Less is More: Meet Customers’ Attention and Retention Spans

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This week, I ran into a number of different situations where the same rule concerning “Audience-driven” needed to be mastered: “Less is More” when it comes to customers’ attention and retention.

  • Starbucks just announced (Fortune, March 1, 2018) that it was removing 200 items or 30% of the types of merchandise that it sells in front of the counter. The goal they say is to simplify operations, declutter shelves and not saddle customers with decisions between products they like and those they don’t like.  Two other retailers, Target and Kohl similarly are shrinking the number of sizes, flavors and brands on its shelves.

Years ago, I heard that Macy’s once offered over 24 different irons; yet the top four accounted for 80% of sales. Also, a study was done in which youngsters stood behind a “traditional” street lemonade stand – selling home-made jams.  The study found that passers-by were more likely to make purchases when the selection was halved from six to three.

In other words, to stay profitable, companies need to provide a manageable amount of choices – from both the perspective of operations and customer selection. As former P&G CEO,A.G. Lafley  notes: you’re wasting their time”.

  • Two companies sought help with presentations where the same rule had to be driven home. One was raising millions of dollars from investors for early stage investors. He spent over half of the presentation discussing a new (and exciting) new model for scaling an early stage fund in many different ways; only then did he discuss the specific venture investors could buy into; by then people were lost. From an audience perspective, the presentation focus should have been reversed: here’s a great venture opportunity and the extra benefit of working with us, is that it’s offered by a company with a model that can grow quickly to fund many other ventures.

The second CEO was presenting his company to a group so they could speak about it with greater insight and expertise and provide referrals. We decided that the focus has to be on its unique software consulting strategy that has delivered incredible success for many years. The initial draft followed the traditional presentation mistakes: 6-8 bullets on each slide (the best slides are “5+/2”, with 3-5 being best) and a focus on process, (the black box people buy), and not enough on proof of success: case studies with great ROI.  Less is more: When you hear a company had an IRR over 20 years of 23.2%, you’re hooked on wanting to learn more and have something easy to share with other people who might now buy from a company.

  • A billion dollar company is making a pitch and the presentation is focused on all the details of the special product they offer. Our client, who’s mastered our ADAP formula, realized that it will never maintain people’s attention. When given a chance, he proposed a different frame-work, explaining how social/technology trends have changed, are changing and will change, and then how some key elements of the company will drive future trends. As Antoine De Saint-Exupery said hundreds of years ago: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” 

The bankers got it and the result is a vastly superior presentation with supportive details.

In sum, use the ADAP formula: focus on the needs and wants of audience members to pay attention, absorb information and retain it so they can share it with others. Then you, too, can achieve “presentation excellence!” and close more deals and advance your career.