

Opportunity Progression and Deal Closure

Does the prospect actually know her internal decision-making process or does she think she knows? As an Account Executive, do you have happy ears or are you able to remain objective when the prospect tells you she prefers your product to your competitor's? Before assuming WYSIATI, good Account Executives will try to understand why she has that preference and what her evaluation criteria are (if she has one). Great Account Executives, will try to find out if the prospect has made a similar purchase before and see how this opportunity lines up. The best Account Executives will uncover each individual involved in the purchasing process along with their buying motivations in order to de-risk the opportunity and win.

Sales Management and Forecasting

In Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman explains our tendency towards building narratives based solely based on the information we have, without thinking about the information we don't have.

He explains that humans fail to take into account complexity and that their understanding of the world consists of a small and necessarily un-representative set of observations. Furthermore, the mind generally does not account for the role of chance and therefore falsely assumes that a future event will mirror a past event.

"Thinking, Fast and Slow," accessed January 19, 2017,,_Fast_and_Slow

Should seeing a forecasted deal in your CRM by your #1 Account Executive give you a sense of confidence in your deal closing? Absolutely. Are two deals ever exactly the same? Not in my experience. As a result, one of my favourite questions to ask on forecasted deals is: Can you tell me the top reasons why you think this deal will NOT close? Even for the best reps, it encourages them to think creatively about all the ways chance could impact a deal. Whether it's a possible vacation or a competitor flooring the price, this conversation helps to avoid the WYSIATI bias and build a contingency plan. The best sales managers don't waste their sales forecasts on administrative reporting they can learn from looking at the CRM notes. They focus their time on coaching and creative discussion, in order to help improve the odds of winning.


Being aware of our cognitive biases can help us be more objective when making decisions. In sales when there are often many variables impacting a deal, being aware of the WYSIATI bias can be the differentiator between winning and losing. To act as a reminder of my own inherent cognitive biases, I have a sticky note that I put up on my desk that reads WYSIATI in big bold letters. I hope that I've inspired you to do the same.

Additional Resources

  • Video with Daniel Kahneman:
  • Jeffrey Saltzmann's Blog: 

Thanks for reading. If you found this post useful or tried using WYSIATI, I'd love to hear from you. You can leave me a comment below or email me at Thanks.

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