Industry Insights

Satisfice for your small business

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Aime Cox
Founder of Studio Cotton
Aime is utterly obsessed with sharing heaps of small business and website advice that’s easy to action
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Satisfice is one of my favourite non-buzzword buzzwords. It certainly sounds like a marketing term thrown about by the latest contestant from The Apprentice, but this portmanteau of satisfy and suffice is a tenet of human decision-making, with routes in psychology and philosophy, that has been around since the mid 20th century.

In simplest terms, it means that when encountering a problem, we pick the first option that meets a minimum threshold, not necessarily the absolute best-possible solution. We are satisfied that the solution will suffice.

Steve Krug has a really clear example of satisficing in his UX book ‘Don’t Make Me Think’; I’m recalling this one from memory so I might be a bit off (sorry Steve). Say you need a needle to sew a button on your shirt, and the absolute best needle for a job is a 3cm needle with 2mm eye. Now say that needle is in a hay stack with 100 other needles with different lengths and eyes. Instead of finding that perfect needle, you’d go for the first one that you judge will do the job – you have satisficed.


To Satisfice or to Maximise

When it comes to certain decisions, some of us can be Satisficers, whereas others are Maximisers – where they will only accept the best solution. In Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance the author and comedian describes being a taco maximiser, where he can’t bear eating chump tacos in a new city knowing a better option is available – a decision when most people would satisfice.

Purchasing a car is probably one of the most Satisficer/Maximiser split decisions. I personally am happy to find a car that’s in budget and looks totes cute, whereas others probably have a much more specific spec that must be met absolutely.




Cater to Satisficing Customers

Some of your customers probably picked you because they are satisficing. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, they’re spending their money and you’re providing the service they want. In order to make the most of these satisficers, you need to look at their decision process.

These customers will select the first solution that meets their minimum expectation. So it seems pretty simple – make sure your product is fit for purpose, and get it to your customers before your competitors.

Ok, that second bit can be quite hard, but there’s a lot of things you can do to improve findability.


Make sure your product or products are as easy to find as possible

In a store, make sure your products are displayed clearly and are accessible to your customers. Use visual signposts – keep products in collections or themes to immediately let the customer know that they’re in the right place.

In Krug’s book, he discusses how we navigate through a website by satisficing – choosing menu options and banners based on end objectives without much conscious thought.

Don’t use catch-all options when something more specific will do a better job. My biggest bugbear is the heading ‘What we do’, which you see on a lot of service industry websites. It’s not the fluffiest term in the world, but it’s not 100% clear if you’re going to find a list of services, or a portfolio – I’ve even found this link leading to a gallery of employee social images. If a customer is looking to see if you provide a specific service – you’re not helping them.

Generic banners are pretty darn rubbish too; they are an even buggier bear than ‘What we do’ because they often waste some the most valuable space on a website. They force the user to think, cause them to get lost, or make them spend too much time viewing the content that won’t help them reach a goal.

Keep banners as specific and few in number as possible. Think about promotions on specific products, collections or categories.


Give your customers the information they need to be sure a product meets their expectation

In real-life stores customers can grasp pretty quickly if a physical product meets their expectation.  You just need to make sure you meet the basics – clear pricing, a demo or example product, and instructions if required.

If you are a service provider meeting a client for the first time, go prepared for any question your client could ask. Again, have price lists or plans prepared, an accurate description or the service provided and suitable contact details. Make sure your brand is consistently and professionally applied throughout.

On your website, invest time in your product descriptions. They most certainly should not be an afterthought. Think about everything you’d want to know about that product if you were buying it, and then construct it in a way that is concise but engaging.

Include an accurate specification, such as size and materials for physical products or lead times and features for services.


Make the Most of Your Own Satisfices

I would bet that any of my clients reading this are realised they satisfied when they picked Cotton. And that’s cool. When you’re looking for a supplier of a service or product, you can get way more out of the transaction if you accept and plan for your own satisficing decision.



Define your minimum expectation

Write a list of everything you want your product to do in a dream scenario. For example, I recently wanted to invest in some project management tools, and part of my list looked a bit like this:

  • Manage projects with multiple tasks
  • Super easy recording of time
  • Suitable for 3-5 users
  • Can grow with my business
  • Bills in GBP
  • Has a nice interface
  • Creates branded invoices
  • Good customer service

Next I put the list into three groups, things I need now, things I will need soon, and things I just want.


Need nowNeed soonWant
Manage projects with multiple tasksCreates branded invoicesBills in GBP
Super easy recording of timeCan grow with my businessHas a nice interface
Suitable for 3-5 usersGood customer service


Then when I looked for my product, I made sure it met everything in ‘need now’, it had the potential to do everything in ‘need soon’, and did as many things in ‘want’ as possible. In the end, I couldn’t find a solution for everything I wanted in budget, but managed to find a satisficing solution by using a combination of two products.

By documenting your minimum expectation, it can ground your decision-making and make you feel more confident when compromising during a deal.


Decide how many options you’re going to consider in advance

Satisficing is about picking the first option that meets the threshold. Your threshold might be a product that is 60% perfect. Check out a few options online that you think either meet or have the potential to meet your threshold, and put in a phone call to check over any questions.

Choose 2-4 suppliers as a short list, and brief them on exactly what you want. Meet them in person, and compare the product they’re selling to the product you want to buy. If the first person has a product which is 70% perfect, that’s brilliant – and the unprepared Satisficer would stop there.

However, you’re prepared. You have met three suppliers that hit 70%, 85% and 87%. What’s more, supplier 2 introduced you to 3 extra features you didn’t even know you could get, and their office has great coffee, so they get 5 bonus points.

You now have a great new supplier of a product you like a lot more than you would have, and a supply of glorious foamy lattes.

By accepting satisficing as a natural decision-making process, we can work with the natural decision making process and get the most out of our sales interactions with customers and our suppliers.


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