The Provincetown Helmet Insight

Yesterday, I had a minor epiphany. More of an insight, actually.

Biking in Provincetown (a beautiful day, capping a Yoyodyne wedding weekend, which is more than you wanted to know), I mentioned to my wife that every couple we passed (straight, gay, lesbian, didn’t matter) had synchronized their helmet habits.

Either both wore helmets or neither did.

At first, I attributed the PHI to some sort of subtle evolutionary cue. People must be attracted to people with a similar sensibility about helmets. If you were a foolish daredevil, perhaps you could sense that in a potential mate. When you both got to the bike store, voila, you’d see that you both made the same choice regarding a helmet.

Further research at the store (including some surveillance and an interview with the manager) demonstrated that this was a bogus theory.

It turns out that what actually happens is this: a couple stands at the rental desk and the counter-person says, “do you want helmets… they’re a dollar each.” One person starts to answer, but glances at the other. Then a subtle form of bullying starts.

Usually, one person says, “no, I don’t think so,” and the other, who was about to say yes is intimidated enough to say, “me neither.” Sometimes, it works the other way, “Oh, we’d never ride without helmets,” says one, and the other agrees.


So this is actually what happens to your product and to your service every single day. THIS is the moment of truth whether you sell securities or consulting or yoyos or motel rooms. One person hesitates, the other leads and the decision is made. In a nanosecond, all your marketing and all your advertising and all your sales work is over.

What can you do about it?

Well, for a cheap and simple product like bike helmets, the answer is pretty simple. I’d create a momentum of peer pressure. Salesman: “Here are two helmets,” he says, as he hands the helmets to the two renters. “They only cost a dollar each and almost everyone wears them. It’s the smart thing to do.”

Now, since BOTH riders are holding the helmets, it’s easy for the helmet-inclined to take the lead. All she has to do is try it on (a natural thing to do) and the discussion is over. The salesperson is using the PHI to his advantage.

I think the same thinking works when selling a two million dollar consulting contract, though. The idea of working with individuals on the buying committee before the meeting, of getting each one to give you the benefit of the doubt, of discovering their favorite features or tesimonials, person by person, and then organizing that information for the committee is just like handing over the helmets. If it’s easier for each person to say, “sure, why not” than it is to say, “I don’t think so,” then you’ve got the PHI on your side. Just one little tiny push at this very high leverage moment can have a huge impact.