Make a Crazy Request, Close the Deal


tie shoeWhen salespeople hope to close a deal, they may try doing favors for the client. In fact, scientists who study human behavior know that the opposite strategy can work: if you can get someone to do YOU a small favor, they are much more likely to grant a bigger one. This has been shown to work in many situations, including one experiment in which people agreed to have a large yard sign installed after first accepting a small window decal. A favor as simple as answering a request for the time of day can lead to granting more complex favors.

In my book Brainfluence, I suggest that a salesperson should ask for a cup of coffee or glass of water, or seek a tiny trial order, as a means of opening the door to closing a sale. Now, a set of experiments performed by Warsaw professor Dariusz Dolinski shows that there’s an even more powerful favor strategy.

Get Your Foot in the Door

foot in door strategyThe concept of asking for a small, easy to grant, favor in advance of a bigger request is often called the “foot in the door” technique. Past research has shown that when the initial request is more demanding, if a subject agrees to it then the probability of fufilling the second even more difficult request is higher. Of course, more complex or time consuming initial requests are likely to have a lower initial success rate.

Dolinksi used the “favor on the street” experiment often used in past research of this type. But, instead of a merely simple request, the experimenter asked the unwitting subjects to perform a task that was simple but unusual: to tie his shoe (offering the explanation of an injured back). The unusual tasks, even though simple and quick, had the same lift on on subsequent requests as more complex ones.

So, to persuade a customer (or donor, co-worker, etc.) to do something, consider starting off with a very simple but unusual request. You could try the same “tie-my-shoe” technique used in the research, but I’ll leave it to your imagination to come up with an approach that fits the individual situation. Here are a few totally random ideas:

  • “Check the back of my jacket for a bug?”
  • “Look up my mother’s phone number on your computer?”
  • “Keep this paperweight on your desk until my next visit?”

If you buy into Dolinksi’s research, make the task as quick and simple as you can, just be sure it’s unusual or even a little startling. Then, some time after your prospect complies, ask for what you really want.

Got an idea for a simple but unusual request? Share it in a comment!

  1. Glenn says

    The task mentioned above may be new, but the overall philosophy of getting the customer to say yes early on isn’t. In fact “Get the other person saying, “Yes, Yes,” immediately was written by Dale Carnegie back in the 1930’s.

    1. Roger Dooley says

      Good point, Glenn. The mechanism is a little different. In one test, the lag between the bigger ask and the initial small one was a week or more. Carnegie’s approach seems more like momentum, while the small/big favor has to do with keeping one’s behavior congruent. Still, the same principles likely come into play, at least in part. Thanks for bringing Dale Carnegie into the mix, he was way ahead of his time and his stuff is as valid now as it was then.


  2. Guy says

    I’d like to hear some ideas for types of favors to request over the phone. What kind of favors can you ask of the prospect on the other end of the line that would be a foot in the door to a bigger close?

    1. IncrediBILL says

      Something I use all the time is to get people to go places on the web to look at things or do things like fill out a survey or answer a poll. Basically, show them stuff they’re interested in, get them talking about it, it can easily lull them into a mood to open their wallet.

      Sometimes I’ve even taken people to my competitors sites! “Do me a favor and go to” – If you have the intestinal fortitude to do such as thing, do it in an educational way explaining the differences, pros and cons of their approach or product. Don’t trash talk the competitor as that’s a turn off, assist in educating the buyer which often can close the deal.

      1. Roger Dooley says

        Great approach, IncrediBILL – perfect for use over the phone, but might even work as a preliminary email. “Before we talk, please do me a favor – go to and check their list of services…”


  3. Roger Dooley says

    Good question, Guy. Look out the window and tell you if there’s a red truck parked outside? Sing one verse of Happy Birthday? Maybe some readers can offer more useful ideas!


  4. Jessica Kihara says

    I LOVE this idea. It also sounds like you could have a few good laughs with the “unusual favor’ part.

    I think this strategy would work well for men trying to pick up women. In fact, I think it would work really, REALLY well 🙂

    1. Roger Dooley says

      Interesting thought, Jessica. Maybe one of our readers here will put it to the test!


    2. Katie W. says

      I have to agree with Jessica. Asking someone to do an unusual favor is RomCom 101. Think “Dirty Dancing” with Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey. “I carried a watermelon?” Or the “The Proposal” with Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds, “Can’t Buy Me Love” with Patrick Dempsey and Amanda Peterson, etc.

      1. Roger Dooley says

        Interesting, Katie, I never thought of this as a plot device but now that you mention it, it makes sense. I suspect that a few suspense films have started this way, too, with an “everyman” character fulfilling a simple request (to deliver a message, for example) and then becoming committed to the mission despite life-threatening dangers.


  5. Jay Rosenberg says

    Hi, Roger,
    This is very interesting because when we ask prospects and customers to take a quick survey, later on those who take it become more responsive buyers and loyal customers than those who didn’t take the survey. AND those who take the survey are less price sensitive.
    Is this something like the concept of “commitment and consistency”?

    1. Roger Dooley says

      That makes total sense, Jay. I’m sure that’s why mailers from political organizations are often packaged as a survey. If you start answering questions, you are probably a softer touch for a contribution.


  6. eric barton says

    Great post. I use this to a point in all my conversations, especially over the phone. Like “go ahead and log into x” or “do me a favor and grab a pen and piece of paper so you can write this down”

    I feel not only does this get them more committed, it also get’s them more responsive to later requests because their involved and taking momentum versus being told to do something just because you said.

    1. Roger Dooley says

      Yep, Eric – and, you’ve identified another phone-compatible strategy. Now if you could add a little weirdness…


  7. Jacob says

    Great article, Roger. Seduction community has labeled this ‘compliance testing’

    1. Roger Dooley says

      Interesting, Jacob. Who knew there was a “seduction community?” 🙂


  8. Peter Wood says

    For those of us who seem to have innate behavior as sales people it has finally given me an understanding of something I have done on numerous occasions…. “do you have a tissue so I may clean my glasses”, thanks Roger.

    1. Roger Dooley says

      It’s interesting, Peter, that several commenters have discovered this strategy by experience. It becomes part of our behavior without being a calculated strategy.


  9. Suzanne says

    This is an interesting concept. I have read the book “Influence” and use some of the mentioned strategies but I’m struggling to come up with a “simple request” example. Love all the examples here though. Suzanne

  10. Mathias says

    Absolutely true is this regarding the small and big favor. I tried it so many times. Unfortunately it is a little bit disturning but it works.

  11. Gerard says

    Hi Roger,
    I am reading your posts about Neuro Marketing for sometime already. I could not prevent myself from recommending this one “Make a Crazy Request, Close the Deal” to Google+1. These ideas work well. Generally when you get someone to do a small favor to you, you make the person feels important and this desire to feel important generally results to bigger favor.

    Thank you for sharing such great information.
    Keep up the good work.

    Best regards,


  12. Nemanja says


    do me a favor, please- send me an email to and perhaps I’ll get you into giving me your books for free! 😉

    Good conversation, btw! 🙂

  13. Kapil says

    Ben Franklin used to employ this technique. He often used to request political opponents for a rare book or artifact they may have even if he had no specific interest in the object. He found that such people became friendlier towards him after that.

  14. Dimitri Nassis says

    Hi Roger

    Thanks for posting this and also for your great work on the podcast!

    Is this a technique used one first engaging a client or later on in the process when finding ourselves at the crossroads between yes or no on closing a sale?

    Fascinating topic!

    Dimitri Nasis

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