Make the Sale: How to Prime Prospects to Say “Yes"

John Greene


12 min

Inside this article:

Step 1: Identify the “Big YES”

Step 2: Build Your Ladder

Step 3: Get the First “Yes”

Step 4: Make the Big Ask

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 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.

One of Cialdini’s six key principles of persuasion is “commitment and consistency.”

This principle states that we 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referred to as micro-commitments), we’re more likely to make a larger commitment later on – one which we may not have originally made.

For example, in one of Cialdini’s case studies, people were asked to put a large sign reading, “Drive Safely,” on their lawn and, unsurprisingly, 83% of the people refused. However, when another group was asked to do the same thing, a full 76% complied. And there was only one small difference between the 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 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” after saying yes to the “small ask.”

It’s an incredibly effective method for sales reps to influence other people’s behaviors, and you can use it to prime prospects and increase your sales success.

The way to build this commitment and consistency is through the “Yes” ladder.

The “Yes” ladder is a persuasion method aimed at getting your prospect to say yes to a specific question or situation (making a sale, setting up a meeting, etc.). 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 showed 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 salesman, he goes door-to-door, marketing free estimates on windows and roofing.

Here's how he collects information to get prospects using the “Yes” ladder:

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

Customer: “Yes”

Salesman: “Cool. And we’re still in Dorchester?

Customer: “Yes.”

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

Customer: “Yes.”

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

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

Customer: “Yes, 978-555-6652.”

Salesman: “Okay great. Like I said, we’ll have guys in the area all day tomorrow giving free estimates. You’ll be here around the same time tomorrow, or 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.

Step 1: Identify the “Big YES”

Your “Big Yes” is the ultimate goal of your interaction with a prospect. This may be getting the prospect to purchase something, receive an estimate, or schedule an appointment in the near future. Whatever it is, make sure you identify your ultimate goal from the outset. That way you can…

Step 2: Build Your Ladder

Once you know your “Big Yes”, you can work backward and start building the rungs of the ladder. From the earlier example, the “Big Yes” for the door-to-door marketers was to get the prospect to schedule a free estimate.

They built their yes ladder by asking the prospect relevant questions about their address, the number of windows on their home, their phone number, etc. Each “yes” built compliance and helped earn a little more trust from their prospect.

Remember the study we mentioned before? It also found 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."

Step 3: Get the First “Yes”

Start with something you know they’ll say “yes” to. The easiest way to find a good first yes is to identify something you already know the answer to. For example, “Your office is located over in Pittsburgh, right?” Then from there, continue through your pre-planned “Yes” ladder structure, slowly escalating up to your Big Yes.

Step 4: Make the Big Ask

This is the objective of the whole process. With each “Yes” question, push the envelope a little more and “climb” your way up the ladder to the big ask. If you structured your questions correctly and have gotten at least 4-5 yes responses in a row, you can go for the big ask.

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

Have you ever used the “Yes” ladder technique? Have you seen other ways in which people use micro-commitments to improve response? Tweet us or let us know in the comments below!

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