Avoiding Analysis Paralysis

Have you ever fallen victim to analysis paralysis? I bet you have. Not sure what that is? Here’s an example:

You’re on the condiments isle of your local grocer looking at 30 different jars of jelly. Some say organic on the label, while others have obscene amounts of sugar. You narrow your search for the perfect jelly down to the ones that are organic, then toss out the overpriced options. Now you have 11 choices that all seem equally good—how do you decide which one to pick?

If you’re like most people, you’d get frustrated and walk away from the table without jelly because you have no way of choosing between the final 11 options. After all, why devote that much time, effort, and attention to a choice that has very little impact on your life?

The same thing happens when you’re on the pricing page for some online service and trying to decide which plan to subscribe to. Having too many options or not being able to tell the difference between them will leave you paralyzed. Not signing up today!

When our brains are forced to make too many tiny decisions, it can shut us down. This is analysis paralysis and it happens all the time. When people don’t have clear and compelling information to base decisions on they will choose not to decide, and just walk away.

“Analysis paralysis or paralysis by analysis is an anti-pattern, the state of over-analyzing (or overthinking) a situation so that a decision or action is never taken, in effect paralyzing the outcome.” – Wikipedia

According to American psychologist Herbert Simon, we make decisions in one of two ways:

  • Some of us “Satisfice.” These people select the first option that meets their need (or pick an option that seems to address the most needs).
  • Others “Maximize.” These people never settle for the available solution, but keep on looking for other, better alternatives.

Of the two groups, maximizers are the ones prone to prolonging decision-making in the hope of finding a better solution, offer, or deal, and who often suffer from analysis paralysis.

How to Avoid Paralyzing Your Users

The practical answer is quite simple. Limit the number of choices you give them. Most people can only rationally decide between 3 to 4 things at once. If you can’t narrow the choices down to 4, maybe your product offering is too complicated. If you want people to self-select a plan with no guidance from humans (or chat-bots), you need to minimize the choices you give them.

Of course there are exceptions, most often in complex B2B software and services. This explains why these companies need salespeople, to help customers analyze and decide.

Now you understand why most B2C SaaS companies only offer a few options. 😉