The behavioural economics of Test match cricket

Test match cricket intrigues me. In an age of fast-food convenience and short attention we have the equivalent of a slow-cooked meal that can take up to five days to be concluded.

Even then the result might be one where there is no result. Talk about irrational! But what a great platform for looking at the game we are all playing everyday that requires patience, strategy and perseverance: the cricket of buying behaviour.

Your role

In this game of behavioural cricket you, as the business, are the bowling side. Your role is to claim the wicket of the batsman, your customer. In other words, you have to get them to buy. I know that this mucks with the cricket metaphor – while your customer should want to buy, there’s no batsman who wants to lose their wicket! But let’s go with it anyway in the spirit of an Australian summer.

The batsman is protecting themselves and their wicket

Your customer, the batsman, comes to the wicket to receive the delivery of your offer in full protective mode: helmet, pads, gloves and a bat to smack your ball away. I think this is an important visual to keep in mind when you are dealing with customers – while you can’t actually ‘see’ how your customer is protecting themselves, they invariably are.

This is where behavioural economics comes in, because it instructs you on all the biases and blockers that humans navigate life with. In effect, how customers take guard. For example, information that contradicts your customer’s understanding of the world will tend to be ignored, avoided or distorted. Smokers ignore health warnings, we ignore nutritional information on our favourite tasty ‘bad’ foods, we tune out of the opposing political side’s policies and we get queasy thinking about buying funeral cover. It’s ‘head in the sand’ stuff.

Similarly your customer will knock you back if they think there’s more to lose than gain. While most businesses are great at talking up their benefits, they overlook what their customer will have to give up in order to buy from them. Time, effort, and status are just a few dimensions of the cost side of the equation aside from the obvious financial investment you are asking them to make.

Yes, your offer might be the lowest price, but are you making it hard to sign-up? Do you include flexible payment terms? Is there a money back guarantee? Is it fast? Who else has bought from you? At the business-end of your delivery, when the customer is connecting with you, make sure you have mitigated as many of these costs as possible.

Every delivery is important

Every time you bowl the ball you are delivering your offer to the batsman. Smart bowlers know that not every delivery needs to be wicket-taking, and instead use the bracket of a six ball over to construct a win. In business this means having a plan for building towards the buy. While your offer (the ball) doesn’t change, the way your deliver it can. For instance, in my client work we devise a 6-8 stage email process to build a relationship with new customers who have signed up for a newsletter or service, knowing that a new customer requires a different type of communication to someone who has bought from you before. Use the full over to get the wicket.

Adjust your field

Every time you deliver your offer, you can adjust the placement of your fielders to maximise your chances of capturing the wicket. This means you can and should adjust your points of engagement such as sales approach, marketing materials, and website to support the offer you are making.

One example that comes to mind is a direct-mail campaign by an AFL club last year. Intended to capture the email addresses of its members, the flyer required people to fill out a paper form and mail it by post to the club. There was no way of emailing them! Too many times the offer is not supported by a change in the field.

Play to the batsman not the crowd

Just like social media, in behavioural cricket there are spectators who add noise and atmosphere which can distract you from your task. If you play for them rather than focus on the batsman you may be well known (perhaps for the wrong reasons) but not successful. The crowd will respond to how you treat the customer, so play your best game and you’ll have their admiration and respect.


So there you have it, the behavioural game of cricket. It takes thinking, strategy, skill, deliberate action and patience. Not to mention teamwork, practice and focus. Most of all, cricket reminds us that we need to understand the person on the receiving end of our delivery, who is taking guard and is ready to respond, because our success depends on it.

Bri Williams runs People Patterns Pty Ltd, a consultancy specialising in the application of behavioural economics to everyday business issues. Bri is a presenter, consultant and author who you can find out more about at, viabr[email protected] or by following on Twitter @peoplepatterns.


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