The Big Picture: Keep it Simple


Recently my wife and I moved to another house in our area. It had been awhile since our last move and I was struck by the sheer amount of stuff we’ve accumulated in the intervening years on top of what we already owned. After the pain of packing and now unpacking, though, I’ve finally found religion. While I’ll never be called a minimalist, I’ve been throwing this and that out at a brisk clip. I’m in uncharted territory but I believe I’m doing the right thing.

So, why did we hold on to so much in the past? Was it laziness? Perhaps a little. However, I think more important was the fear that we’d be throwing away something valuable that we might one day need. Better to play it safe because you never know when that student directory from graduate school might come in handy, right? Memo to Jeff: There’s something called LinkedIn. You might want to try it if you need to reach someone from your graduating class.

Here’s the rub: The more stuff you hold on to, the more you give up. You give up quick access to the possessions that actually mean the most to you. You also give up time you could be spending with friends and family or playing golf or whatever else you enjoy because organizing and caring for stuff is time consuming. And I think decluttering doyenne Marie Kondo is on to something when she says, “The space in which we live should be for the person we are becoming now, not for the person we were in the past.‘‘1

What does the need to declutter have to do with selling? Here’s what I’m thinking: Decluttering is not just a good path to follow in your personal life. “Less is more‘‘ makes sense in the business world as well.

Look at Apple and Google. They’ve made listening to music on the go, internet searches, and communicating with others much simpler. And they’ve been more than amply rewarded for their efforts. Life in the 21st century is incredibly complicated and becoming more complicated by the day. If you can make something easier for people, then you have a decent chance of making good money from what you’re selling.

In sales, many of us fall prey to a checklist mentality where we have to hit a long list of points about our products, leaving no base uncovered. We think, “Someone might need to know this, so let me say it just in case.‘‘ By being so thorough, however, you’re not doing your customers any favors. In fact, you come off as someone who’s talking at your customers, rather than with them. What a wonderful way to build a relationship with your customer…NOT! A better way is to first understand what matters most to him or her and then selectively draw on your vast reserves of knowledge to address what matters most. You get the most impact not by showing off how much you know, but by correctly applying what you know to improving your customers’ lives.

And clobbering a customer over the head with too much information has another downside: It can increase a client’s doubts about your product. Too much to process. Too many risks to consider. Whatever great product benefits you’re touting may get buried in a pile of “what-if’s‘‘ swirling around in his or her head.

Make no mistake though, getting to “simple‘‘ is very hard work. As Steve Jobs once said in an interview with BusinessWeek,2 “Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it‘s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.‘‘ By aligning your communications with clients around the positioning of each of your products, you can eliminate the clutter in your message and positively influence customers’ thinking about your brand:

  • Positioning objective #1: Paint a picture of the patients or scenarios for which your brand is best. You should prompt a dentist to think, “That reminds me of the time when…‘‘
  • Positioning objective #2: Now tell the client what sets your product apart from the others and why it should matter. Does using it give him or her greater peace of mind, a more efficient practice, or something else?
  • Positioning objective #3: And then you need to provide the evidence for the point(s) of differentiation you’re claiming. Here’s where the tendency to pound away at all the super features of your brand is most tempting. Resist the temptation. Say just enough to be convincing and then stop.

Continually ask yourself: “Is what I’m saying to the client helping to achieve one of the three positioning objectives?‘‘ Then add in the need to answer practical questions that your customer might have regarding cost or how to order. Beyond that, don’t be afraid to discard the clutter in your message. It will help ensure that the most important points you’re trying to relay to your customers aren’t getting lost in the mix.


  1. Kondo M. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. New York: Ten Speed Press; 2014:226.
  2. Steve Jobs: There’s Sanity Returning. Business Week. May 25, 1998. Available at: Accessed March 26, 2018.
From MENTOR. May 2018;9(5): 8-9.

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