Posted by Dr. Pete
You’d have a hard time telling by my posts (let alone my Twitter stream), but I’m supposedly a psychologist or something, so I thought it was time I did a little psychologizing here on the Moz blog. One thing I like to think I’ve learned over the years is the subtle art of persuasion – not the manipulative, why-won’t-my-clients-be-reasonable variety, but the art of communicating in a way that helps promote win-win situations with clients, prospects, and partners.
This post is the first in what could be a series (if you like it) about the art of professional persuasion. Whether it’s your boss, client, prospect, co-worker, or website visitor, your success often hinges on the ability to communicate persuasively.
The Yes/No Question
Every web designer has a version of this story – you work your little fingers to the bone to come up with the perfect design, research your client’s color preferences, industry competitors, and TiVo playlist, finally present your masterpiece to them, and then gasp in horror as they rip your baby to shreds like a pack of wolves on tainted Slim Fast. What happened? Whether you realize it or not, you forced your client against a wall by asking them a Yes/No question:
On the one-hand, you have your design, and on the other hand, nothing. Your client can only approve or disapprove. If they approve, great; if they don’t, then they start to do what all people do: rationalize their decisions. On a gut level, there’s something about your design they don’t like, so they look for things to pick apart. You (naturally) get defensive, and it’s all downhill from there.
The Yes/Yes Question
So, what happens if you give your client two options? You’ve turned a Yes/No question into an A/B question. Instead of "Do you like it?", you’ve made the shift to "Which one do you like?":
Not to over-illustrate what may be obvious by now, but you’ve just asked a Yes/Yes question, and the answer to a Yes/Yes question is almost always "Yes".
Isn’t That A Lot of Work?
I know what you’re thinking, because I thought it for years: isn’t creating two designs a lot of work? Pardon a tangent, but I should say that design is just one example – you can apply this principle to proposals of just about any kind (except maybe the marriage kind – "Will you marry me? How about Chad?").
A designer friend finally turned me on to the secret – take the original proposal and make some modifications you can live with it. At first, I have to admit that this seemed like cheating. If you just tweak a couple of colors and fonts and act like it’s a whole new proposal, isn’t that a bit shady? Well, no, and here’s why. First, what amounts to "just tweaking" for you only seems easy because you’re a professional. Second, every one of us, in the process of creating anything, inevitably makes choices along the way. Many times, we make a decision because we have to, but we could’ve gone more than one direction. Revisit those decision points, and use them to generate a second proposal. Ultimately, you’ll be able to present people with options that aren’t too difficult to create and still maintain your integrity.
What if They Mix and Match?
There’s another worry people have with this approach, and it is justified in some cases, if a bit overblown. What if you present two options, and your target audience mixes and matches in ways you can’t live with? This could be true for designs as well as sales proposals. The complicated answer is that you eventually learn to engineer your choices in a way that makes mixing-and-matching a bit more palatable.
The short answer is: So what? Would you rather have a discussion about how Element B doesn’t fit Site A and have to get creative or have your client tell you why Site A sucks and they don’t want to pay you? If you can get your client to mix-and-match, then at least they’re telling you what they like. Hearing a laundry list of what someone doesn’t like is useless – hearing what they do like gives you options.
How Much Choice Is Too Much?
So, by my own logic, if two choices are good, how about three or more? More is always better, right?
Sorry, got carried away for a minute there. Unfortunately, more choices won’t necessarily yield more excitement for your target audience. Recent research certainly suggests that there’s such a thing as too many choices. In most cases, 2 options will be sufficient – in some situations, especially where a lot of money is involved or the risk of a bad decision is high, 3 or more choices may be required.
Let your own decision path be your guide. If you naturally encounter points along the creative path where you can’t decide which of two options is better, that may be a good place to diverge and create a second version of whatever you’re working on. If this happens frequently, then 3-4 versions may be natural. Just don’t invent versions for the sake of bombarding your audience with options – the goal is to give people a choice, not overwhelm them to the point of decision paralysis.
A Few More Examples
I’ve used the website design example to illustrate this concept, but there are many more cases where I think Yes/Yes questions can help you persuade someone in a win/win way:
- Sales proposals – Try 2 package options or pricing levels
- Boss proposals – Bosses love choices – 2+ options boost the odds you’ll get 1 of them
- Copywriting – Provide a long and short version (if applicable)
- Logo design – Consider color options to allow for client preference
- Christmas lists – I would like a (1) Upscaling DVD player or (2) HD TiVo – it’s your choice
Of course, never present an option you can’t live with. The whole point is to create a choice that helps you get an end result that’s positive for both you and the client/boss/etc. Get creative, and you’ll be amazed how often a little extra work up front can save you hours of headaches down the road.
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