Robert New



December 2018

Compliance Techniques (II)


This technique is the opposite of foot-in-door (see Compliance Techniques). Here you make an extreme request which you think will be turned down (ie door slammed in your face) and then a smaller request (the target). It is based on the idea of reciprocity. The reciprocity principle isn’t only for gift giving, it can also occur when you feel that someone has already compromised on what they wanted, and this compromise should be acknowledged with some behaviour. With door-in-face, people are more likely to accept the second request because they feel the person has already lowered their request/expectation to accommodate them and this puts the target person into their debt.*

A study which supports this was conducted by Cialdini in 1975. A control group was only given the target request which was to chaperone a group of juvenile delinquents to the zoo; only 17% agreed. A second group was asked to sign up for two hours of voluntary (unpaid) work per week as counsellors for two years. Unsurprisingly, no one agreed. They were then asked if they’d chaperone a group of juvenile delinquents to the zoo and 50% said they’d do it. That’s nearly a 300% increase for virtually no extra effort.

How you could use this as an author, might be to approach a bookshop to stock your books. You could ask them to take a firm sale of thirty copies of each of your titles. When that is refused then ask them to take two copies of one title on consignment. They are more likely to say yes and you achieve your goal of getting them to stock your books.


Deliberately underestimating a cost, price, rate etc or leaving out crucial information in order to get compliance. Essentially it means getting the commitment to do something before finding out information which may have altered your decision. Eg: Have you ever been asked: “Can you do me a favour?” without knowing what the favour is?

This is often used to sell things like cars. They advertise cars as being from a certain price, but then to get the better paint add $, extra safety add $, extra luxury add $, auto transmission add $ etc. Usually one or two of the add-ons will put you close to the model up in the range which for just a bit more gives you those extras you wanted and a whole lot more, so you might as well…

Like the other techniques discussed (see An odd way to increase and below) sales this has been demonstrated in research:

Cialdini et al (1974) asked if people would agree to participate in a study starting at 7 am. Only 24% agreed to take part. This was used as a basis for comparison for the second group who were asked to participate in a psychology study, but not told the time. This time 56% agreed to take part. When they were then told it was at 7am and they could back out if they wished none did. What is particularly interesting (and shows the power of the compliance technique) is that on the day, nearly all (95%) of those who’d agreed to participate turned up to participate.

For authors using this technique can be as simple as asking someone to buy a copy of your book at a cheap price, for example $5, when they say yes, then add that is how much the second copy is (ie once you’ve paid full price for the first). Alternatively, get the commitment for $5 and say well to get it for $5 all you need to do is buy this other book for $20.


* I’ve experience this first hand when looking for someone to restore the roof of my home. They started by quoting a price which was nearly three times the two quotes we’d already received (thankfully). When we baulked at the price, they then ‘graciously’ brought the price down by ten percent. After a few such price drops (including the obligatory call to a manager for approval, getting us to agree to put a sign up advertising them for one month) they brought the price down about 35% of their original price. We politely said we were not willing to pay that much and the person left (after repeating each price drop he’d made directly implying we owed him for being so considerate). The following week we had a call from their head office offering an even further discount if we agreed to keep their sign for an additional two months and paid a deposit over the phone then and there. This absolutely final, best offer price was still a lot more than the other prices we’d been quoted ($6k vs $4 and $3.5), so we said no. I couldn’t help but think how many people would jump at that offer though, especially if you hadn’t got more than one quote.

Another time, a tree removal place tried the same tactic with me. I laughed as I knew what they were doing, and took over the negotiation by offering a really low price, which was refused, then slowly raised my offer. When they mentioned how much they’d come down in price, I mentioned how much I’d come up. The poor person was terribly confused. They were a laborer and not a salesperson and probably had been told offer price x then price y, but without really understanding sales technique. Eventually we agreed on a price we were both happy with.

Compliance Techniques

My previous post Odd ways to increase your sales  seems to have interested a lot of people, so I thought I’d discuss a few more techniques to increase sales. Before I begin discussing compliance techniques, I should point out that they will neither guarantee you a sale, nor convert a firm “no” into a sale. All they do is make it easier for someone who has not made up their mind to make up their mind in your favour. This is important as their commitment is still their choice and you are not forcing them into it (Freedman and Fraser refer to it as compliance without pressure). As someone trying to get a sale, you need to always respect this, and if someone says no accept that as their decision. These techniques are distinct from those involving obedience, where there is an authority or power imbalance, and conformity where there is no direct request to do something.

Foot-in-the-door technique

This is where you make a small request which is likely to be agreed to and then a larger request which is what you actually want to achieve. Agreement to the initial (small) request makes people more likely to agree to the (larger) target request than would have been the case if the latter had been presented on its own.

I joke that my wife is the master of this technique – she claims it’s always unintentional, but I’m not so sure. For example, she’ll ask me to put her coffee mug in the dishwasher, then after I’ve agreed, tell me I’ll need to empty it first and might want to also load all the other dishes from the sink. And yes, despite knowing how I’ve been goaded into it, I still do all the tasks.

Some research studies which support the effectiveness of this include Freedman and Fraser (1966) who canvassed a residential neighbourhood in Palo Alto, California where they asked women to complete a brief survey about the range of household products that they used.

After a period of three days these same women (the experimental group) were asked if they would allow a team of researchers to catalogue the types of household products they had in the house for a 2 hour period. In this instance 55% of the women said yes compared to 22% in a control group who only received the target request.

In a separate study Freedman and Fraser asked some people to sign a petition or to place a small sign in the front window of their homes for “Keep California Beautiful” or for a safe driving campaign. Most participants agreed to this initial request. The residences that were bypassed during this process became the control group.

Different researchers returned to the neighbourhood two weeks later and approached all of the households and asked to put a large safe driving campaign sign in their front yard. Those who complied with the initial request had a compliance rate of 54% for the larger request, in comparison to the control group whose compliance level was 16%. Think about that. They obtained a 337% increase in people displaying what was termed “an ugly billboard” in their front yard just by asking them to put a small sticker or sign a petition first.

As an author you could use this by having a cheap promotional item which you get people to purchase and then ask them to buy something bigger from you. I’m experimenting with using Mug Punter like this – it’s only 48 pages long and cheap to produce, but if someone has bought that from me, then I can follow up with asking them to buy my full-length books.

Two other compliance techniques are Door-in-Face and Low-balling. They are discussed in my next blog post compliance techniques part 2.

Odd places to sell books

Everyone knows the traditional places to sell books – ie bookshops or online retailers, and selling them yourself at markets, author talks and amongst your friends. These work and work well, but there are other places you can make handfuls of sales, which add up over time.

Small independent shops with high volumes of ‘foot traffic’ are the key. Chain stores tend to have regulations about what they can and cannot stock, which is why independent stores are the ones to target.

Your local chemist or milk bar are good examples of such places. A diverse mix of people shop there, they already have the intent to purchase something when they walk in and can more easily be persuaded to add to that purchase. Your display of your book won’t clash with their other products (and hence, will actually stand out) and selling in such places implies the book is from a local author, so by mere location, you’re making an appeal to the community mindedness of people to purchase your book.

One of the oddest places I was able to set up a display was in a hair salon. They sold 3 books in two months. This may not seem like many copies, but if you have several such shops selling for you it adds up (and this was one more than the local bookshop too!) Importantly, these are readers you wouldn’t reach through other means and gaining new readers is crucial for authors.

All it takes is to create a simple display such as the image above and below and the courage to ask your local shops to help an aspiring writer out. I bought a few desk organisers and repurposed them to sell books. On the back of each is my phone number so the shop owner can tell me when they’ve had enough of the display or to order more books. Remember if a shop does agree to help you out be grateful and courteous, you might need them again for your next book.

For ways to increase your chances of converting an interested person to a sale see my blog post on Odd ways to increase your sales.

Odd ways to increase sales

How can you increase the chances of making a sale?Offering a free bookmark or sample chapter is one way to improve your chances of getting someone to buy your book. This works for a simple reason, the law of reciprocity, which is well-known to marketers – the gift of the bookmark (if they take one) nominally puts the person into your debt and this produces a discomfort in the person which they can resolve by buying your book.

Evidence for the strategy comes from several studies. Here are two:

1. Disabled American Veterans organisation reports that its simple mail appeal for donations produces a response rate of approximately 18%. But when the mailing also includes an unsolicited gift e.g. Personalised labels, the success rate nearly doubles to 35%. (Smolowe, 1990).

2. Researchers Berry and Kanouse (1987) found that they could increase the likelihood that doctors would complete and return a long questionnaire they received by mail by paying them first. When a cheque for $20 was included 78% of doctors returned the survey, in comparison to 66% doctors when they were paid after completion. Unfortunately, there was no comparison to a group which was not paid at all. Interestingly, 95% of doctors who complied cashed their cheque, whereas only 26% who did not comply cashed the cheque (ie took the free money), which further demonstrates the reciprocity norm.

So giving something away does not guarantee you a sale, but significantly increases your chances of making one. For some different places to sell books, see my post Odd places to sell books.

Blog at

Up ↑