Guilty until proven innocent

To customers you are guilty until proven innocent

There was a judge in the US who, at the start of every trial, would step out from behind the bench, approach the defendant and shake their hand. “I have just shaken the hand of an innocent person,” he would proclaim.  Why did he bother?

The justice system is predicated on “innocent until being proven guilty”. The challenge is those on the jury are prone to judge the defendant before the facts are even introduced, and seek confirmatory evidence for their view. A case of “guilty until proven innocent”.

By proclaiming the defendant innocent, the judge was using his authority to correct the decision-making frame for jurors. Start from a point of innocence, not defence.

What this means for you

In business, your customers are like jurors who come to the task of purchase with expectations. You are like the defendant. They will be predisposed to not buy your story (product, service).

The upshot is you can often be at cross-purposes with your customer.

You think they will make a decision based on grounds you believe are important (e.g. how much time you’ve put into your product or service, your credibility, why you are amazing) when they are using their frame of reference (e.g. how price compares to other options, the opportunity cost of their time and money if they spend it with you, their deep-seated motivations for wanting to buy).

Tips for you:

  • It is important not to talk too much about yourself, particularly early on (e.g. your value proposition, using “we do this, we do that” statements). Instead you need to prove you understand their objective and fit how your solution fits.
  • Re-frame the decision context if you need to move the customer away from their frame of reference to yours.  Red Bull, for example, did not frame itself as an aspirational drink and compete in that hyper-competitive soft-drink space. Instead they re-framed the category (a functional drink) so they could charge substantially more.
  • You don’t have a judge to proclaim you innocent, so instead use testimonials and credibility cues to signify why you are worthy of trust.
  • When people are used to something being free (like online news) it is very difficult to charge for it. You need to significantly shift the benefits they receive in order to substantiate a charge and distance it from the free service.
  • As the popular meme attests, when the CFO says, “what if we train people and they leave?”, the CEO can reframe as “what if we don’t and they stay?” In other words, flipping the context can be helpful to have your customer rethink their position.