Make the Sale: How to Prime Prospects with the "Yes" Ladder

Will Schmidt

April 25, 2024

8 min

Table of Contents


  • Recognize the power of commitment and consistency in persuasion, as highlighted by Robert Cialdini in "Influence."
  • Utilize the "Yes" ladder technique, starting with small commitments to build towards a larger one.
  • Start conversations with easily agreeable questions to establish a pattern of agreement.
  • Strategically plan your "Yes" ladder to lead naturally to your ultimate goal, the "Big Yes."
  • Use momentum from initial agreements to confidently make your significant request.
  • Adapt and train your sales team to implement the "Yes" ladder approach tailored to their interactions for increased sales success.

People follow predictable patterns, and if you understand these patterns, you can use them to your advantage in your sales process.

As Robert Cialdini notes in his book, Influence: The Psychology for Persuasion:

“Automatic, stereotyped behavior is prevalent in much of human action, because in many cases it is the most efficient form of behaving, and in other cases it is simply necessary.”

For those who don’t know, Cialdini’s Influence is hailed as the “go-to book” on persuasion. Selling over three million copies and making Fortune’s “75 Smartest Business Books,” it’s been a game changer for the sales industry.

And in his book, Cialdini discusses the concept of the "Yes" ladder. Further, he shows how the "Yes" ladder is strengthened through key principles, specifically commitment and consistency—two vital sales traits and areas of expertise for any successful salesperson.

Commitment and Consistency

One of Cialdini’s six key principles of persuasion is “commitment and consistency." This principle states that people are driven to remain consistent in our attitudes, words, and actions.

As we make multiple small commitments, sometimes referred to as micro-commitments, we’re more likely to make a larger commitment later on. That larger commitment could be something which we may not have originally considered making.

For example, in one of Cialdini’s case studies, people were asked to put a very large sign reading, “Drive Safely,” on their lawn. Surprisingly, 83% of the people refused to install this sign in their. yard.

However, when another group was asked to do the same thing, 76% of people complied and had the sign installed. There was one small, but crucial, difference between these two groups.

Two weeks before the second group was asked to put the sign on their lawn, a volunteer worker came by their house and asked to put a three-inch sign down that read, “Be a Safe Driver.” Because it was such a small request, nearly all of them said yes.

The group was much more likely to say yes to the “big ask”—the very large "Drive Safely" sign after saying yes to the “small ask.”

This is highly applicable for sales reps who want to influence other people’s behaviors and push them towards a desired outcome or big ask. Further, you can use this to prime your "Yes" ladder, get prospects to say "Yes," and increase your sales success.

Understanding The "Yes" Ladder

Building commitment and consistency goes hand-in-hand with the "Yes" ladder. Think of the "Yes" ladder as an actual, physical ladder, and each rung you climb up is another "Yes" question you ask your prospect.

It's a methodology that's aimed at getting your prospect to say "Yes" to a specific situation or question. This could be agreeing to meet again, watching a product demo, or signing a contract.

The process starts by getting them to say yes to a series of questions that start out trivial (where they are practically guaranteed to say yes) and become less so as you ask each question. Each subsequent “yes” they respond with makes them more likely to comply with the next, bigger ask.

It doesn't even matter if the "yes" is relevant to the sale. A recent study published in the International Journal of Research in Marketing states that:

"The frequency of people’s compliance with a request can be substantially increased if the requester first gets them to agree with a series of statements unrelated to the request but selected to induce agreement.”

One of my long-time friends runs an outbound marketing office. As a salesperson, he goes door-to-door, marketing free estimates on windows and roofing. For the purpose of example we'll call him Jim.

Here's how Jim collects information to get prospects using the Yes ladder:

Jim: “This is 116 Main Street, right?”

Customer: “Yes”

Jim: “And we’re still in Dorchester?

Customer: “Yes.”

Jim: “Awesome. And you’d probably say you’ve got about 15 to 20 windows on this house, is that right?”

Customer: “Yes.”

*It goes on for a few more easy “Yes” questions*

Jim: “Okay. And your phone number, is that a 978?"

Customer: “Yes, 978-555-6652.”

Jim: “Okay great. Like I said, we’ll have people in the area all day tomorrow giving free estimates. You’ll be here around the same time tomorrow, or will sometime later in the day work better?”

Customer: “Yes, tomorrow around this time works.”

That’s a little snapshot of how the yes ladder works. It’s a powerful strategy for making prospects more comfortable with you and used to saying yes to your questions, and it can be especially helpful for new customers who are more wary of making a big purchase or commitment.

Now let’s break down how you can put it to use for your own sales strategy.

Apply the "Yes" Ladder to Your Sales Strategy

1. Identify the "Big Yes”

Your “Big Yes” is the ultimate goal of your interaction with a prospect—the desired ask and outcome. For example, most salespeople are looking to schedule the next call, book future meetings, set a demo, or even get a contract signed.

Whatever the "Big Yes" is, it's crucial you know what it is before you enter into a conversation with your prospects. After all, you can't steer the ship to the right destination if you have no idea where you're supposed to go.

Consider implementing exercises in your sales training that encourage reps to think through what their "Big Yes" will be for specific calls. This will most likely be different for Sales Development Representatives and Account Executives based on their roles and responsibilities.

2. Build Your Ladder

Once you know your “Big Yes”, you can work backward and start building the rungs of the "Yes" ladder. If we look back at our example of Jim, the door-to-door salesperson, his "Big Yes" was to get the prospect to schedule a free estimate.

His "Yes" ladder was built by asking prospects relevant questions about their address, the number of windows on their home, their phone number, and what the best time of day to come by is. Each consecutive "Yes" built compliance and helped Jim earn more trust from his prospect.

Let's also revisit the study from the International Journal of Research in Marketing once more. It stats that:

"Mere agreement subtly causes respondents to view the presenter of the statements as similar to themselves, which in turn increases the frequency compliance with a request from that same person."

3. Get the First “Yes”

The key to a successful "Yes" ladder is momentum. You generate momentum by getting your prospect to answer "Yes" to a question, so start with something you're confident they'll say "Yes" to.

During your prospect research, you'll be able to find something that works well here. For example, you could focus on where their office is: "Your office is in Pittsburgh, right?"

From that very first "Yes," continue climbing the rungs of your "Yes" ladder until your face-to-face with your "Big Yes." Then, great ready to make the ask.

4. Make the Big Ask

This is the final rung on your "Yes" ladder—once you cross this threshold you've made it. Don't put undue pressure on this question though. Treat it like you would any of your other "Yes" questions.

Be straight, confident, and clear. Ask your prospect to book that next meeting, schedule a demo, or sign the contract you're about to send over. Ride the wave of momentum you've created to the finish line.

What Will Your "Yes" Ladder Look Like?

Whether you’re selling smartphones for Apple or new products for a startup, the “Yes” ladder is a powerful way to build trust with your prospect and make the sale. By following the steps above, you can build your “Yes” ladder, earn more micro-commitments, and ultimately get more "Yes" answers on your questions.

Dedicate the necessary time and training with your team to build the right "Yes" ladders, because they're often unique to each rep and prospect. Then, do some mock calls with your reps to ensure they're nailing the cadence with confidence.

If you're looking for even more resources for your sales team, don't forget to check out our entire blog. And download our eBook Outbound Sales: 10 Strategies to Close More Deals.

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