Foot in the door

Gain commitment to a small thing in order to convince about a big thing.

Examples

  • Asking for an initial small favor might mean asking for only the bare minimum of information that you need to set up a relationship with someone. This could be a Zip code to allow personalization, or an e-mail address in order to save information for later. By letting visitors see the large gains they get for providing just a small piece of information, the site has placed a foot in the door, so that the door won’t be shut again. Now, when the site asks for a deeper level of involvement from its visitors, they will have seen the benefits and will be ready to reciprocate. Having already given a small piece of information will smooth their journey to full engagement with the site.

Principles

This sales technique has been used for centuries. Door-to-door salesmen would ask the owner of a house if they could at least come in to demonstrate their product, perhaps in the process leaving the owner with a cleaner floor or windows. Door-to-door fundraisers might first ask residents to sign a petition, and after the resident complied with that small request, the fundraiser would later come back and ask them to make a donation. Studies show that more people donate after agreeing to the initial petition request than if they are just asked for money. Once people see the value (or at least the lack of harm) in agreeing to a small favor, they will be more likely to commit to a larger one.

How to use foot-in-the-door

  • Make it easy for visitors to share a small piece of information with you, such as asking for a Zip code in order to customize a weather forecast or calculate local sales taxes. This reduces the barrier to later sharing larger pieces of information.
  • Escalate commitment gradually so that each individual step seems reasonable, and by the end, you’ll have a level of commitment that would have seemed totally unreasonable at the beginning.
  • If some time has passed between asking for the initial information and subsequent larger request, remind users that they already gave you the small favor. This will put them back in giving mode and make it harder for them to decline.

Blog posts about this pattern