The Education Fallacy

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B-to-b marketers often give educational presentations to inform people about their offerings. However, the belief that educating the market will get prospects to become customers is a fallacy. Educating the market without persuasion does not result in sales. There are several reasons why this is the case.

When educating the market, b-to-b marketers often remove emotional appeals from their presentations. However, recent studies suggest that emotions are essential to decision-making.

Trust is a factor in buying decisions, especially when the prospect has a lot to lose by making a wrong choice. If you don't gain these prospects' trust, they will not buy, regardless of how much educating you do.

Most educational presentations focus on promoting the presenting company's view. However, research has shown that presenting a one-sided view is less effective with prospects who are knowledgeable of other options and are leaning against purchasing your offering.

The more committed a person is to a course of action, the more resistant they will be to information that threatens it. Authors Anthony Pratkanis and Elliot Aronson give an example in their book, "Age of Propaganda": A smoker is presented with evidence that smoking causes cancer. If that smoker is committed to smoking (i.e., quitting is too hard) they will resist quitting, and might rationalize their behavior by discrediting the evidence. Your prospects may be just as committed to their course of action; educating them may not change their minds.

Once people believe something, they tend to continue to believe it even when presented with evidence to the contrary. This, too, makes educating the market a fallacy. Education is futile while people hold firmly to their beliefs. And as a person's confidence is weakened (by evidence that shows their belief is false), they are less likely to listen to arguments against those beliefs. While you are "educating" the person, they are becoming more resistant to your messaging; your presentation could have just the opposite effect.

The fallacy of educating the market may appear to be contrary to the notion of consultative selling. However, true consultative selling requires empathy; you must understand prospects' emotional reasons for seeking a solution to their problems as well as their business reasons.

If educating the market isn't the answer, what is? Influencing the market. You have to persuade resistant prospects to do business with you.

There is a time to teach and a time to influence. And when you are trying to get sales, it is a time to influence the market.

Wayne E. Pollard is author of "Minds Before Market Share: The Art of Public Relations" and president of management consultancy Hunter-Pollard. He can be reached at [email protected] .

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