Choice Immobilizes. Remember to Keep Your Product Options Simple.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010 , Posted by Johnny Fuery at 4:22 PM

Originally Published 2007-09-23 16:25:41

It's a fact of human nature. When presented with a multitude of choices, the decision-making process is easy to postpone. When you present you customer with too many options -- usually in the name of flexibility and personalized service, I know -- you actually are doing yourself a disservice.

This phenomena is present throughout our lives. Why do you think McDonald's has a value menu? I haven't been to a McDonald's in a decade or so, but somehow I suspect that there's still less than ten basic choices on the menu. Sure, you can order a #3 and sub a salad, hold the pickles, but the basic set of choices presented is simple and easy. Point, nod, grunt. Sale.

Even Starbucks, the king of customized product, has a simple menu. Did you know that the technical difference between a latte and a macchiato is primarily the espresso-to-milk ratio (here's a nice coffee diagram if you're curious)? Well, I didn't either. The Starbucks menu has one entry for each, right? According to our purveyor of daily caffeine, macchiato has caramel in it. Lattes don't. Again, simplification of available choice.  Flexibility abounds, and we pay for it (four bucks for coffee? Love that business model!), but the newbie doesn't have to decode some mysterious espresso chart to order up something. They can just point, nod, and grunt. And, again, Sale.

Now, even in the boutique space -- which every entrepreneur touches at one point, because from a certain simplified point of view, that just means catering to your niche -- this concept of limiting choice applies. Sure, you can offer flexibility -- that's a big reason why you can sell your services. But ultimately, what you're selling is, again, less choice. The high-touch, highly personalized service that is the hallmark of the independent consultant and the small boutique shop is based on your handshake, right? So, basically, your client is buying trust. Most customers don't want to know how much milk goes into a Venti Latte. They don't care, they just want their dependably-tasting caffeine dose. They've outsourced the decision making process as well as the act of firing up an espresso machine.

So, think about your customers. As a web developer, for instance, my customers are not buying my services because of my wizardry with PHP. Yes, they trust my ability to think on my feet, they have faith in my adaptability so that downtime is minimal and upgrades are smooth, etc., but it's about outsourcing the decisions.  Most clients aren't just outsourcing the code monkey duty. They're outsourcing the choices on how to do things, the best methods, and the worry about the business impact of those decisions. They are buying peace of mind. Just like at Starbucks, they just want their caffeine nicely packaged with a satisfying taste.

The opposite is also true, I'm afraid. If I were to overwhelm my clients with technobabble, if I fail to simplify and explain complex ideas in an understandable way, I fail to close. Confusing your customers immobilizes them. Faced with too many choices, customer will simply not buy. At best, they'll postpone the decision. At worst, they'll get a second opinion, and if the other vendor, your competition, packages their product better and simplifies the decision, guess who will win the sale.

Now, how are you using this data? As a niche blog, does your tagline immediately tell your readers/browsers what to expect (I'm not sure that mine does, for the record, but the principle still applies)? As a service provider, is your message consistently comprised of simple solutions?

Does choosing your business make your customer's lives easier or does it complicate matters? Will bringing you on cause more of a hassle, even in the short term?

Simplify. Eliminate one more roadblock to closing. Less choice, more sales.

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