How to Get People (Including Yourself!) to Make Big Commitments

We’ve been to the same furniture store four times and still haven’t bought a couch. Every visit we leave feeling overwhelmed with our choices. As the salesperson learns more about us, she presents more options—bedding, curtains and pillows to match! In her passion to present everything we might need, she’s driving us further and further away.

One of my mentors, a retired partner at Accenture, had a memorable philosophy about selling: start small, scale fast. “Start by asking for a relatively small commitment,” he advised. “When the client experiences an ROI, it gets easier and easier to ask for bigger commitments.”

I think one of the reasons this can be hard to put into practice is that we can see the big picture and the potential—the value the other party will get out of what we have to offer—so it’s only natural to want them to experience it all, right then and there. Like the furniture salesperson, though, we may be overwhelming them with all that enthusiasm.

growing plants on money

Essentially, my mentor is reminding us that momentum begets momentum. In most cases, gaining a big commitment takes time, and the biggest value you can offer someone is meeting them where they are today and carving out a journey to the future. Once you establish credibility and get traction for the small commitments, they become stepping stones to the larger ones.

Here are three steps you can take to start small and scale fast:

  1. Focus on feasibility. Rather than asking what should or could be done, ask what can be done. We have a client right now that should be investing significant time and money in training their staff on presentation skills. The problem is that they are starting a LEAN initiative and their project load is up substantially. What they can do right now is give us time on the agenda at a few of their upcoming, regularly scheduled meetings to have some quick-hitting discussions about presentation skills best practices. It won’t transform anyone’s presentation skills but it builds momentum for greater involvement.
  2. Don’t overlook the emotional factor. Paul Weinstein recently made the case that the greatest deterrent to someone buying something is the risk of looking bad to others. We are social creatures who usually validate our choices in the context of responses from other human beings. Think about what you can do to reduce the decision-making risk and make that person a hero in the process.
  3. Showcase incremental results. Change experts like John Kotter suggest that generating and celebrating short-term wins build credibility to sustain momentum. This can be done by collecting data that shows improved results or by interviewing the people trying to change so that they can share their personal/emotional benefits of progress.

Trust in the process. When you do, the small commitments will come, and the bigger ones will follow.

And here’s the added bonus: Starting small and scaling fast works just as well for the commitments you need to make yourself.

What’s one commitment you need to get or make where you could apply these steps?



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  • Stacey Steen
    January 21, 2015 at 8:56 pm

    I believe this statement is one of the wisest sales pearls there is; “In most cases, gaining a big commitment takes time, and the biggest value you can offer someone is meeting them where they are today and carving out a journey to the future.” –Matt Norman One time I had a client that wanted a partnership with a prestigious hospital. Because I cared for my client, I gave them my long time friend’s number- as a lead. My friend is high in the organization and holds decision making authority. The client that made the call to my friend, pitched: preview classes, programs, white papers, everything except talking about the one thing he could relate about; me! I was the only talking point he had. Yet, I was never mentioned. Building trust and establishing relationships in the sales process usually does take many deposits before you get a grand result. We need to remember that solid relationships take time. Good luck deciding on a coach (bedding, curtains and pillows too)!

    • Matt Norman
      January 27, 2015 at 2:18 am

      Thank you, Stacey, for the vivid example of rushing the sales process with our agenda rather than paying attention to the relationship!

  • Mike Norman
    January 24, 2015 at 7:28 pm

    Matt, Since I am not engaged in selling professionally any more, I will comment on a personal application. There are three activities I have wanted to start in retirement in Florida: taking art classes, taking bridge classes, and engaging in a bible study. I have checked into all three and found the process a bit overwhelming to achieve the end result I desire. As a result, I have not started any one of the three. You have inspired me to “start small” and sign up for the first meeting of each of these activities over the next 60 days. That feels manageable to me and will get me on the path to my desired result. Thanks for the practical tips.

    • Matt Norman
      January 27, 2015 at 2:21 am

      Dad, this is such a practical example of how starting small can be the best way to build momentum toward a larger goal. Thank you!