Five Examples of Profitable Marketing with Micro-Commitments [Conversions]

Marry MeA good friend of the Preneur family, James Tuckerman, founder of Anthill Online and Not So Freaky University, has a great little anecdote about building profitable customer relationships. James explains the core of the relationship-building as follows:

You wouldn’t ask someone to marry you before you’ve shared a cup of coffee with them.”

James is spot-on about this. Though he’s making a point about starting out baby steps when it comes to earning sales, his philosophy brings to mind a slight caveat.

Building a profitable customer relationship is really about getting them to follow-through on a series of micro-commitments, before taking on the comparatively big, scary commitment of conversion.

While much is said about those broad, macro ideas about the sales process, what are the little steps along the way? The answer: those micro-commitments that constitute the interactions that lead up to the glorious sale at the end.

This essay focuses on micro-commitments. That is, small actions you ask your customers to take leading up to (and sometimes in lieu of) a big conversion step.

In this essay we’ll look at the following concepts:

  • An explanation of the psychology of micro-commitments
  • Buyer-identifying micro-commitments
  • Social sharing micro-commitments
  • Free-trial offers as micro-commitments
  • Payment micro-commitments
  • Customer feedback micro-commitments

These concepts aim to increase conversions (and sometimes opt-ins) by asking your customers to take small, non-threatening steps.

Let’s get started!

An Explanation of the Psychology of Micro-Commitments

Customers – particularly new ones – can sometimes feel like they are being asked to go all-in on a gamble the first time they see your offer. To lessen that understandable apprehension, you can use micro-commitments strategically to get your customers more comfortable doing business with you.

American professor Robert Cialdini references the power of micro-commitments in his book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. Specifically, Cialdini explores commitment and consistency as intrinsic human behaviours.

Cialdini poses the opinion that we tend to stick to our resolute decisions with great consistency – even to the bitter end.

“Once we have made a choice or taken a stand, we will encounter personal and interpersonal pressures to behave consistently with that commitment,” Cialdini tells us.

Using the techniques described in the video, you are able to seize upon the willing buyers, while gaining what you can from the non-buyers (such as their email addresses). Commitment, according to Cialdini’s logic, is always paired with consistency.

For most of us, if we go to the bank and take out a loan, we commit to paying off the debt we’ve created. If we agree to hold someone’s bag, we tend to do so dutifully, forgetting all other tasks just to make sure that said bag survives unscathed.

Humans place excessive value on consistency because we associate delivering on our promises with showcasing good character traits. We all want to be identified as having good character, so it’s perfectly understandable that we would romanticise the “good captain” who “goes down with the ship,” and other such examples of delivering on prior commitments, even to ones own detriment.

As you put micro-commitment actions to work for your business, you harness the inherent human association of good character with honouring one’s commitments.

By now, you might be thinking that another term for micro-commitment would be “jumping through hoops.” That, however, is not what we are urging you to do here. In fact, it is ill-advised to make the sales process incorporate so many steps that it becomes annoying, but consumers are nevertheless acclimated to taking certain steps with the companies they interact with online.

Micro-commitments are successful because of the following major psychological concepts:

  1. Reactance: your customers dislike being told they can’t have something; they will do what it takes to get that which is out of reach
  2. Elevated attentiveness: If something presents a challenge by being hard to obtain, people tend to train their focus and stay with it obsessively

This all hearkens back to the psychology of a small child. The more the child is told “no,” they cannot have a toy, the more they want the toy. In the world of marketing for adults, it’s really the same, though the toys have changed to consumer goods and services, and the “no” is really nowhere near as firm

Social Sharing Micro-Commitments

The most readily identifiable micro-commitment you can use is one that results in the customer opting in.

This can be as simple as adding social media buttons and asking your customers to share your content. From there, you can up the commitment ante by asking for an email address, typically in exchange for the customer accessing a download or freebie.

QuickSprout asks you to share before reading certain content.

The process of creating lead magnets and making staggered offers might not be new to you, but you might not have thought of it as micro-commitment technique. In a nutshell, what you are doing with lead capture and marketing follow-up is drumming up engagement through micro-commitments, ideally resulting in conversion.

Buyer-identifying Micro-Commitments

The “separation” we are referring is actually more like “segmentation,” only instead of sorting customers into groups based on demographics, we’re simply advocating parsing visitors to your website into two broad categories: the buyers and the non-buyers. In other words, with this first type of micro-commitment, our goal is to separate the opt-ins from the bounces, right out of the gates.

LeadPages has put together a video on this topic. The video explains the “squeeze then sell” technique of landing page design.


These visitors – the buyers – are  the most valuable, as they not only demonstrate a willingness to take action with regard to your company, but they also amplify your message, setting you up for additional customers.

The non-buyers are what they are – unqualified leads that can move on to other interests, and in so doing, free up your resources to more accurately target those who follow-through on micro-commitments.

Free-trial Offers as Micro-Commitments

Another of our recent essays has dealt with risk reversals as a driver of conversions. One type of risk reversal explained in that article is the free-trial offer.

Free trials are risk reversals because they seek to benefit from the often unstated rules of business that says consumers are entitled to a refund for virtually any goods or services that they buy, as a matter of law.

In addition to being a form of risk reversal, free-trial offers are also a great way to get your customers to enter into a micro-commitment.

A customer who is willing to enter into a free trial acknowledges that there is a transaction on the other side of the trial period. Those customers who might have bought but would have asked for a refund will be shaken out by the trial period.

As a micro-commitment, the free-trial offer is a way to qualify and convert incoming leads, based on the inherent tendency to honour one’s commitments.

Payment Micro-Commitments

Small payments are a lot less threatening than big ones. That’s the logic behind using micro-payment options whereby you get the customer to agree to pay a small amount, rather than a lump sum. Breaking down the price you’d ultimately like to make off a conversion into smaller, interest-free payments is another form of micro-commitments.

Ben Angel's offer.

Ben Angel’s offer.


Ben Angel uses micro-payments to sell his 30 Day Business Turnaround Program, which starts off with a $7.95 one week trial, followed by three weekly instalments of $47.

Ben Angel states the pricing structure of this micro-commitment example, right up front.

Ben Angel states the pricing structure of this micro-commitment example, right up front.

 At first glance, Ben’s example may appear a bit problematic, in that the leap from a $7.95 to three payments of $47 is somewhat large. But a closer examination leads you to the real point of Ben’s tactic.

Ben is forthcoming about the prices, so it’s likely that anyone opting in for the trial is fully aware of the ultimate cost, and they are potentially willing to pay the premium price. Anyone who might get sticker shock from the bigger payment commitments will be weeded out before the trial starts. Thus, Ben’s example ties right into our earlier point about separating buyers from non-buyers.

For more examples of how this could work in your business, see our recent essay on using creative payment options, which includes instalments and other clever payment types.

Customer Feedback Micro-Commitments

This is where we talk mostly about opt-ins, with conversions coming secondarily here, of course.

App Sumo, a company that makes a survey plug-in for WordPress, claims that you can increase your opt-in numbers by as much as 400% with some simple survey questions (remember: we need ‘only’ to increase those two of The 7 Levers of Business by around 10.24% each to reach our goal of doubling your business’ profitability!).

App Sumo’s explainer video shows the thinking behind its plug-in (which also explains concepts you can implement without the plug-in). As the video explains, different products can connect to different people for different reasons. If you’ve segmented your audience into demographic groups, asking certain questions to specific demographics can result in a boost in opt-ins.

As the video explains, using targeted surveys has the following beneficial effects:

  • Micro-commitments: getting your visitors into “action-taking mode” (e.g. – customer not ready to buy, but ready to answer a few questions)
  • Open loops – by simply asking a series of questions, you inspire your customers to do what it takes to get their results – they’ll opt-in just to know how they’ve done
  • The Forer Effect – When people take a survey, they find ways to confirm the results for themselves, potentially resulting in buying a solution to a problem that they’ve defined

As App Sumo explains, the three benefits described above ultimately give your visitors a heightened level of personal involvement in your business. As they provide feedback, they take ownership of the outcome, which can be highly conducive to sales. The Forer Effect, in particular, explains that people ascribe unusually high valuations to ratings and descriptors that in some way “reflect” their personality. This explains why personality tests, like the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, are popular distractions for some.

Recently, in a separate essay, we have talked about asking better questions to help you sell intangibles, and many of those questions can be used in marketing surveys to encourage opt-ins.

The basic way to implement micro-commitments here is to create a survey (using App Sumo’s plug-in or Survey Monkey, or another customer feedback app of your choosing). At the end of the survey, simply state that the results will be sent via email and customers will follow through with giving you their data, simply to honor the commitment they made (to themselves!) to complete the survey and see the results.

PS – One-size Does Not Fit All!

As we often say here, keep in mind that you do not have to use all of these tactics all at once. One or two of these micro-commitments, when refined and adapted to fit your unique business, are all it takes to pull the business lever of increased conversions, on your way to doubling your profits.

The underlying takeaway is this: micro-commitments mitigate some of the pressure and anxiety associated with making a purchasing decision. By taking some of the fright out of your offers, you get customers to commit to smaller, yet equally profitable, actions. 

  • Jane Deuber

    Hey Pete… this was great information. It’s a topic my team and I are looking at closely. Perhaps we can connect. ;0)

Pete Williams is an entrepreneur, author, and marketer from Melbourne, Australia.

Before being honored “Australia’s Richard Branson” in media publications all over the continent, Pete was just 21 years old when he sold Australia’s version of Yankee Stadium, The Melbourne Cricket Ground For Under $500! Don’t believe it? You will! Check out the story in the FAQ section (it really is our most asked question).

Since then, he’s done some cool stuff like write the international smash hit ‘How to Turn Your Million-Dollar Idea Into a Reality’ (+ the upcoming ‘It’s Not About the Product‘) and he’s created a bunch of companies including Infiniti Telecommunications, On Hold Advertising, Simply Headsets and Preneur Group.

Lots of other people think he’s pretty good too! He’s been announced as the Global Runner-Up in the JCI Creative Young Entrepreneur Awards for 2009, the Southern Region Finalist in the Ernst & Young 2010 Entrepreneur of the Year, and a member of SmartCompany’s Top 30 Under 30.

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