Door in the face

Ask for a big thing, expecting to be turned down. Then ask for a small thing immediately afterwards. Guilt at turning you down makes users more likely to agree to the small thing.

Examples

  • LegalZoom helps business owners fill in the forms required to set up a business. Although they advertise the cost of an LLC filing as “from $99” there are plenty of upsell opportunities within the flow. One is where LegalZoom offer to act as the company’s registered agent, for an annual fee of $160 (sensibly charged at a later date to avoid sticker shock). If you decide to forego this high-cost service, the next page of the form offers a notification service that reminds you of state compliance dates, for just $69/year. That service now seems reasonable in comparison to the earlier more expensive service.

Principles

Door in the face works because you control the anchor – the initial unreasonable request – and so you control the level of contrast between that and the reasonable request that follows it. Individuals aren’t very good at making absolute decisions, but they can be pretty good at making comparative decisions. In comparison to the unreasonable request, the reasonable request is relatively small. It’s also possible that individuals feel that by backing down, you have made a compromise on their behalf. As such, they now feel compelled to reciprocate for your compromise by agreeing to the smaller request.

How to use door-in-the-face

  • Ask for a big commitment first, then request a smaller thing if people refuse.
  • Make it clear that you know it’s unusual/uncomfortable to ask for the big thing. By acknowledging this, you make it harder for people to refuse the smaller thing based on discomfort.
  • Invoke reciprocity by showing that you’ve made a compromise in asking for the smaller thing.
  • Make sure that you provide a clear funnel into the door-in-the-face process. When you present the unreasonable request, provide a “no thanks” button that draws people in to presentation of the reasonable request.
  • Just occasionally people will actually agree to your initial unreasonable request. Be sure that this doesn’t catch you off guard, and that you have a way for people to actually complete the door-in-the-face process.
  • Guilt most affects in-group members, so make it clear how much like your visitors you are (and what positive traits they have) as you make your request.

Blog posts about this pattern