How Much Is Just…Too Much?

Written by John Harden

Today, with the intent of offering more choice and a better customer experience, it seems many businesses would say that “more is better” when it comes to the products and services they offer.  But from the days of offering a solid foundation of core services, in some cases businesses have ended up with a product line that simply matches every competitor.

While buyers may have grown accustomed to having a lot of choices, that doesn’t mean that it is a good idea – for anyone.  Research points out that the task of actually having to choose is often experienced as suffering – not a pleasurable experience at all.

The explosion of choice has actually made it more difficult in some cases for buyers to identify what they want and how to get it.  Years ago when I was in consumer banking, my colleagues pointed out to me that the number of check options we were offering customers was extending the amount of time it took to open a checking account by as much as 45 minutes! 

Clearly, providing more options had turned what should have been a simple, quick choice into a mind-numbing experience.  What was supposed to be perceived as a positive was not.  We responded by offering only the dozen most popular options, and never heard a peep from any of the 60,000 customers served by that bank. 

In this case, providing fewer options helped people narrow down their choices to a more manageable number, whereas a large assortment left them confused and unsure – and jammed up the bank lobby thereby increasing the bank’s costs while wasting the customer’s lunch break.

The fact is, there are neurological limits on our ability to process information.  And psychological studies have consistently shown that it is very difficult to compare and contrast the attributes of more than about five things at any given time.

There are many examples of businesses providing more choices with the intent of giving the buyer more power and satisfaction.  But in reality this sometimes overestimates their capacity to manage these choices, and results in an overwhelmed and frustrated buyer who is vulnerable to either choosing the most familiar option, or simply forgoing the purchase choice altogether.

The effects of too much choice have been observed in purchases as simple as buying chocolate, to more complex transactions such as financial services, technology, hardware and software.  While buyers seem to keep expressing a desire for more choices, and businesses keep expanding products and services to fulfill this perceived desire – it often does more harm than good.

The answer is to give them what they REALLY want – not what we THINK they want.  There are ways to determine which options are meaningful to your customers and prospects so you can offer what really matters to them, and are also profitable to your business.

So…how is this accomplished?

Less is sometimes more.  Think about reducing the number of choices.  Let’s face it, most companies avoid reducing anything – products or services.  This in light of the fact that companies who have done it the right way have experienced increases in profits of as much as 50% as sales actually increase and costs are lowered dramatically.  In fact, as your product line becomes more streamlined and simplified, you will discover that 80% of your revenues are generated by 20% of your products or services.  The other 80% are either marginally profitable or losing money. These products require more internal support, which translates into higher overhead.  This is another example of the cause and effect chain at work. 

Create confidence when a larger number of choices are required by helping buyers navigate the complexity of a purchase so that they actually have a positive “choosing experience.”  In other words, help create order out of seeming chaos and collaborate in ways that create confidence in the buyer.

Break it down into bite-sized pieces.  Dell does a nice job online of breaking down a large number of seemingly complex features into manageable pieces.  They clearly present the options and, better yet, explain the benefits of each.  The whole objective is to prevent the buyer from becoming discouraged by the daunting task of choosing – and therefore not buying.  Ever happen to you?  Doing nothing is always an option.

Start small.  Buyers who “warm up” with fewer, more manageable choices and options are better able to figure out their own preferences and move on to greater complexity (an opportunity to upsell?).  The alternative is that they grow tired and settle, or simply walk away…or to your competitor.

The good news is that today positive customer engagement can be technologically facilitated at a reasonable cost.  There are tools that can be used to engage and educate in a cost-effective manner in order to provide relevant information to help bring buyers along in the sales cycle.

The goal is to invite the buyer to enter into a collaborative, mutually beneficial relationship by helping them navigate a bewildering and even debilitating world of options to ultimately choose…you!

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