How to win or lose an argument (and a sale)

There are two topical debates I would like to use to highlight an important retail selling principle. These two examples demonstrate how a ‘persuasion/sales’ message can be lost based on how it was framed.

EXAMPLE 1: Cricket

Cricket Australia is in disarray after standing down four players in a drama that played out across all media channels. The consensus opinion from most commentators (including the important ex-player cohort) is universally negative: ‘It is ridiculous that players are stood down for not handing in their homework.’

Frame 1: Players were stood down because they did not hand in their homework.

Don’t treat players like kids because they are clearly not. Any adult would rile against that treatment and the culprits are within their rights to feel aggrieved.

Frame 2: The coach wanted each player to prepare for a personal development session.

Each player must act like a professional evaluate their performance and take personal responsibility to work toward improvement.

Outcome: As soon as the media introduced the school/child metaphor the debate was always going to be lost and the public was going to turn against the coach and captain.

I will be surprised if Mickey Arthur is around in 12 months. The only thing that will save him is an unlikely Ashes victory.

EXAMPLE 2: Same Sex Marriage (SSM)

Frame 1 (Liberal): In a modern society basic equality is a human right. Everybody has an equal right to marriage. LGBT people too, have the right to marriage.

If you consider yourself modern and/or fair then you will support the principle of SSM because you support the principle of equality.

Frame 2: (Conservative): What progressives want is not an equal right to marriage for gay people but rather to redefine the (existing) institution of marriage so as to shed its heteronormativity. Regardless of whether that’s a bad idea or not, it’s got nothing to do with “equal rights.”

Progressives don’t want an equal right to get married; they want the creation of a (new) right to marry the person they are attracted to regardless of their gender.

Liberals frame the debate as an issue of equality, and conservatives understand that it’s obvious that describing SSM as “equal rights” and “equality” is nonsensical.

Outcome: The liberals (in the philosophical, not political sense) have succeeded to frame the debate as one of equality and the conservatives have failed to re-frame the debate.

You can already see the problem above: the liberal frame is easy, intuitive and seemingly inarguable, and the conservative frame is complex.

A Liberal Party (i.e. conservative) victory will delay the adoption of SSM but even Tony Abbot will not be able to re-frame this debate and SSM will become law within a few years.


Framing is a technique that is used to set the tone (create the metaphor) for a discussion. This applies to the sales floor. A customer will want to frame the discussion on price; the sales person must frame around the core proposition.

Consider this example where the customer frames the sales interaction:

Frame by Customer: ‘Gee, that is more than I wanted to spend on XYX.’

Re-Frame by Sales Person: ‘I understand that you may feel that way, but you will be the envy of all your friends when you own one of those…’

The re-frame will be successful if it appeals to an underlying psychological factor.

This is where neuroscience comes in. When the customer raises the price concern, it is easy to use metaphorical language to maintain your frame: ‘It may be a tad more expensive, but everyone knows can’t put a price on happiness’.

The customer is looking for a reason to buy. It is the sales person’s job to help them buy. (NOT to sell to them.)

Two things will make the sale will happen easier or more likely:

  1. If you can frame it in the metaphor that ‘pushes their buttons’. We teach four categories of those buttons in our sales training – and it is relatively simple.
  2. Creating the frame is easier than re-framing.

Here is one fun example that I often use in presentations to illustrate the power of a frame. The challenge is open to those who have NOT attended a presentation and no Google cheating:

The following sequence of letters contains a secret word. See if you can find the hidden word.

H, I, J,  K,  L,  M,  N, O

Check back in a few days for the correct answer – and explanation. If you have the solution, put it in the comments – and other comments welcome too.

It is really not what you say, but how you say it.

(I will wait for CA to call…)

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