Dunning-Kruger Effect

Imagine this…

It’s Sunday, and you’ve dedicated a few hours to clean your house. You throw your first load of laundry into the washer and walk away to work on the kitchen.

As you’re wiping down the countertop, you hear a big “BANG!” come from your laundry room.

You run over to check out what happened and see that a part from the bottom of your washer has come loose. You evaluate the damage and feel pretty confident that you can fix it.

You grab the tools you’ll need and get to work.

40 minutes later, you haven’t made any progress toward restarting your load of laundry. Even though you got the part back to its original position — the washer won’t start.

You sit back and look at your washer in defeat.

You realize that you never, ever, fixed a washer before… yet you were confident you could figure it out.

Where did that confidence come from?

In today’s edition of Why We Buy, we’re exploring the Dunning-Kruger Effect – why we overestimate our competence regardless of our lack of knowledge or skill set.

Let’s get into it…

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The Psychology of Dunning-Kruger effect 🧠

There are two sides to the Dunning-Kruger effect:

#1: You consider yourself highly competent even though you lack the needed knowledge or skill set

1 in 8 men surveyed in a poll thought they could beat Serena Williams at tennis. (😂)

This is the Peak of “Mount Stupid,” where confidence is insanely high despite any supporting evidence (ex. Wimbledon trophies won by the men responding they COULD beat Serena).

You don’t want to get stuck there (even though the Dunning-Kruger effect says there’s a big potential).

You’re aiming to persevere through the Valley of Despair towards the Plateau of Sustainability. 

#2: You think everybody has the same understanding as you do

When you see people using corporate jargon that you have to right-click and hit “look up” to define – this is the Dunning-Kruger effect in action.

It’s your friend that’s a nurse using medical acronyms to describe their work day as you nod along and pretend to understand.

Or the landing page that you bounce right off because you can’t figure out what the product solves.

The Dunning-Kruger effect impacts two parts of your marketing brain—which means it can have 2x the negative impact.

Inside Your Buyer’s Mind🧐

Buyers experience both sides of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

They overestimate their abilities and think it’ll take less time to get results from your products than the average person.

“This SaaS tool says it takes 15 minutes to set up – I’ll get it done in 10.”

Or, buyers think they know more about a subject than they really do and skip the instruction manual.

(I just personally called myself out on that one…)

Buyers can also experience a lack of understanding in your copy when you use too much industry jargon.

(TIP: Run your copy through Hemingwayapp.com to check out the reading level and see if you need to take it down a notch.)

The Dunning-Kruger effect is like marketing quicksand — difficult to escape but absolutely necessary.

How To Apply This 🤑

Alright, so how can we apply this right now to sell more?

Try stuff (or at least understand it) before you outsource it

When hiring people—or even when collaborating with other teammates—make an effort to learn about their role. Chances are that 9 times out of time, the job is trickier than you realize.

Kyle Racki, CEO of Proposify and a good friend of this newsletter, learns as much as possible about a key role before he tries for it. 

For example, before hiring a head of customer success, he spent weeks learning about the role and best practices. This part of his onboarding strategy pushes him toward the ideal Plateau of Sustainability.

Have a growth mindset, but stay humble

If you believe you can… you have a higher chance of pulling it off. People with a growth mindset know that knowledge and experience is the only thing standing between them and their goals. This mindset helps them push through the Valley of Despair (after a fun trip to Mount Stupid) and keep moving towards the Slope of Enlightenment—closer to reaching their end goal.

Alex Lieberman’s reflection after selling his media company, Morning Brew, to Business Insider for $75 million is a reminder that business truly is a never-ending learning process.

And remember that everybody else is having the same experience. If somebody you’re working with fails to meet expectations, rather than assuming they’re a lost cause, realize the task might be more complex than you realize. Ask them questions to understand how you can help them reach the Slope of Enlightenment, too.

Audit your messaging for simplicity

Don’t forget that your buyers might not understand your products and all of the features. What’s obvious to you isn’t as simple to your audience. Take a look at your landing and sales pages to see how you can make it easier for buyers to realize your product is the best solution.

Try it for yourself—What makes you understand the value proposition of this product better – “social media intelligence for your startup” or “do you know the value of your Facebook content?”

The Short of It 💥

Be careful overestimating your abilities — and others. 

Unless you have the metrics to show it, you might not be the expert your mind is tricking you into thinking you are. 

When you ARE an expert, you also can’t forget that your buyers may not have the same knowledge or abilities as you.

Stay humble by moving yourself and your buyers closer to the Slope of Enlightenment with every stage of your customer journey.

Until next time, happy selling!




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Written By Katelyn

Katelyn Bourgoin is the CEO of Customer Camp, a 4X founder, and a cheese lover. She lives by a simple mantra: whoever gets closer to the customer wins.

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