The surprising finding: giving people more alternatives is not necessarily a good idea.
In a study by Iyengar and Lepper, two sets of participants were given the opportunity to taste jams in a gourmet food store. One group of people could sample from six flavors, while the other sampled from 24 (including the six the other group had). The result: people sampling from the smaller set were more likely to buy.
Emphatically, what I’m not saying is that ever fewer alternatives would be always good. Who would want to eat in a restaurant with only one food? No, the point is that there’s a sweet spot of alternatives: too few and too many are both detrimental. With too few alternatives, many customers will not find a product to their liking – thus reducing sales. With too many alternatives, customers suffer from choice overload and give up altogether. Of, even if they manage to pick something out from the options, they will be less satisfied with their choice (Iyengar & Lepper, 2000).
What that sweet spot is, well, that depends on who is making the decisions and in what context. For example, a single mom with two kids in a grocery store won’t have a lot of extra energy to consider 24 different jams. On the other hand, an executive building a new factory may well have a system to evaluate tens or even hundreds of locations.
Like a writer has to think about his audience, so a marketer must think of the decision makers. Are they likely to have supporting software or assistants aiding in the decision? Will they choose the product after a careful analysis, or on a whim after drinks?
I think in terms of marketing advice the research points to a clear conclusion. Whether you’re in B2C or B2B business, keep your sortiment concise enough. Too many alternatives only lead to choice overload. If your website lists all the 20 different parameters I can change about the consulting project, I’m likely to just get confused and choose the status quo: no business with you. It’s wiser to just make a compelling case for the few main project types you do; we can haggle about the niggardly details later.