I’ve long been a believer in simplifying your story and finding the 2 or 3 things that matter most, emphasizing those and leaving the rest for more interactive discussions (e.g. when responding to questions from your prospect). When I bring this up, most people generally agree that it is a good thing, but I still regularly see things like:
- Feature Listings with dozens of features that are either uncategorized or grouped into 6 or more categories
- “Company Differentiation” powerpoint charts with 7 to 10 items listed
- Benefits pages with bullet after bullet of benefits—often too many to even count
All that extra stuff may be just wasted words—and there is research to prove it. Last week I was reading a blog post on the Business 2 Community site titled “How to Sell Complexity Beyond the Customer’s Capacity to Understand“. It is a great post and it mentioned a research study that showed that (quoting from the article) “our limited short-term working memory that’s capable of remembering only 3-4 items of new information at a time.”
That stat came from a research study by Nelson Cowen title “The Magical Mystery Four: How is Working memory Capacity Limited, and Why?” Cowen basically was able to prove that the central memory systems for adults can only handle a few chunks of new information.
So what happens if we throw a lot more at them? Well, they either only remember 3 or 4 of them or, even worse, the information overload causes them to forget most, if not all of it.
So, there is scientific proof that too much detail will do more harm than good.
Are there exceptions to this? I have not found research to indicate that, but I believe that once you have someone’s attention and they have allocated space in the brain for you, then you can build on that with more detail.
This is another case for the idea of Progressive Engagement, something I blogged about in early 2013. At the time, I was recommending the approach due to short attention spans and the opportunity for distractions. But, with this additional information, you need to take the approach regardless—it reflects the way people remember.
What is progressive engagement? I think of it as telling people a little bit of information (now refined to be a maximum of 3 to 5 related things). Make it compelling. When they ask you to “tell them more”, you engage with additional detail.
This continues as long as the engagement interest is there. If it wanes, back off and revisit where you were. Rebuild interest and then continue.
Let’s face it, most technology products today are so robust and complex that it is impossible to narrow things down to only 3 to 5 things. But you have to. Find ways to group things into a higher level story—-add the details as your drill down, progressively providing more and more information. While not easy, this is not impossible.
But it requires a great positioning foundation to have clarity of what matters most and why. It also request flexibility—adapting your story based on the feedback and interests of the buyer.
So, what do you do now? Review all of your existing materials. Anywhere you see long lists, find ways to group and simplify. If you list 8 or 10 benefits or differentiators, get rid of at least half of them.
Shoot to focus on no more than 3 things, but if you need to add 1 or 2 more, don’t agonize over that. But don’t fall into the “just one more thing” trap and watch those focus items return to the long lists of the past.