A Science-Backed Sales Presentation Technique That Proves Less Is More

David Hoffeld




Have you ever thought about what makes a sales presentation effective? Why does one increase the likelihood of the sale, while another reduces the probability of the purchase?

There are many scientific studies that have decoded how the brain determines if a presentation is engaging and persuasive or confusing and uninspiring. Once you begin applying this science, you will be equipped to present in ways that will arouse buying behaviors.

Here's one science-backed sales presentation strategy that will help you effectively convey your ideas and amplify buyer receptiveness.

Your Brain on Options

Our minds can perform incredible feats, but they also have limited cognitive resources. Research across a variety of scientific disciplines, such as neuroscience and cognitive psychology, have proven the brain can only process a small amount of information at any given time. And once the brain’s threshold is surpassed, its capacity to cognitively grasp information is severely diminished.

When too many options are presented to the brain it has trouble making a buying decision, which drives down sales. Social scientists Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper demonstrated this in a well-known experiment they conducted at an upscale grocery store in Menlo Park, California. The researchers set up a tasting booth that allowed consumers to sample an assortment of jams. The first week, 24 different jams were available for patrons to taste. Despite many people trying the jams, only 3% purchased any.

The following week, the researchers went back to the store, but this time they offered only six jams for the shoppers to taste. Sales skyrocketed by 900%! The conclusion: limiting the amount of selections boosts buying behaviors.

Why is this the case? It does not take much at all for the brain to become overwhelmed when evaluating numerous products, even those as simple as jam. When the brain reaches its cognitive limits, it becomes stunned and confused. This will cause buyers either to refuse to make a buying decision or, if they do purchase, to be plagued with doubt over whether they made the right decision.

Here's another example. Some enlightening research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology analyzed what influenced the participation of nearly 800,000 employees in their company-sponsored 401(k) plans. The study disclosed that when a company provided an abundance of investment options, an alarming amount of employees declined to participate in the 401(k) programs.

One company that participated in the assessment only gave its employees two mutual funds to choose to invest in. In spite of offering so few options, an impressive 75% of its employees chose to participate. Another organization, which offered its employees 59 different mutual funds to choose from had a participation rate of only 60 percent. The analysis of the overall participation rate revealed that for every 10 investment opportunities, employee participation declined by two percent.

Likewise, many salespeople hinder the effectiveness of their sales presentations by engulfing buyers in a plethora of options. They mistakenly assume that more options will help buyers make better choices. But as we’ve seen, too much information obstructs the brain’s capacity to make a decision.

Less Is More When it Comes to Sales Presentations

This presents a magnificent opportunity to better serve your buyers. When you begin to make it less cognitively demanding for their brains to perceive and evaluate the worth of your product or service, it will give you an advantage over your competitors.

So how do you do this? Only provide buyers with the information necessary for them to confidently make a buying decision. This has been shown to make such a difference in sales that even mass retailers are changing how they present products to consumers. For example, when Procter & Gamble reduced the range of skincare products at some of their retail outlets, sales of the products still on the shelves increased.

My favorite example of the difference this strategy can make is personified by a salesperson we’ll call Katie. When we met, she had been selling for her employer for more than two years, and though she was passionate about serving customers, her sales were unremarkable. She insisted to me that what her customers loved most was how many options they could choose from to customize the product to their exact needs. When I asked her to show me what she meant, she pulled out her iPad and scrolled through pictures of more than 100 different options that, to me, looked nearly identical.

“Which do you show in your presentation?” I questioned. Beaming with pride, she said, “All of them, of course.”

I was speechless. I’d been dazed by what she had shown me for just a moment; I couldn’t imagine how her customers felt having to choose from so many selections at the end of a long sales presentation.

I suggested she identify the most popular options and show only four of them. If customers needed to see more, she could remove the ones they were not interested in and replace them with other options, but never show more than four at once. Reluctantly, she agreed to try out this strategy.

What happened? She later reported that customers were pleased with the choices she presented and rarely did anyone ever need to see more than the initial four. Most telling of all was her sales, which rose by nearly 30 percent!

If you are like many of the salespeople I have trained, more and more information has likely crept into your sales presentation over time. I would encourage you to review your sales presentation and ask yourself: What can be removed? Do you share too much information?

Think through what your buyers need to be able to confidently make a buying decision. Anything more than that -- cut. Adopting this approach will increase the effectiveness of your presentation, because when it comes to the brain’s ability to process information, less really will help you sell more.

Editor's note: This is an excerpt from the book The Science of Selling and has been published here with permission.

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