In sales conversations, the winning number is three

Do you remember the old television commercial with the boy asking a wise owl how many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop? The owl takes the Tootsie Pop, and begins to lick, “One, two, three and crunch…” the owl bites into the candy and confidently proclaims it takes three licks to get to the center.

Many marketers and salespeople face a similar conundrum with respect to positioning a solution, wondering what exactly is the very best number of claims you should share with a potential prospect to maximize the impact of your story?

Recent research suggests the magic number is…you guessed it, three.

In an article titled, “When Three Charms, but Four Alarms: Identifying the Optimal Number of Claims in a Persuasion Setting,” Kurt Carlson from Georgetown University and Suzanne Shu from UCLA took a close look at this question. Their conclusion: “In settings where customers know that the message source has a persuasion motive, the optimal number of positive claims is three.”

In fact, Carlson and Shu say that once you share your fourth claim (or more), you cross a tipping point where you begin undermining your case, stating that “once the sufficiency of three claims is breached the full set of claims is seen with skepticism, regardless of how many claims are presented.”

The bottom line: you can maximize the power of your sales message by sharing no more than three claims to support your story.

Want to learn more about how to create selling stories that get results? Then check out our video here.


Carlson, Kurt A. and Shu, Suzanne B., When Three Charms But Four Alarms: Identifying the Optimal Number of Claims in Persuasion Settings (June 10, 2013). Available at SSRN: or


Tim Riesterer

Tim Riesterer

Chief Strategy Officer

Tim Riesterer has dedicated his career to improving the conversations marketers and salespeople have with prospects and customers. His books, “Customer Message Management”, “Conversations that Win the Complex Sale”, “Three Value Conversations”, and "The Expansion Sale", focus on improving market-ready messages and tools that marketers and salespeople can use to win more deals. As chief strategy and research officer for Corporate Visions, he sets the direction and develops products for this leading marketing and sales messaging, content and training company.

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