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Options for Sales – Lessons from Retail

One of the most important sales lessons I learned from my retail days when I was younger was the concept of options. Specifically, I was taught to offer no more than 3 options. As long as the options fit what the customer was looking for (or at least fit by some prioritization of features), 3 options drove customers to buy. Anymore and you risk of overwhelming customers.
Today, this is still true, too, in B2B sales. I’m using a similar offer of three options in everyday life, even. Though, in my current role, I am not offering three products. I am providing three options to get an advancement of a sale.
Curious about where this Rule of 3 came from, I did a little research and found a study between professors Sheena Iyengar of Columbia University and Mark Lepper of Stanford University – “Why Choice is Demotivating”.
In the study, Iyengar and Lepper provided samples of 6 or 24 flavors of jams or chocolates to passers-by. With 24 flavors, 60% of people stopped to try the flavors, while only 30% stopped when shown 6 flavors. Clear winner for flavors, right? Not exactly.
When the researchers looked at who actually bought, only 3% of those provided the 24 flavors made a purchase compared to 30% who were shown 6 flavors. When you shake out the numbers, fewer choices drove more than 6 times the sales.
I’m not sure where 3 came from, however, providing options (and few of them) drives sales. Providing options provides confidence for the customer. It provides a sense that the sales professional knows the customer’s needs. Too many, then, overloads the psyche – we can only remember “3 data points” before degrading.
Remember when sell or getting commitments – provide options, but stick to fewer.