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Agents of Influence: Time Pressure

The contract with one of our largest customers was expiring soon. The account manager of the business, vice president of our division and I worked on the new proposal for weeks leading up to our meeting with the customer. We even took a negotiation class together to ensure our strategy was rock solid.

Our customer had canceled several meetings with us to discuss the new contract. Both the account manager and VP were getting antsy as we approached the end of the contract. If it expired our customer would surely open negotiations with our largest competitor. We desperately needed that business to make our numbers.

Our customer was in a great mood when we finally met to present our proposal. As the marketing guy, my job was to walk her through the presentation deck. It was a thorough account of all the things we had accomplished together over the course of the previous contract. At the end of the presentation the account manager would go over the details of the new deal. As we had learned in the negotiation class, our offer was close to the bare minimum of what we were willing to provide. This allowed us room to negotiate. If the customer were to counter-offer, we would add a few more items and wait for the next round of negotiating. Our goal was to set the anchor of the negotiation and eventually wind up in the middle of our range of acceptability.

The presentation was roughly an hour long. Our customer seemed impressed with all that we had accomplished together. She was very complimentary. At the end of the presentation, the account manager reviewed the details of the new deal. It took him all of two minutes to cover the points. We were fully prepared for her counter offer.

No sooner did he finish the last point, than our VP spoke up for the first time in the meeting with, “Oh and we are also prepared to offer you….” And she blurted out all of the items we had saved for the counter offers.

I believe my jaw hit the table. The client (who was still looking at the deal summary page when the VP threw the kitchen sink at her) looked up and said, “I’ll take it!” Just like that, we had given her the worst possible deal for our company.

So, what happened?

Our VP choked on the time pressure. The client knew that we needed to close this deal by a certain date. Therefore, she postponed the negotiation until the very last minute. The time pressure really affected our VP’s ability to think rationally, so she gave the customer everything she wanted and then some without a single round of negotiation.

Time pressure often brings out the worst in our thinking. It is one of five triggers that throw us into autopilot cognitive processing, which is irrational and non-analytical. Autopilot is where biases, fallacies and poor decisions lurk. Why do you think television game shows employ time pressure? It makes for more interesting viewing when contestants offer seemingly ridiculous answers or freeze altogether. Time pressure makes the smartest contestants say the silliest things.

When reflective and rational thought is restricted by too little information, too much information, emotional arousal, time pressure, or fear we are more easily affected by subtle cues that lead us to impulse decisions. That’s what happened to our VP and if you are human it has happened to you, too.

With the holiday shopping season looming, I thought it the perfect time to post about this topic. Here are a few marketing tactics that exploit time pressure: limited time offers, seasonal products, happy hours, early bird specials and flash sales. When you add these tactics up, you get Black Friday. Have you shopped on Black Friday or seen a Black Friday shopper video? Do the shoppers look like they are making rational decisions?

If you are feeling pressured to make a decision, remember: time is money and he who controls the timetable usually gets the money.

Take the time to make better decisions.


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by the Seven Deadly Sins of Decision Making & Influence

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