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Cognitive Reframing: How to Get Buyers Off Auto-Pilot

The classic selling model has taught sellers to uncover needs and craft compelling solutions. It goes something like this: the buyer needs something and asks for it. You provide it. It's straightforward, but buyers are operating in their comfort zone.

Most buyers like to operate in their comfort zones. (Most everyone does, actually.) When you first interact with them, their minds are closed and they are on auto-pilot, driving to their destination and taking a few vendors along for the ride. If all sellers involved in the sale accept what the buyer says, salute, and react, the playing field is level. There's no questioning buyer thinking. No changing the paradigm. Just an exchange.

No one stands out. Thus winning the sale becomes a capabilities battle.

The problem with approaching sales in this way is that if someone else can provide a similar product/service, the buyer will look for the lowest priced provider. There's no differentiation or loyalty.

So the question is this: what value can you add to the conversation? How can you help buyers make better decisions?

Sellers that do this become a part of the value and a part of what buyers buy. And, in sales today, it can be a big differentiator.

But you can't do it when buyers are in their comfort zones. You need to move them into a place where they are uncomfortable and have at least some fear of the unknown. It's a seller's job to move them into the learning zone, which is where cognitive reframing comes in.


Cognitive reframing is creating alternative ways of viewing reality, including ideas, events, situations, strategies, or possibilities for action.

Insight sellers guide buyers out of their comfort zones. They question buyers' nice, neat perception of reality, and lead them to the learning zone. Assuming the seller does it well, they usually inspire an "aha" moment—something new comes to light and the buyer questions their thinking and begins to consider new paths.

The danger is pushing so far or abrasively that buyers retreat or shut down, entering the paralysis zone. It's not very helpful to buyers—or anyone—to be here.

Insight sellers get buyers to question their beliefs and into the learning zone by following this model:

  • Disrupt: They disrupt current buyer thinking by introducing new ideas, advocating for alternative paths, or asking questions to challenge the status quo. This is the first step in pushing buyers out of the comfort zone.
  • Reframe: They reframe the discussion around new thinking, literally shaping the conversation by changing the lens through which buyers view the issue at hand. This puts the buyer in the learning zone.
  • Direct: They direct the buyer to new and better possibilities. This differentiates you from the competition. No more capabilities battle. You, as the seller, have added value and are not categorically distinctive.

You do all of this by both asking questions (i.e., inquiry) and making statements (i.e., advocacy).

If you want to get buyers off auto-pilot, you need to push them out of their comfort zone and into the learning zone. To do so, remember this simple model: disrupt, reframe, redirect. The sellers who do this unleash value and set themselves apart from their competition.

Additional Reading
A New Way to Collaborate with Buyers

The more sophisticated and advanced sellers become, the more they make selling about conversations and collaboration, not presentations and pitching. Even their presentations become interactive collaborations when done right.

What is Consultative Selling?

Since Mack Hanan coined the term in 1970, consultative selling has been the most widely accepted—and most pursued—sales approach. The approach is characterized as understanding buyer needs and positioning offerings as solutions to problems.

While this has been the go-to approach for many sellers, massive changes in buying technology and the vast amount of information on the internet is significantly changing how buyers buy at an unprecedented pace.