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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