CEOWORLD magazine - Latest - Executive Insider - How too many options can make or break business success

Executive Insider

How too many options can make or break business success

Michelle Bowden

Have you ever found yourself perusing a long menu in a restaurant, with a plethora of fabulous choices and found yourself incapable of making a choice for your meal? In fact, after looking at all these fabulous choices you’re not even hungry anymore.  It’s not you, it’s them!

The body of research on persuasion talks a lot about the need to carefully balance the number of choices or options you offer your prospect or stakeholder.  One choice seems like a demand with no freedom to make an actual decision, two choices still feels pushy, and too many choices puts us into overload and renders us incapable of making a choice at all for the fear of getting it wrong.

There’s some famous research from Sheena Iyengar in 2004 who researched company-sponsored retirement programmes for nearly 800,000 workers. They looked at the impact of choice or options on participation rates and yes, they found that the more choices that were offered, the less likely people were to enrol in the programme. When only two funds were offered, the rate of participation was around 75% and interestingly, when 59 funds were offered the rate dropped to around 60%. 15% is significant when you’re dealing with 800,000 people!

The same researchers did a similar experiment with jam flavours. When they displayed 6 flavours at a tasting stall in a fancy supermarket, 30% of passers-by tasted the jam. When they displayed all 24 flavours only 3% of passers-by tasted the jam. 

The point is that when there are too many choices available the decision-making process involves the dimension of a higher risk, too many chances to get it ‘wrong’. When we go into overwhelm our mind shuts down and we simply can’t make any decision

Sometimes lots of options works!

If you’re going to make the choice to offer lots of options either because you want the publicity that comes with offering wild and crazy options, or perhaps you want to offer every possibility so that everyone can always find something they want with you and they never have to visit your competitor, you need to give out lots of free samples or offer a rigorous try-before-you-buy scheme in order to reduce the inherent risk in getting the choice wrong. This was proven by the ice-cream wonderland known as La Casa Gelato in Vancouver, Canada that offers 238 wild and crazy ice-cream flavours from aged balsamic vinegar to garlic flavour.  In November of 2019, they claimed their title as the Guinness World Record Holder for “Most Commercially Available Flavours!”  They do this to capture people’s imagination and yes, they get lots of cool publicity in the style of Zebra marketing, or to use Seth Godin’s analogy, this ice cream shop is like a “purple cow”. It really stands out. The way they get around the overwhelm of over two hundred flavours is they have a generous sampling process where the experience is the full ritual from tasting and sampling, to deciding on their flavour of choice. It’s not meant to be a shop where you make a quick choice and off you go. It’s a process and the journey is the destination. 

The point is, unless you want to engage in the rigorous and possibly costly exercise of zebra marketing less is definitely more.  Here’s the three-step process for you:

  1. The next time you have to persuade, think through all the choices that might be exciting to your prospect or stakeholder. Remember, it’s not persuasion if the choices you are offering are not appealing to your prospect, that’s coercion. 
  2. Then narrow your appealing options down to 3 or 4 choices.
  3. Pitch them in the most enticing way you can with the word ‘or’ as your link.  For example, “Would you prefer to implement the module in December without the links and help information, or in January with just the links, or in February with the links and help information”. 

In this way we eliminate the chance of either a no’ from our stakeholder, or of overwhelm (which is a form of ‘no’). Neither of these are any good as an outcome because it’s a lose/lose outcome where no one gets what they want. Offering three or four attractive options increases the chance of ‘yes’ (one of these options will work) which ultimately is our intention when we enter into a persuasive communication situation. 

You can even do this yourself in that restaurant with the busy menu. Narrow down the choices to your top 3 or 4 options that will be wonderful for you in this moment regardless of what you choose, and then whatever you choose will be delicious and much enjoyed.

Written by Michelle Bowden.
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CEOWORLD magazine - Latest - Executive Insider - How too many options can make or break business success
Michelle Bowden
Michelle Bowden is an authority on presentation & persuasion in business. She is a CSP (the highest designation for speakers in the world), creator of the Persuasion Smart Profile® (a world-first psychological assessment that reports on your persuasiveness at work). Michelle is also the best-selling author of How to Present: The Ultimate Guide to Presenting Your Ideas and Influencing People Using Techniques that Actually Work (Wiley) and has delivered her Persuasive Presentation Skills Masterclass more than 950 times for over 12,000 people.

Michelle Bowden is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Connect with her through LinkedIn. For more information, visit the author’s website.