Want to improve your conversion rates? It’s not hard to make incremental improvements but it’s like climbing Mount Everest to make exponential ones.

We wrote in 2001 that “...conversion rates are a measure of your ability to persuade visitors to take the action you want them to take. They’re a reflection of your effectiveness at satisfying customers. For you to achieve your goals, visitors must first achieve theirs.” That shouldn’t be so hard but it is.

You’re too close to the problem!

It’s unlikely that you can step back and see things from the various perspectives your customers have. It’s not that you’re not smart. I’m assuming you are. Psychologists study cognitive biases as they relate to memory, reasoning, and decision-making. Nobody is immune from them.

Smart people are very good at rationalizing things. Even if they believe them for non-smart reasons. Smart people easily brush off criticism since they are convinced they are right.  Being smart they can probably out-argue most criticism even if the criticism is right.

Albert Einstein said, "No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it."  We are full of biases and yet we must strive to overcome them. I’m not trying to stress you out. There is hope, but first let’s examine the nature of biases.

My biases, yours, and ours

There are two components to each bias. First is confirmation bias, for example, our tendency to seek out confirming information while ignoring everything else. The second is a meta bias, the belief that everyone else is susceptible to thinking errors, but not you. This bias blind spot is what blinds you and me from our errors.

Most companies assume they're giving customers what they want. Usually, they're exhibiting a blind spot bias. Bain & Company showed this when they studied the delivery gap. A few years ago, when Bain & Company surveyed 362 firms, they found that 80% believe they deliver a "superior experience" to customers. But when they asked their customers, they believed only 8% are really delivering superior experience.

One of my favorite examples of this blind spot is the Dunning–Kruger effect. This bias was first experimentally observed by David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell University in 1999. They reported: "The miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self, whereas the miscalibration of the highly competent stems from an error about others.” You might want to remember that bias as a slogan: More confidence, less competence!

Learn more and be mindful

Hopefully you’re prepared to replace unconscious incompetence with conscious incompetence. Don’t worry, that’s a great thing. If you don’t understand why, then learn about the Four Stages Of Competence.

Studies on the Dunning–Kruger effect tend to focus on North American test subjects. A number of studies on East Asian subjects suggest that different social forces are at play in different cultures. For example East Asians tend to underestimate their abilities and recognize underachievement as a chance to improve themselves and to get along with others. East Asian cultures also place more emphasis on mindfulness. Does that mean that East Asians are immune from cognitive biases? Absolutely not, nobody is.

Sam McNerney in Scientific American Mind on May 15, 2013 offered a powerful perspective:

“….Biases are largely unconscious, so when we reflect on thinking we inevitably miss the processes that give rise to our errors.

Mindfulness, in contrast, involves observing without questioning. If the takeaway from research on cognitive biases is not simply that thinking errors exist but the belief that we are immune from them, then the virtue of mindfulness is pausing to observe this convoluted process in a non-evaluative way. We spend a lot of energy protecting our egos instead of considering our faults. Mindfulness may help reverse this.

Critically, this does not mean mindfulness is in the business of “correcting” or “eliminating” errors. That’s not the point. Rather, mindfulness means pausing to observe that thinking errors exist – recognizing the bias within the bias.

Are you willing to be wrong? Are you willing to question what you’ve been doing? Are you willing to unlearn what you think you know?

There are more than sixty known cognitive biases. That’s why the more I learn the less certain I am. Perhaps we’re over complicating it all. We trust you have everything under control and you’re mindful of all the biases that influence you and your team’s decisions.

About the Author

Bryan Eisenberg is coauthor of the Wall Street Journal, Amazon, BusinessWeek, and New York Times bestselling books "Call to Action," "Waiting For Your Cat to Bark?," and "Always Be Testing." Bryan is a professional marketing speaker and has keynoted conferences globally such as SEMA, SES, Shop.org, Direct Marketing Association, MarketingSherpa, Econsultancy, Webcom, Gultaggen Norway, the Canadian Marketing Association, and others. Bryan serves as an advisory board member of several venture capital backed companies. He works with his coauthor and brother Jeffrey Eisenberg. You can find them at BryanEisenberg.com.

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