If I were to approach you with a new product I’d just invented – something that you found useful but had never seen before – and asked you if you wanted to buy it, would you?
The reality, if you think through this scenario, is that you’ll have some hesitation – a lurking misgiving that you might not be able to identify the source of, but you know it’s there.
That concern you’d feel is likely tied to something consumer psychology researchers refer to as single product aversion. Single product aversion is simple enough to understand. Giving consumers only one option increases their desire to see other options. As we learn more about consumer’s desire to minimize regret post-purchase, we see how it stands to reason that without an option, consumers won’t be able to tell themselves they got a good deal.
My favorite story to underscore this is the famous bread machine story from William-Sonoma:
Consider a classic example of this “single-option aversion” phenomenon. A few years ago, Williams-Sonoma couldn’t get customers to buy their $279 breadmaker. They cleverly added a spiffier-and-slicker deluxe breadmaker model to their product line for $429. While Williams-Sonoma didn’t sell many of the new and expensive breadmaker, they doubled sales of the original and less-expensive model.
When the $279 breadmaker was the only model available for sale, customers couldn’t tell whether the price was competitive because there was nothing to compare it to. By introducing a better product for a higher price, Williams-Sonoma provided an anchor upon which its customers could compare the two models; they naturally sided with the $279 model as an attractive alternative.
And while we understand this issue as consumers, it’s interesting how slow the B2B world has been to adopt these insights. Even though you might be selling an IT service to a manufacturer, the psychology of the transaction mimics any retail consumer decision because, like the consumer transaction, a human is making the decision and thus subject to the same psychological needs for safety and post-purchase confidence.
If you’re marketing a B2B product or service, I recommend considering how you might provide your buyer with an option, as long as you adhere to these rules:
- Two options is good, but three is likely too many. It’s one thing to give buyers a choice. It’s another to intimidate them with options.
- The buyer doesn’t get to pick the most attractive elements of the two options to fashion a third option. In cases like this, when I’m speaking with the customer who is trying to cherry pick the most attractive components of my options, I sometimes use the phrase “you can’t pick up one end of a stick”. The elements of the options are inextricably connected. If you want the lower price, you need to agree to a longer term. If you want the shorter term, you need to commit to a higher price (or press release support or whatever).
- Both options much represent a “win” for you. When I give customers options like this, I’m able to affect an air of disinterest as to which one they choose, because I win either way. Bonus point: affecting an air of disinterest helps avoid a customer from finding your pressure point during a negotiation. Nobody ever had a good negotiating outcome at a car dealership if their loved ones were out on the show floor loudly exclaiming how much they wanted that red car right there.
The insights of consumer buying behaviors can help B2B companies because just like someone buying a BMW or a bread machine, the psychology of single product aversion applies to B2B buyers as well.