Tips for Sales Teams: Ask a Favor
Here’s a market research tip you can give to your sales team without doing any costly research of your own. A seller can close more sales if, during the negotiations, he or she pairs a price concession with a request that the buyer do a favor in return. Why does this work? Because asking for a favor transforms the interaction from being purely monetary and competitive into a more relational and reciprocal one.
This tip is based on research just reported in the Journal of Consumer Research. Academic researchers from Georgetown University and Penn State conducted five controlled experiments to see if sellers asking for favors would boost the likelihood of a sale. There were five experiments in all, which simulated buying and selling transactions for vintage record players, coffee tables, and artwork. One group of subjects was given scenarios where they were asked to (1) give a word-of-mouth referral or (2) write a review on a website in exchange for a price concession. The other group was not asked for anything.
The reciprocity in asking for a favor, the authors argue, gives consumers more confidence that they are getting the lowest possible price. Competitive buyers, in particular, may feel uncertain about the lowest possible price and look for signals that the seller is going beyond the ordinary. Asking for a favor in return provides that signal. Indeed, the experimenters also demonstrated that a favor request works only if the discount is reinterpreted as part of the reciprocity; if a discount is standard and offered to all buyers, the favor request no longer works.
This article stood out for us because a good deal of our research explores products and services that are negotiated—cars, appliances, insurance products, financial and B2B services, and so on. With so many of these products and services now sold as commodities, it is usually crucial for a salesperson to move negotiations beyond a purely economic exchange if he or she wants to succeed. Asking for a favor is one way to do that.