SellSmart: The Commitment Principle

This is part 1 of a mini-series about selling more effectively. Let me know if you like it.

Key point: Once we make a choice, we develop personal and interpersonal pressure to perform consistently with that commitment.

Research: Festinger, 1957; Knox & Inkster, 1968; Regan & Kilduff, 1988 and more.

Consider this example (Moriarty 1975) where researchers placed a towel with some personal valuables (including a radio) on a crowded beach. The ‘owner’ would leave for a swim. An accomplice ‘steals’ the radio and runs off. Only 20% of the time would the surrounding bathers even attempt to interfere. But when the surrounding bathers were asked (by a perfect stranger) to keep an eye out for their stuff, 95% of them became vigilantes – to the point of physically restraining the ‘thief’.

This perfectly illustrates the power of the commitment principle.

But does it apply to you?

Think of how people would feel before placing your bet on the GF winner. You would weigh up the options, evaluate everything, find reasons to go either way. But as soon as you have placed your bet, things change. Afterwards people are absolutely sure that they have made the right choice. (All of this backed by extensive research related to cognitive dissonance that I won’t bore you with.)

Our lives are actually largely dictated by our habits, as we go about driving the same route, wearing the same brands and ordering the same coffee at the same shop. It is a simple but necessary coping mechanism given the millions of stimuli we have to process every day.

How to apply to retail sales: Get the customer to verbally or physically ‘commit’ to own/buy/try your offer.

Many retailers already apply this.

  • The pet shop that encourages you to take the puppy home for the weekend knows it is not coming back.
  • The toy shop that allows the kids to play with the toys knows it is as good as sold. (Th puppy dog close.)
  • The car dealer that encourages you to go for a test drive.

You can apply it similarly:

  • Allow customers to sample…
  • Encourage them to try things on…
  • Ask them to imagine owing it…
  • Ask them how much they like it. (Not IF they like it.)
  • Ask them where they would put it in their lounge…
  • Tell them it suits them…
  • A restaurant can ask customers who are making bookings if they would please call to cancel if something came up. (Wait for the actual confirmation. Thank them.) This confirmation significantly reduces no-shows.

Whilst there are many such techniques that are based on deep research, the challenge is always to make the application practical and simple. We find that sales people can immediately identify with this particular technique based on their intuitive understanding of customer behaviour. But once they understand WHY a certain technique works, and they get to develop their own versions of it, the skill becomes more sticky, which = dollars.

(The above explanation has been adapted from on Sell$mart – The Applied Psychology of Shopfloor Sales.)

Have fun.


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