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Foot-in-the-door technique, also known as the Foot-in-the-door phenomenon, is a persuasion method. In it, the persuader does something small in order to catch the target's interest, before moving on to what he really wants. This may be a small, insignificant offer which the receiving party cannot logically refuse. After the receiving party has accepted the offer, the offeror proposes another, but more significant offer. Because the receiving party has already accepted the smaller offer from the offeror in the past, he will be more inclined to accept the second offer than from someone he had just met. A related trick is the Bait and switch.
The term refers to the stereotype of a pushy door to door salesman inserting his foot in someone's front door so they become unable to close it and terminate the conversation, without actually invading their home. But as this refers to a non-salesmans term the "Foot in the Door" can also refer to doing or saying something that would persuade the "Consumer" to open up to what you were selling.
Modern examples of metaphorical 'foot-in-the-door' practice include not only traditional sales techniques, but can also include the practice of charities mass-mailing small free gifts (such as pens) to recipients in the hope of persuading them to open the letter and consider donating money, rather than simply throwing the letter in the wastebasket. Cults are also said to employ this technique, with the 'foot in the door' being a casual conversation on the subject of philosophy, or a group meeting, which does not immediately resemble the target's idea of a cult.
An episode of the BBC thriller series Hustle featured the foot-in-the-door technique as applied to con tricks: a conman offers a businessman a supposedly low-risk, high-return investment involving a relatively small amount of money. After receiving the mark's money, the conman waits for a few days before handing him a much larger amount of money back, claiming that the investment has paid off: the "return" is in fact the conman's own capital, temporarily sacrificed. He then later returns with the prospect of a similar investment, involving far more money. When he receives this money, he flees.
The film The Sting, starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford, also employs this technique. In order to get a high rolling underworld boss to bet half a million dollars, they allow him to win sixteen thousand dollars at first - gaining his trust.