Think you’re doing your clients a favour? Think again.

Last week, I was on holiday. In France. And there, on the shelves of the local supermarket, I eagerly looked out for my favourite evening drink. No, not pastis, but one of the extensive range of herbal infusions that grace the aisles of Intermarché, Leclerc and Géant. It’s called Nuit Etoilée – or Starry Night to you and me. With its pleasing blend of lime, verbena, orange flower and lemon balm, it’s your ticket to a good night’s sleep. But it’s not available in the UK, so once back home, I sought out a local alternative. And I soon discovered one on the Tesco website: Clipper Organic Sleep Easy tea bags. I already drink Clipper green tea, so I was familiar with the brand. And I knew they did regular tea, so I mentally had a nice neat picture: Green, Normal, Sleep Easy. I decided to have a closer look, though, so I clicked on over to the Clipper website to check out my three favourite teas. And was horrified. There’s everyday, white, green, specialities, fruit infusions and herbal infusions. Fairtrade, organic, organic Fairtrade, decaf, organic decaf. Green with lemon, jasmin, strawberry, echinacea and nettle. Ditto with white. Then every combination and permutation of the above, available in big boxes and small boxes, in envelopes, bags and loose leaf. On and on it goes. The more I looked, the more I felt confused and disoriented – by the choice. Endless, barely differentiated choice. On Tesco, it’s simple. Green, Normal, Sleep Easy. Choose, click, buy. But on the Clipper site, it’s a nightmare. Just as well I’ve got my Sleep Easy teabags to send me off.

Analysis paralysis

The conventional wisdom is that more choice is better. Offer customers a wide range, and they’ll thank you. What’s more, you’ll impress them. But they won’t. And you won’t. Studies have shown that people use a problem’s complexity to decide how important it is. So a theoretically easy one – which tea to drink, which toothpaste to choose, which cereal to buy – is made more difficult by choice. There must be a reason why there’s all this choice, your brain tells you, and it must be important. More frustratingly, it tells you there must be a right choice. So you spend a disproportionate amount of time choosing the right one, when in fact any of them would do (yes, really). And often – or frequently, in my case – you simply give up, stymied by the impossible task of weighing up near-identical variations on a theme.

Less choice, more choices

Remember one simple lesson the next time you do a sales pitch, send out an offer or design a marketing piece. Simplicity sells. Complexity confuses. And unexpected complexity is even worse, catching people off guard. Not expecting a choice, they’re even more baffled by it, and find it harder to decide. And the more they struggle, the harder it becomes. It’s been termed decision quicksand, a delightful analogy that perfectly captures the syndrome. I notice this all the time with clients. If  I say ‘we should do A’, they often agree immediately. If I say ‘we could do A, B or C – and I’d recommend A’, the effect is much the same. They’re presented with a choice, and a suggested course of action. But if I say ‘we could do A, B or C,’ and leave it at that, confusion ensues. They hesitate and then often go into analysis mode, usually tying themselves up in knots about the right choice. So now I always make a suggestion. And in a way, that’s what clients are paying me for: to help them make a decision, to take the problem away. To make things easy, and reduce the mountain of choice to a no-brainer. And that’s what you should do too. Cut out excessive choice, present a limited selection of options, and suggest one. But here’s the thing: if clients think they’re being manipulated, or pushed into a choice that’s right for you, not them, they’ll feel resentful. It’s got to work for both of you, so make sure it does. As an added benefit, you’ll sleep easy at night, knowing you’ve done the right thing. And if that doesn’t work, you can always reach for the Clipper. Find out more: