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Episode #106: The Paradox of Choice in Sales with Dr. Barry Schwartz

In This Episode of The Buyer’s Mind with Jeff Shore:

Dr. Barry Schwartz and Jeff talk about the complexity of choice and how it effects your customer’s brain. Baskin-Robbins has 31 flavors and yet, the most popular flavors of ice cream are vanilla, chocolate and strawberry.  People claim they want more choice, but it can create a confusion when there’s too much to choice.

Topics we’re going to cover on today’s podcast:

[1:13] The Simplicity of In-N-Out

[3:11] Dr. Barry Schwartz

[4:40] An abundance of choice decreases our happiness

[6:43] The complexity of The Cheesecake Factory and success

[11:36] Cognitive shortcuts to decision making

[17:42] Maximizers vs Satisfizers

[24:12] What to do about your choices

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More about our guest Dr. Barry Schwartz:

Barry Schwartz is an emeritus professor of psychology at Swarthmore College and a visiting professor at the Haas School of Business at Berkeley. He has spent forty years thinking and writing about the interaction between economics and morality.  He has written several books that address aspects of this interaction, including The Battle for Human Nature, The Costs of Living, The Paradox of Choice, Practical Wisdom, and most recently, Why We Work. The Paradox of Choice was named one of the top business books of the year by both Business Week and Forbes Magazine, and has been translated into twenty-five languages. Schwartz has written for sources as diverse as The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, the Chronicle of Higher Education, Slate, Scientific American, The New Republic, the Harvard Business Review, and the Guardian.  He has appeared on dozens of radio shows, including NPR’s Morning Edition, and Talk of the Nation, and has been interviewed on Anderson Cooper 360 (CNN), the PBS News Hour, The Colbert Report, and CBS Sunday Morning. Schwartz has spoken three times at the TED conference, and his TED talks have been viewed by more than 16 million people.

Links from today’s podcast:

Dr. Barry Schwartz

Paradox of Choice, The

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Read Full Transcript

Jeff: Are you a maximizer or are you as satisficer? And do you even know what that means? It’s pretty fascinating. We’ll talk about it today on “The Buyer’s Mind”.

Male: Welcome to “The Buyer’s Mind” where we take a closer look deep inside your customer’s decision-making mechanism to reverse-engineer the perfect sales presentation. Now, please welcome your host, Jeff Shore.

Jeff: Welcome, everyone once again to “The Buyer’s Mind,” the podcast where we investigate the way that our customers make purchase decisions. And today, we’re gonna take our really, really interesting to look at two different types of choices, those who seek to maximize the search by looking at everything that is out there and those who are satisfied to simply find what they’re looking for and move on. It’s a really interesting paradox, but it’s gonna get us into the idea and the concept, as we’ll learn from our guest today, that when we asked people what they want, they say they want lots and lots of choices, when we give them a lots of choices, they can’t make a decision. Joined as always by our show producer, Paul Murphy. Murph, you and I have this common experience where whenever you’re in California, we enjoy a good In-N-Out burger. How complicated a decision is that?

Paul: To go to In-N-Out? No complication at all. The choice at In-N-Out?

Jeff: And then how complicated is it to decide once you’re at In-N-Out?

Paul: Oh, and even simpler once I get there. So, yeah, both choices, very, very simple.

Jeff: Yeah. And what do we say? Easy equals what? Right. Yup. There you go. Easy equals right. And organizations that do this, companies that do this, they make it easy for you to buy it. Now, their problem is that we get overly responsive. Organizations get overly responsive to their customers and say, “Well, my customer wants choice. My customer wants lots and lots and lots of choice.” Then you give them lots and lots of choice and they can’t process it all. And then what’s gonna happen? Their brain simply locks up and after a while, just not gonna buy anything. It’s called the paradox of choice. And Dr. Barry Schwartz wrote a fascinating book several years about this. It is a landmark bestseller. It should be in the library of every sales professional, every influence professional out there, and we’re gonna get into it and we’re gonna unpack that. We’re gonna get that sense of where we go wrong in offering an abundance of choice and how that oftentimes conflicts with the way that a buyer wants to buy.

What I want you to do, if you’re listening in today and you are an influence professional, you’re in the sales and marketing world, it’ll be helpful for you as we get into this interview to place yourself in the consumer mindset. Don’t think of yourself in a sales or marketing mindset, think like a consumer. Think like somebody who is going to make the purchase decision. Because when you do that, when you can step into this yourself, you’ll be able to see the mental journey that your customer is on. Let’s get into this fascinating conversation with Dr. Barry Schwartz. Well, I am absolutely thrilled to have on “The Buyer’s Mind” Dr. Barry Schwartz, esteemed professor at the University of California, Berkeley, but with a long, long background by starting at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. He’s written a number of books and he is a student of decision-making. We wanted to talk today about the incredible book, just a classic book, “The Paradox of Choice: Why more is less.” Welcome to the show, Dr. Barry Schwartz.

Barry: Thank you, Jeff. It’s great to be with you.

Jeff: Well, I wanna start right in and let’s just talk about me, shall we? I recently had to make some decisions around my 401(k) investment plans. I have no idea what I’m doing. And I know that my current choices probably aren’t perfect, but I know that I have a limited attention span to try and really figure this all out. And quite frankly, I have so many things to think about that I’m at peace with that. Good strategy or bad strategy, what do you think?

Barry: Well, my opinion is that it’s the only way to survive in the modern world, is to make decisions like that. It’s not about everything, then at least about most things. Either you settled for good enough strategy or you hire somebody to do the worrying for you.

Jeff: Let’s start with a broad summary here of the book. Because I love that idea. I surround myself with people who are definitely smarter than me, who I trust, of course, but it certainly adds a lot of peace to me. The broad summary, and you could just tell me if I’ve got this right here, the more options that you have, the harder it is to choose well. An abundance of choices actually decreases our happiness with our choices. Does that sound about right to you?

Barry: That sounds about right. It’s not only that it’s the harder it is to choose well, which is true, it’s also that the harder it is to choose at all. When you’re faced with an abundance, an overabundance of options, a paralysis sets in and you end up basically choosing none of the above. And then if you do choose, you often choose imperfectly because it’s too complicated. So, yes, the summary is right.

Jeff: I don’t wanna try and play junior psychologist here, but is part of this because of an ingrained, what professionals would call a status quo bias or our fear of what happens in the future causes us to say,” I’m fuzzy on that, but I know what I have so I’ll just sort of stay put here?”

Barry: Well, there’s no doubt that that’s part of it, it is less salient to us. What we’re giving up by not choosing is less salient than what we give up when we choose badly. And so, yes, the status quo, we’ve all gotten accustomed to whatever is this baseline status quo, and we’re living our lives, and presumably, our lives are okay. Why risk that? So, I’m sure that that contributes. But, you know, even when that’s not relevant, like you’re trying to decide what restaurants and eat in, you have to eat, right? When you’re confronted with hundreds of options as you are in any major American city these days, you end up, I don’t know, ordering pizza or defrosting something because it’s just so hard. And when you go to the restaurant and you see a menu with 50 items, options on it, you lose your appetite. So, it’s not just about status quo bias, it really raises a problem that people don’t know how to solve, many people.

Jeff: All right. So, let’s stay on the restaurant thing for a moment, because this is interesting for you. You’ve made it to the West Coast, which means you’ve at least heard of an In-N-Out Burger, if you’ve not eaten there before. When you look at the menu, it’s pretty simple. The only question you’re gonna ask is, “Do I want to choose my burger?” And, obviously, they’re wildly, wildly successful by limiting choice. And yet, you go to a restaurant like Cheesecake Factory where they don’t hand you a menu, that they had you a book and there are just seemingly hundreds of choices and yet they’re successful as well. What causes some companies to be able to do this, to be able to offer a wide variety of choice and still allow for a great experience for their guests?

Barry: Well, and that’s a great question. You know, to me, the critical question with respect to something like the Cheesecake Factory is not why are they successful, but rather, would they be even more successful if their menu was more limited? You know, there are lots of things that contribute to the success or not of a restaurant. You know, Cheesecake Factory has very sort of popular kinds of dishes. The portions are gargantuan and that seems to appeal to Americans. So, maybe if they had a menu that that was just a menu instead of a phone book, they’ve be even more successful. That we don’t know.

So, and plus, you know, I don’t wanna be sort of maniacal about this. Too many options creates a problem, but it may not create enough of a problem that people find it so unpleasant to go to that place that they don’t, that they stay away from it. I mean, look at Walmart. Walmart has everything. I don’t know I’ve ever met anybody who likes shopping in Walmart, but people shop there nonetheless because they’re saving money and they’re willing to suffer because they’re getting something in return. So, I don’t think this, by itself, is decisive. It runs against people’s intuitions. Your intuitions are the more options you offer, the more likely it is that everybody will find something that they like. And, you know, in an ideal world, when you’re dealing with people who have unlimited cognitive capacity, that might be true. But in the actual world, it turns people off.

Jeff: But part of your point is that if you ask people, this is what they will say, right? This is the paradox, right? If you ask people what…”Give us choice. We want choice, we want lots and lots of choice.” And then you give them lots of choice and their brains essentially lock up.

Barry: You know, I think that’s exactly right. Which means that if you’re running a business, the challenge, and the way I sometimes put it when I give talks to industry groups, is if you have limited choice, you will attract fewer customers than if you have a lot of options. So, if your aim is to attract as many customers as you possibly can, throw the kitchen sink at them. On the other hand, they will either be paralyzed or they’ll be dissatisfied with the choice they made so they won’t come back. So, you have two models of a successful business. One is a large number of customers who buy your product once, the other is a smaller number of customers who are satisfied and keep coming back. Anytime I ask people which of those is a preferred model, there’s unanimity that they’d rather have repeat customers than sell everybody something once. And the way to do that is to increase the chances that customers will be satisfied with what they get, and the way to do that is to limit options rather than expanding.

Jeff: Yeah, interesting. I have to believe that if somebody did a study at Cheesecake Factory of those who are regular patrons at that restaurant, that whenever I go there, granted I might look at the whole menu, but there are only three things that I ever order and I keep coming back to those three things over and over again even though there were a plethora of choice than I could have. But after a while, it doesn’t matter. I just have a headache if I read it for too long.

Barry: And I was thinking, you know, about Starbucks. If you calculated how many different drinks you could order at Starbucks, it’s probably somewhere in the millions with all the things you can combine. Most people, I think, just get the usual. I’ve gone to Starbucks several thousand times in the course of my life. I always get the same thing. One thing. I get the same thing every single time. So, as far as I’m concerned, it’s a store that only has one thing on the menu. You know? But if you actually are gonna take it seriously and say, “Oh, what do I feel like having today?” the day will be over before you choose.

Jeff: Do you find that if people are not quite sure how to make a decision, then they’ll try and find some sort of cognitive shortcut there, perhaps, I would say over heuristic that they’ve always carried around or maybe they just turn the product into a commodity? And I’m thinking here, you know, I recently replaced a television. In my mind, I knew that there was a hypothetical perfect choice out there somewhere, but when I walk into a Best Buy or even our Costco, I mean, there are so many televisions to look at and I can start reading descriptions and then it just gives me a headache. And so, what did I do? I eventually said, “Well, this is really simple. That’s the size that I want, and it’s the lowest price. And I’ve heard of the brand before. I’ll take it.” I think a true techie would look at it and say, “Jeff, you made a foolish decision.” For me, I haven’t looked back. I actually feel pretty good about that.

Barry: Yeah. And that’s exactly the way I make these kinds of decisions. I think people rely on a variety of shortcuts. One is get the same thing that you got the last one. This is not always possible, alas, especially in technology with things changing so rapidly. Second is, “What do I care about? I want a certain size screen and I want the cheapest TV I can find with a brand name I’ve heard of in that size screen.” And that’s a perfectly reasonable way to go about deciding and, you know, in truth, I think, the days of having stuff on the market that was really bad so that you needed to come in armed with expertise to make sure that you didn’t get taken advantage of, those days are mostly gone. And the truth is then any model that’s in Best Buy is probably just about as good as any other model that’s in Best Buy and people are slavish about finding the best one and they’ll never notice the difference between that one and 30 others that they could have gotten.

Jeff: Well, in the book you talk about adaptation. As part of the how-tos, you make the suggestion that we should anticipate adaptation. Are you suggesting then that, “Hey, listen, by the time you make the selection, your satisfaction is likely going to be increased,” right? We tend to esteem something more highly after we buy it, anyway, but you’re not gonna notice that there was a hundred more megapixels or whatever it is. I don’t know. I’m making stuff up now. But the idea of anticipating at adaptation suggest that you’re probably gonna be pretty happy with it anyway.

Barry: Well, yeah, the thing is, so you have a TV and you buy a new one that because of technology changes is better. Picture’s clear, the sound quality’s better, whatever. And so, for the first day or week that you have it, you marvel at how the quality of your life has improved. By the second or third week, it’s just your TV. And the fact that it’s better than the last one you had is not salient anymore. And so, putting a lot of time and effort into a decision that we’re to experience the benefits of indefinitely is one thing. But putting all that time and energy into a decision that we’re gonna experience the benefits off for a week is crazy.

And so, that’s my…but it’s hard, you know? We have this experience of adaptation all the time and it always seems to come as an unpleasant surprise when it happens. So, you know, I mean, does it make sense to spend, slavishly deciding what luxury car to buy when you know that after three weeks it’s just gonna be your car? No. And people have had this experience, but when it’s time to get a new car, they go through all of the hand-wringing and angst that they went through the last time. So, I think people do use shortcuts. And I think what shortcuts you use will partly depend on you and partly depend on the domain. So, when I’m buying anything that’s mechanical or electronic, my main interest is in reliability.

Jeff: So, one of the things that we have to do, because a large part of our audience are sales and marketing folks, is rather than trying to add to the confusion, let me tell you all of the great features that my product has, it’s instead to approach it the other way and understand the customer’s hierarchy of values, what matters most to you. If we can’t take off that list, we probably don’t have anything to sell them and at some point, it becomes immoral to try and sell something to somebody that they don’t really want or don’t really need. But if I can really understand what their hierarchy of values is, then that’s the shortcut to make it easy for them to make a decision in the first place.

Barry: And I think that’s the secret. The secret is to make it easy. And not long after my book came out, which is a long time ago, I got an email from a retail shoe salesman and he said, you know, “One of the first things I learned is never bring out more than three pair of shoes, no matter how many you have backstage, don’t bring out more than three because they’ll never choose.” And then I got an email from a real estate broker. He said, “One of the first things I learned is never show clients more than three houses. If they don’t like any of them, then you can trot out.”

But in both cases, you know, I think your intuition’s exactly right. You find out what people value, what problem they’re trying to solve with this decision, and then you select the subset of what’s available that you think is most likely to hit the target, and you keep the rest in reserve. You don’t wanna create a problem, you wanna solve the problem. And I think it’s taken a while for people to realize that by displaying everything you’ve got, you’re creating a problem.

Jeff: Right now, I suspect that half our audience is saying, “Preach it. That’s absolutely right. I love this topic.” And the other half like, “No, no, no, no, no. That’s not the way that I make decisions.” And here we’re talking about the difference between…as you bring up with the book on maximizer and a satisficer. The idea is that maximizers, they want what they want and they want to get it right. So, everything gets laid out and they wanna make the very, very best choice. And satisficers are gonna look until they find that which checks enough of the boxes and say, “Good enough because I have other things to do with your life.” I know when I first studied Herbert Simon, I properly and firmly put myself in the category of satisficers. I assume that you are exactly the same way, but what is it about that maximizer mindset because they tend to be a little bit more difficult to…Certainly, as a sales professional or an influence professional, it’s difficult to bring that maximizer around.

Barry: It’s very difficult. You know? And I don’t know if I’m right, what they’re having, they’re having the experience again and again of doing better when they make decisions and feeling worse. We did a study of college seniors looking for jobs and we started working with them in October and we tracked them until June. So, they were, you know, getting interviews and they were getting offers and we measured whether they were maximizers or satisficers when it came to the job they were looking for. And what we found is that maximizers got better jobs, measured by starting salary, and they felt worse about the jobs they got. So, the question then arises…And I think this is a general phenomenon. If you are a maximizer, you will do better and you will feel worse. So, the question is what’s more important? How well you do or how would you feel about how well you do? And I think surprisingly often, it’s much more important to feel good about our decisions than it is to make the best decisions and feel crappy about it.

Jeff: And who tends to have the greatest regret after a purchase decision, a maximizer or…?

Barry: Maximizer. I mean, this is one reason, I think, why large choice sets produce paralysis. People are so worried about regretting their decisions that they don’t make one, which is really the only way you…the only way to avoid and regret is by not choosing. So, regret is a much bigger problem for maximizers than satisficers. We developed a scale to measure regret and scores on the regret scale are highly correlated than scores on the maximizing scale. And I think that’s a prime driver of this compulsion to get the best.

Jeff: Have you done any work, or any study, or even anecdotally, about situations that I am in and I know many, many people are in, I am a satisficer to the nth degree. My wife is a total maximizer. So, when they put the two of us in the same room and ask us to make a decision, it can be frustrating and complex.

Barry: Well, you know, it’s interesting. There is no research on this. I know someone who was now starting on a research project to see what the dynamic is in romantic couples who seem to have different decision-making styles. In my own experience, which is all anecdotal, what often happens is that the person who cares the most basically gets to decide. The way you avoid conflict is, you know, the person to whom it matters most is the final arbiter of the decision. When my wife and I make decisions about things like home furnishings, I’m indifferent about them. She’s not.

The pattern that we evolved over the years is that she will do all the hard work. She’ll do the legwork, and she’ll present me with three or four alternatives and then we’ll talk about them. And I’m willing to do that. And she knows my tastes well enough to know what alternatives sort of to give me, though she’s unwilling to let me abdicate completely. Since we’re both living in the same house, I ought to have some interest in it. On the other hand, she doesn’t expect me to put the kind of effort in that she does. So, you know, by creating the choice set, she’s really largely in charge. I’m happy to have her in that position and yet I also participate in the decisions. And, you know, we’ve only been married for 52 years, so, so far so good.

Jeff: Yeah, it might work. It might work.

Barry: Still an experiment, Jeff.

Jeff: That’s right, exactly. How much do the choices of others affect the way that we make decisions? We know social proof is obviously a huge influencing factor, but to what degree?

Barry: Well, here too, I think it depends on whether you’re a satisficer or not. Ask yourself, “What exactly is the best restaurant? What is the best place to go on vacation? What is the best university?” It’s impossible to specify any of those. And so, if you’re out to find the best, you’re desperately trying to figure out what is the best. And that means you’re looking around all the time at what other people are doing, what other people are choosing, especially, you know, people who have reputations. If you’re looking for good enough, you know, it’s not hard to determine what’s good enough because all you have to consult your own internal standards. And so, what we find is that maximizers are much more by the social context than satisficers are and we think that this is a reasonable response to basically sending themselves a problem that is otherwise impossible to solve. And what that means, of course, is that if you’re in the wrong crowd or you’re being influenced by the wrong set of people, in you’re desperate effort to get the best, you will often get very far from the best.

Jeff: In the book…We’re running up against time here, but just a couple of last questions. In the book, you have an entire section, Chapter 11, “What To Do About Your Choices.” I wanna hit on just a couple of things here. One of the things you say is, “Be a chooser, not a picker.” What’s the difference between a chooser and a picker?

Barry: Well, the idea that I was trying to communicate there is in the world we live in, with so many decisions to make and so many options, it’s almost impossible for us to have the time and cognitive energy to be active, to actually ask ourselves, “Why am I making this decision? Why do I care? What’s going to matter?” And to maybe even scrutinize the options and say, you know, “None of these options is gonna get me what I want.” Instead, we’re more passive and just sort of like we’re seating back in our easy chair and all the world comes by on a conveyor belt and all we can do is say, “I’ll take that one, I’ll take that one.” And so, the idea I was trying to communicate is you can be relatively passive or active in choosing. And if you’re out for the best in a world of unlimited choice, it’s pushing you to be more passive. So, it is better to have fewer options and choose more actively than to have unlimited options and, in effect, choose passively.

Jeff: I also like the idea of the suggestion here, “Make your decisions non-reversible.” I find that really interesting because, again, it falls right into the discussion on maximizers and satisficers. My wife really appreciated shopping at Nordstrom or Costco because you can take back anything at any time for any reason. But I have always suspected that, perhaps, she doesn’t fully appreciate something because there’s a voice in our head saying, you know, “If you decide down the road to take it back, you can.” And so, she never achieves that full ownership. Whereas for me, as a satisficer, as soon as I buy it, I want to own it fully, I really don’t want to take it back. So, I’m assuming that that’s what you were inferring when you said make your decisions non-reversible.

Barry: That’s right. And there’s a little bit of research on this and it’s exactly the process you’ve described. If you make a non-reversible decision, you then do various things to make yourself feel better about the decision. And, you know, let’s assume that it wasn’t a perfect decision, but it wasn’t a catastrophe. So, you’ve got a good enough television. And then since you can’t return it, you keep convincing yourself about how good a choice. If it’s reversible, sort of the door is always open for you to change your mind so you don’t go through this process of making yourself feel good about the decision and you don’t return it, people tend not to return things. And at the same time, because you haven’t closed the door, you know, rationalize it. So, you end up with the same damn television and always witness nagging doubt that you made a mistake. Now, again, if you ask people, “Would you rather shop in the store where you can return stuff or a store where he couldn’t?” 100% of people will say, “I wanna shop in a store where you can return stuff.” And they’d probably be making a mistake.

Jeff: Give us a peek behind the curtain. How did you get started on this topic? Because, usually, by the time the book comes out, it’s something that most academics have been looking at for a long, long time. What first piqued your interest in the subject matter of decision-making theory and, specifically, the paradox of choice?

Barry: Sure. I spent many years, 20 years, writing sort of critiques of our worship of the free market as the solution to all of our problems. I won’t bore you with the details of my concerns about, you know, I think markets have their place, but that place isn’t every place. And the stumbling block that I kept running into was the argument that even if markets have problems, they cater to human freedom. No one is telling you what to do. No one is telling you what to buy. And even if bad stuff sometimes happens, it’s worth it because it’s the highest sort of realization of human freedom. And that stopped me. Freedom of choice is something, at least in the U.S., we deeply value.

And then the study came out, Sheena Iyengar was the first author of it, the famous jam study that showed that, yeah, choice is good, but when you give people too many options, they’re not free, they’re paralyzed. And that was the…So this was the miss-the-piece that I was always missing in the argument I tried to make that markets should have limits in their scope of application to human social life. So, that’s the longer answer maybe than you wanted.

Jeff: It’s fascinating.

Barry: And that study really changed the course of my career. You know, I’ve done very little research myself on the choice overload problem. And the book I wrote is mostly a discussion of research that other people have done. And I’m quite happy because they’ve done it.

Jeff: Sure. But at the end of the day…I don’t wanna ascribe motives that you don’t have, but for me, as I was reading the book and I was thinking about the applications through, or re-reading it in my case, it was really just this ongoing concept that the simpler something seems, the easier it is, the righter it feels to me. And the converse is also true that complexity equals wrong and we get paralyzed by choice over and over again. So, because my audience is influence professionals, I’m constantly trying to pitch that idea. And you’ve given us some good science behind it. How do we make it easy for people to do what they wanna do in the first place? And I think if more companies did that, they’d probably be more successful anyway.

Barry: That’s certainly what I think.

Jeff: All right. Before we let you go, we’re gonna put you on the hot seat. Rapid-fire questions, rapid fire answers. You’re ready?

Barry: Yeah.

Jeff: Your very first job was what?

Barry: Turning pants inside out in the factory. You got a problem with that, Jeff?

Jeff: It just wasn’t what I was expecting, that’s all. When you were 10, you thought you would be what?

Barry: Centerfielder for the New York Yankees.

Jeff: Oh, there you go. The most beautiful place you’ve ever stood.

Barry: The North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

Jeff: A book that you read early in life that made a profound impact on the rest of your life.

Barry: “Social Limits to Growth.” I mean, that wasn’t so early in my life. How early do you want?

Jeff: No, that’s fine. That’s fine. A movie you’ve seen multiple times but you can’t help it when it comes on, you have to say it again.

Barry: “The Godfather.” “The Godfather.” “The Godfather.”

Jeff: And finally, your first celebrity crush.

Barry: Oh my goodness.

Jeff: It’s all right. Your wife’s not gonna listen to this.

Barry: Well, no, my first real crush, huh? This goes back a long…I don’t know. Elvis Presley. Elvis Presley. I was 10.

Jeff: I love it. I love it. I love it. His name is Dr. Barry Schwartz. The book is “The Paradox of Choice.” If you’re an influence professional, just the highest recommendation. Not only is it a fascinating and sort of mind-bending read, but it’s a fun read. It’s easy to read. The examples, you’re gonna see so much of yourself when you read this book, and ultimately, it’s gonna help you to serve your customers better, which is what we all wanna do anyway. Dr. Barry Schwartz, thanks so very much for being on the program.

Barry: Thank you, Jeff. And thanks for your very kind words.

Jeff: Well, there you have it, Murph. I knew I was gonna enjoy that interview since the first time that I read “The Paradox of Choice” some time ago, but I know we really wanted to get Barry Schwartz on the show. Not disappointed, huh?

Paul: No, not disappointed at all. As a matter of fact, he confirmed a lot of what we already talk about on the podcast, a lot of things that you talk about. And one of the things that I caught was that the person with the passion is the person who wins.

Jeff: Yeah. Yeah. That’s something we have looked at here, but we got some science behind it more and more. And as he mentioned, we should see more of that coming out. But there is that idea that follow the passion, the person who feels strongly about it gets to make that decision. And it’s a good tip, I think, for sales professionals. So, how did you identify, Murph, in the conversation? You heard my mind, I’m a satisficer all the way. Do you put yourself more in the satisficer camp or the maximizer camp?

Paul: So, define that for me again because I wasn’t fully clear. So, what’s a satisficer versus a maximizer?

Jeff: Sure. So, the maximizer is the person who says, “I want what I want and I want it right.” And so, they’ll do a lot of research. They’ll look at all of their options in order to make sure that they’re getting only the best option. So, they have a very high bar for how they make their decision. A satisficer is going to look at it and say, “I know what’s important to me, but I’ve got other things to do with my life. So, I’m just gonna shop until I find something that checks the right boxes and then I’m gonna pack it up because, again, I have other things to do.” So, when a maximizer is shopping for a television, they’ll go to Best Buy, and Costco, and online, they’ll read the CNET reviews, they will make sure they’re getting exactly the right television for them and make sure that they’re getting at the lowest possible price. Whereas for me, as a satisficer, it’s, “Hey, Black Friday at Best Buy. Cool.” And I walk in and say, “So, you got this television over you here for this price? Great. I’ll take it.” Because, for me, I know I’m not gonna be chasing down all of the details, it’s lost on me.

Paul: Well, in some of what I heard, and correct me if I’m wrong, is that a satisficer is happy with what they have, so they’re not likely to return it, whereas a maximizer, if they’re not happy, they’re gonna do returns.

Jeff: Yeah. And I think from Dr. Schwartz’s position, is that maximizer always has that doubt, “Did I really get the best?” That’s the thing about the maximizer. They want the best and they want only the best. And so, even when they buy something, they like the idea of being able to return something, but it causes them to be at times less satisfied because they know that maybe there’s still something better out there.

Paul: Then I’m a smaximizer because I hate to return things, but I’m gonna go do the research and be specific about what it is that I want. So, I don’t know if there’s a middle ground there, but if there is, I’m a smaximizer.

Jeff: All right. I will accept that. Now we’ve got to get Barry Schwartz back on the line to let him know he missed one.

Paul: There’s a third customer.

Jeff: The smaximizer. I love it. I love it. Yeah. I also love the idea that how much we rely on social proof will depend largely on whether we are a maximizer or satisficer. Maximizers tend to be much more influenced in social proof then satisficers. For me, like if I’m gonna ask for somebody’s opinion…Murph, you may be the same way, but if I’m gonna ask for someone’s opinion, I am very, very selective about who I’m gonna ask in the first place. Like, I’m not the person who’s gonna say on Facebook, “Hey, everybody, who knows of a good Indian restaurant and whatever?” I’m not gonna do that. I will look for people that I think get me, understand me, or share my values in some way, but I don’t want a plethora of opinions, I want limited opinions from people that I know I can trust.

Paul: Yeah. Fully agree with you on that one because, otherwise, if they don’t know you, then who knows what you’re gonna get.

Jeff: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Fascinating. Fascinating conversation. And I just wanna make the suggestion to you, the listener, that you do have a responsibility here. You do have an opportunity here for your customer and that is to…It’s not all about just removing choices, but let’s suppose that your customer offers a wide variety of choices such that it could introduce cognitive strain to your customer. You could do your customer a huge favor by letting them know, “When I get to know you, if I can get to know you just a little bit, I’m gonna make this so much easier because I’m not gonna show you something that I know won’t work for you.” But it all starts from them.

And I mentioned this phrase earlier, that concept of a hierarchy of values. Everyone has a hierarchy of values, the things that matter most. We need to start there because if I can identify for a customer, what are the three things that matter most to that customer? Now if I’m getting down to a feature that the customer might look at it and say, “Boy, you know what? I will rather have something that has this.” And I can look at it and say, “Okay, we can show you something that it has this, but you’re gonna miss out on one of the big three.” It’s so much easier for the customer if they are thinking in terms of what really matters.

Now, another way to do that in sales is to separate and help your customer to differentiate the must-haves from the nice-to-haves. So, we all started with these must-have lists, but then sometimes we think of things that are just nice to have. We just refer to them as must-haves. If we can really limit the must-haves to just a few things, then even if we have a wide variety of products in our catalog that we can sell, we’re able to sell according to what matters most to that customer.

But the last thing I’ll say is this. If you are a salesperson and you have a wide variety of products to sell in your catalog, and so you show them all, please, stop. You are doing your customers zero favors by going out of your way to show them everything that they have. This is the idea that…This is the concept, the shoe salesperson that Barry Schwartz was talking about was absolutely right. Three, you can bring out three pairs of shoes. As soon as you bring out the fourth, you introduce that cognitive strain and you do no one any favors at all.

Ultimately, as we always say here on “The Buyer’s Mind,” our job is to make it easy for people to do what they want to do anyway. So, let’s get into that habit of simplifying those choices so that they can enjoy this process all along. That’s what we do. We make it easy for people to do what they want to do anyway. That is when we get to change their world.


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About the Author: Jeff Shore

Jeff Shore

Jeff Shore is the Founder and President of Shore Consulting, Inc. a company specializing in field-tested and proven consumer psychology-based sales training programs.

Jeff is a top-selling author, host of the popular sales podcast, The Buyer’s Mind, and an award-winning keynote speaker. He holds the prestigious Certified Speaking Professional designation from the National Speakers Association and is a member of the NSA’s exclusive Million Dollar Speaker’s Group.

With over 30 years of real-world, frontline experience, Jeff’s advanced sales strategies spring from extensive research into the psychology of buying and selling. He teaches salespeople how to climb inside the mind of their customers to sell the way their buyers want to buy. Using these modern, game-changing techniques, Jeff Shore’s clients generated over $30 billion in sales last year.