Yesterday, I went to a store with my wife to get 1 (one, ONE) thing. As luck would have it, I found myself standing behind my wife looking at an aisle full of little girl’s shoes. The choices were overwhelming; they should put an, “Enter at your own risk” sign up for men entering this aisle. There were all styles of shoes; styles called strapies, flats, sandals, flops, and jellies, all dyed in pastel colors of pink, green, and purple- of course mixed in with the staple colors of the blacks, browns, whites, gold, silvers, and nude-yes nude.  My wife immediately began mentally pairing up my daughter’s dresses with potential shoe candidates. She moved as if she were in the lightening round of a game show; she began spouting out 5 outfits and shoe combinations and then turned to me and asked my opinion. While still stuck on the first dress/shoe combo, I reminded her that guys are “first come first serve;” we walk into the closet, look for a color, and whichever shoe is most accessible, providing we can find both of them, is the one we go with.  My wife hustled for 20 minutes then, without warning, stopped shopping, stood up, and said, “I don’t know which ones to get anymore; it’s too many choices.” With no shoes in hand, we were herded into the checkout line and I thought, “Isn’t our business much like a little girls’ shoe aisle?”

 

Too many choices become confusing to a customer; when a customer is confused, they become paralyzed from making a purchasing decision. Car companies have become guilty of this.  In an effort to “move the needle,” manufacturers have dreamt up elaborate package names, combos, and configurations. As sales consultants, we get to break the news, “Sorry, you have to get the Mai-Tai package in order to get the Bahaman Banana Yellow.”  I challenge anybody in charge of product development to be able to tell me every single one of the packages and combinations they expect us to sell. I remember watching a product presentation video for a minivan where the man on the video proudly proclaimed there were over 180 ways to configure the interior of this minivan. Really; a customer needs 180 choices? I pose a thought for car companies; if your reps are confused-you know the ones pounding the blacktop every day, think of how perplexed your customers are. We are members of the local union “10-6-25;” we perform 10 hours per day, 6 days per week, and 25 days per month and we ain’t getting it. If we do this every day and can’t seem to figure it all out, how can we expect a customer, who does this once every 3 years to figure it out?  I’ve talked to customers who were so flustered and confused to the point they had no idea what they wanted anymore and decided to “hold off,” only to find out later they bought my competitor’s product- fewer choices perhaps?

 

Why don’t the car companies keep the KISS principle; Keep It Simple (to) Sell. The best of something doesn’t have to mean the most. While jockeying for sales, car companies have offered so many choices trying to become everything to everybody; as a result they lose sales and wind up being nothing to nobody. Can you imagine going to your doctor’s office and the doctor pulls out a menu of different combinations of medications for you; or a travel agent asks you which comforter, curtains, and carpet combinations you wish to have in your hotel room for your next vacation? Customers want a choice, not a Rubik’s Cube.

 

Maybe manufacturers should steal an idea from family restaurants. Restaurants package their menus, in the form of choices or combos, and give a customer a choice of meat, specific number of side items, and a dessert; it becomes more profitable for a restaurant and less confusing for a customer. By the way, when was he last time you ordered a-la-cart at McDonalds? When you give a customer too few of choices (2), it becomes a “buy, not buy” proposition; when a customer has only 3 or 4 well thought out choices, it serves two purposes:  A sales consultant can effectively prepare and present their product- focusing on building value. In turn, when a customer has fewer choices, it becomes less confusing and easier to make a purchase decision. Dummy down the choices and double up the profits.

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Comment by Marsh Buice on May 30, 2011 at 5:41pm
Joe, thank you for reading and your comments. I'm glad I have a fellow brother who can sympathize having girls :) I have 3 boys and they are low maintenance compared to her. The factories would do better if they would take advice from the Bible, "Be quick to listen and slow to speak." Listen to us on the front line; when we feel we have a voice, we will fight harder.
Comment by Joe Clementi on May 30, 2011 at 5:02pm
Excellent post Marsh.  Factories always know better than those on the front lines...right?  Your anology was spot on and as a Dad of two girls I can really empathize with you :)  Keep up the nice work I truly enjoy reading your posts.

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