Just make a decision will you!!! Overcoming ‘decision quicksand’ to get the sale

You’ve been dealing with this customer for what seems like an eternity. On paper, the decision is an easy one, some might say trivial, and yet they can’t seem to make up their mind.

You are going around in circles, with them demanding more and more information and as a consequence, they are getting more and more confused. Oh no! You are in “decision quicksand”!

When you make something unexpectedly difficult, you get quicksand

In their study Decision Quicksand: How Trivial Choices Suck Us In (2012) Aner Sela and Jonah Berger examined why we can get mired in the decision-making process. In short, the study looked at the association between difficulty and importance and found that if a choice was unexpectedly difficult, then its perceived importance increased.

What had been trivial has now been elevated into a decision worthy of time and effort: And what better way of churning up time and effort than seeking out more options, sadly taking us further away from being able to make a choice.

Using quicksand in your business

You can use quicksand in two ways in your business.

Strategy 1. Intentionally make it hard

If you want to increase the perceived importance of a choice, make it more difficult. Provide more options; use complicated language, complex processes and protracted explanations. In Daniel Kahneman’s language, you will be engaging “System 2” thinking which tends to interrupt an otherwise low engagement decision. Why would you want to? To force consideration of your product when you are not the preferred incumbent.

A word of warning though, an unimportant decision that is difficult might increase the time involved but it will likely decrease satisfaction. Makes sense doesn’t it? We end up resenting being stuck on something that we think we should have easily dealt with. For those who monitor customer satisfaction, it may be worth looking at how your customers perceive difficulty relative to importance because where effort is greater than reward, satisfaction will suffer.

Strategy 2. Simplify

More commonly, you will want to make the decision process for your customer as easy as possible: Fewer options, simple language, easy to follow processes and straight forward explanations. Here “System 1” thinking will be most likely ruling the roost, meaning your customer will be on “auto pilot” and go with the flow. Your job of course is to set up the flow!

Getting out of quicksand

So what do you do with the customer that is stuck in decision quicksand? Go back to the basics of what they first talked about and why they contacted you. Fight their urge to get more information by concentrating on framing their decision using simple pros and cons. Something along the lines of:

“Let’s go back to when you first walked in. As I see it you have two choices in what we’ve talked about, Product A or Product B. Now Product A has features x, y and z whereas Product B has features w, x and y. From what you’ve described to me, Product B is really what you are looking for. Does that seem right? Okay. That is a great decision, let’s sort out (next steps)”.

Knowing that decision quicksand can affect us all should help you come to terms with customers who seem to be frustrating you on purpose. Take the view that they are not being deliberately difficult and instead look at how you set up the decision for them. After all, you’re the choice architect here!

Bri Williams runs People Patterns Pty Ltd, a consultancy specialising in the application of behavioural economics to everyday business issues. Bri is a presenter, consultant and author who you can find out more about at www.peoplepatterns.com.au, [email protected] or by following on Twitter @peoplepatterns. Bri’s book, “22 Minutes to a Better Business”, about how behavioural economics can help you tackle everyday business issues, is available through the Blurb bookstore.


Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments