How Do You Think?

A ball and a bat cost $1.10.  The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball.  How much does the ball cost?

Today we will use this simple math problem to explore the way people think, because it has a lot to do with the way we speak to customers.  The cognitive domain of your brain is the thinking side, as opposed to the affective, or emotional side, which I have written about in earlier posts.  But within the cognitive domain people have an automatic response system which enables them to answer questions intuitively, based on life experiences, or what some would call a “gut feeling,” and a more rational or reflective system that engages when people have to reason something out, having little or no prior experience with the question.

Here is an example. If asked what the temperature is outside today, you may make a guess and say it’s 75 degrees, just based on what you “feel” the temperature to be.  That is your automatic side of the brain at work.  But if asked what the temperature is in Centigrade, you would do the math to make the conversion, using your reflective side.  Jonah Lehrer in “How We Decide,” Richard Thaler in “Nudge” and Malcolm Gladwell in “Blink,” all describe this curious way we solve problems, so I’m not making this stuff up!

In the bat and ball question above, the vast majority of people who are asked this question say that the ball costs ten cents.  But you can see that this can’t possibly be true, as the bat would then cost $1.10 and the total would be $1.20.  Clearly, people must not use the rational or reflective side to respond to this question.

So if you are selling a product or a service, you should use this information to help inform the way you position its price.  If your offer has some high price tag, you should position how much it costs for a small period of time.  That’s what health clubs and insurance companies do.  Suppose the product costs $300 to $400.  You will see ads that say, “For just a dollar a day, you can enjoy the peace of mind of having this unbelievable coverage…”

And if the investment you are selling has a rather modest return, you calculate the total benefit over a long period of time and position it that way: “After ten years your initial investment of $10,000 will be worth more than….” And so on.

The ability to frame problems, offers and questions in a way that attends to how people listen and respond is known as “positioning” and I’ll give you some practical examples in upcoming posts.  These are great techniques to help you to…

Think Like Your Customer

Sorry I missed my last “Fable Friday.” My real life on the road training and consulting just caught up with me. This weekend I will be in Boston, Massachusetts to run the Boston Marathon on Monday the 18th, but we will have a Fable Friday on the 15th and some more positioning techniques on the 19th, assuming they don’t have to drag me off the course!

About Gregory LaMothe
I teach people how to sell things. I own the company ActionSystems. Visit my website at

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