Will you hold my spider for me? And other powerful sales phrases using the evoking freedom technique

You’re walking up the road in town when you’re approached by a pleasant looking young man outside the Post Office holding a box. His box is about 25cm by 15cm and made of transparent plastic, but you can’t quite see inside it. Yet. The young man says to you

“Excuse me. I have something to ask you but, of course, you’re free to accept or to refuse. Would you agree to hold this box with my trap-door spider for a few minutes while I pick up a package in the post office?”

You look inside the box, and there’s a humungous spider, bigger than your hand. Big bulbous body, little legs covered in tiny hairs. It’s moving its little legs, so you know it’s alive.

What do you say?

What people did in the experiment

In this experiment from the Universite de Bretagne-Sud, 58.3% of people agreed to hold the spider box while the guy went in the post office. And in case you’re wondering, French people are just as scared of spiders as the rest of us.

When they did the experiment again with just one change, only 36.7% of people agreed. No, they didn’t substitute the spider for a cute rabbit instead. They just took out the powerful phrase “of course, you’re free to accept or to refuse”. Without that phrase, far fewer people agreed to hold the spider box.

Telling people that they have a choice makes them much more likely to do what you ask them. Interesting.

What can we do with this?

This is a great story – feel free to horrify your friends with it and show them this picture of an equivalent trap door spider, just like the one they used in the experiment. Or, if you don’t believe me, check out the write up here.

But…when we start thinking about this in terms of how it’s useful for sales, the spider story starts to get even more interesting.

For most of us, a hard sell, “always be closing” kind of sales technique is even less appealing than holding some guy’s box of spiders outside the post office.

Few of us identify with this guy…

I coach business owners all the time on how to get their heads around the idea of selling the cool stuff they do. And most people do not enjoy that bit where they have to close the deal. They’d much rather run away at the point where the client is interested and they have to get all “business-like” and talk about money, contracts and start dates.

I know this because I don’t like that bit myself. Don’t tell my clients, but I love doing this work of helping business owners to develop successful companies so much that I’d do it for free. Except that of course, my clients wouldn’t respect me if I did, and they wouldn’t take my advice. Plus I’d have no money for food.

This is why I’ve been collecting these great ways of making that last part of the sale into something super easy which just flows. And minimises the risk of anyone saying no, and my clients feeling rejected and sad. The evoking freedom technique is just one of these

The evoking freedom technique

These researchers, Nicolas Gueguen, Fabien Silone and Mathieu David have been doing all kinds of experiments on the evoking freedom technique so we know what works and what doesn’t. I’ve spent a few hours happily reading their academic articles and checking out their results tables.

The spider one is the most dramatic, but they’ve done tests on eighteen thousand people now. Getting participants to give away a cigarette, steering people as which type of crepe they should eat and taking part in a political survey. All very French, you’ll notice, cigarettes, crepes and politics. But the experiments have been replicated in the US as well, with similar results.

All you have to do

All you have to do is remind your prospective client that they have a choice. You can say something like:

“You’re free to accept or refuse”

“It’s up to you” which is a bit less formal

“But you are free to help or not”

“Do not feel obliged”

Top tip – use two of these evoking freedom phrases

In fact (top tip) using two of these, either together or before or after the sales offer, gives you another 14% of people who will say yes. When they tested using two evoking freedom phrases, using no such phrase got 29% of people saying yes, one phrase got an average of 55% to say yes, and using two phrases got a whopping 69% of people who agreed to do what the experimenter had suggested.

Why we don’t do this already

I spent quite a bit of time wondering why we don’t say things like this already. And I think we’re even less likely than normal to say something like “you’re free to join my Remarkable Business programme or not” in a sales situation.

Because when we’re sat next to someone who we want to buy from us, in my case usually because I like them and I can clearly see how I can help them, we’re also thinking that we don’t want them to say no. So we don’t want to raise the possibility of them saying no. We don’t want to say it out loud, in case they do.

And of course, fear of rejection is the reason most of us don’t like sales in the first place. Unless you’re a seasoned sales pro, we tend to take it personally if our prospect doesn’t buy from us.

If we’re selling with even the teeniest bit of integrity, we’re only too aware that the person we’re talking to has every right to say no – of course, they’re free to accept or refuse. It doesn’t occur to us that they might need reminding of this.

What next?

Well, it’s completely up to you, don’t feel obliged, and you’re free to have a look at these ways I could help your business to develop and succeed. Maybe you want to check out my Remarkable Business programme, get some one-to-one business coaching or read my great book Sweetspot Pricing on how to set the right price for whatever you sell.

Want more help in what to say in a sales meeting?

Here are some more helpful articles on how to feel relaxed when you’re sitting down with a prospective client:

Why do mates ask for mates rates? And what to say when they do

Selling with an Eastern Mind –  Be full of zen and beauty in a sales situation

How to see sales as just helping the people who need your help – Make your customers happy by meeting their needs


Photo credits – all photos from Adobe. And yes, the photo in the main image is a jumping spider which is tiny, but I thought the extreme magnification photo was too good to miss. The other spider is a trapdoor spider just like they used in the experiment.