To Master New Business Sales, Start Small!

In this article we’re going to outline a proven technique for new business development. It’s the concept of starting small. Now don’t get this misconstrued, when we say start small we don’t mean to focus on smaller business, on the contrary,

What we mean by starting small is to encourage small commitments.

Small Commitments

In world war 2 Prisoner of War (PoW) camps where decrepit places, prisoners were often deprived of food and water, they were forced to do back breaking work and saw scenes which even our worst nightmares couldn’t comprehend. Torturous acts were the norm, many of which included:

  • Starvation
  • Being physically beaten by fellow inmates
  • Unsanitary and overcrowded living areas
  • Being locked in tiny ‘Tiger’ cages for lengthy periods of time, sometime indefinitely
  • Castration
  • Execution

They were horrendous environments as you can imagine. Though many PoW camps which used such tactics had very poor levels of corroboration by inmates.

Chinese prisoner of war camps were very different though. Instead of those indecent torture techniques mentioned above they took a very different stance, they focused on attaining corroborators. Prisoners whom would feed them information about their enemy, who overtime would be converted to their cause.

The Chinese did so through obtaining small commitments from a prisoner. They knew that such prisoners were trained in anti-interrogation tactics and that they were only supposed to provide their name and rank etc. So the Chinese took a very different stance. Instead of adopting the torture tactics that many countries adopted they instead led with small commitments. For instance they’d ask prisoners to write down things like

  • What’s good about communism?
  • What can be improved with their country?

Then over time they would build on these small commitments. They would publicise what prisoners had said or written through mediums such as radio broadcasts or gatherings among fellow prisoners. This would make them even more susceptible, as the prisoners would be left to feel like conspirators whom had committed treason and turned against their country. In tow these small commitments led to much greater ones as the Chinese slowly worked away at the prisoners, piece by piece, day by day, gaining greater and greater commitments until they had almost turned the prisoner completely.

Power of Small Commitment

I hope this story about Chinese PoW camps highlights the power of small commitments to you. The concept in itself can be a powerful ploy to utilise in sales.

Where we at Sales Icon Coaching often see sales people fall down is in the commitments they ask for. Typically a sales person will look for two main commitments:

  • Attain a meeting
  • Attain a sale

Whilst both of these commitments are fantastic to attain, often, they maybe considered by the buyer as substantial commitments. If you but start with small commitments you may have better fortune. Which, in time such small commitments will lead to larger ones such as attaining that meeting or sale.


It would be apt if we talk you through some examples of small commitments, they could be:

  • Conference Calls
  • Surveys
  • Webinars
  • Attending Workshops
  • Attending events
  • Trials
  • Smaller sales

This list is not exhaustive, but should paint a picture for you as to what could be considered as a small commitment. Though that being said, you may have other activities which could act as a small commitment which I haven’t mentioned above.

Take Into Consideration

There are two key aspects in psychology to be conscious of when using small commitments. They are:

  1. Sunken Cost Fallacy
  2. Power of the First Experience

Sunken Cost Fallacy

Use this to your advantage. When a buyer commits to a small commitment they’ve invested in you. Often once a small investment is made, whether that be monetary or in time, the buyer will feel like they’ve lost something if they later change direction and move elsewhere. For more on the sunken cost fallacy do read our previous article on this topic below:

This article on sunken cost fallacy focuses on when to call time of death on a customer, the premise of the psychology is the exact same.

Power of the First Experience

With any small commitment, irrespective of the medium applied, make sure the buyers first experience is exceptional. In our previous article focusing on trials we explained the psychology around this and why it’s so important for success in sales:

Key Takeaways

So the key takeaways from this article are:

  • Adapt your approach to focus on smaller commitments
  • Do this and alike the Chinese PoW camps, you’ll slowly gain more and more commitment
  • Be conscious of the sunken cost fallacy and the power of the first experience

As always we’d love to hear you feedback on this article and how you’ve applied it.

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