The Power of Merely Requesting a Favor
The old adage “ask and you shall receive” is put to the test.
Posted May 2, 2016
Research on social influence has long recognized the power of favors. By understanding favors, you can improve the odds that people comply with your requests. This knowledge can be extremely beneficial to those in a sales profession.
For instance, imagine that you’re a salesperson at an art gallery. A consumer approaches you about a painting and you begin a negotiation. After a bit of back and forth, you offer a discount.
How can you utilize social influence based on favors to increase the odds that the prospective customer takes the deal? Two easy to use strategies include:
- That’s not all: The salesperson sweetens the deal by adding incentives. For instance, the salesperson might offer a discounted frame or a special protector for free. To the extent that the person sees these concessions as meaningful, they increase the level of felt indebtedness and the odds that the person reciprocates by taking the deal. However, these offers come at a cost to the person selling the product. [Original Research: Burger 1996]
- Ben Franklin Effect: Get the prospective customer to do the salesperson a small unrelated favor. For instance, if the salesperson asks a customer to hold his or her cup of coffee for a brief moment, this could actually be influential. Research shows that we like people for whom we’ve done favors. Benjamin Franklin had once noted, “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged." [Original Research: Jecker and Landy 1969]
In a recent research project, I developed with my co-authors, Kurt Carlson, professor of marketing and director of the Georgetown Institute of Consumer Research, and Jamie Hyodo of Pennsylvania State University, a new social influence strategy based on favors and the norm of reciprocity. For instance, instead of salespeople doing customers a costly favor (additional discount, free accessories), or by getting the consumer to do a small unrelated favor (the Ben Franklin Effect), we propose that a salesperson can seal the deal in the negotiation by merely asking for a favor.
3. The Favor Request: The salesperson suggests to the prospective consumer to consider doing a favor. For instance, as the consumer ponders the offer, the salesperson can add: “In fact, at this price, I hope that next time you hear about somebody looking for art you consider recommending my gallery.” Our research demonstrates that the favor request significantly increases acceptance of discounted offers. [Blanchard, Carlson and Hyodo 2016]
Why does the favor request work? As consumers typically enter such negotiations with a competitive (me versus them) approach, the mere request of a favor alters the consumer’s perception of the interaction, making the prospective buyers see the negotiation as less competitive and more reciprocal (i.e., we can both get something out of deal). Additionally, it tends to reduce consumer uncertainty that the salesperson is offering the lowest price.
This is in contrast to simply offering a discount as a self-serving ploy to sell a product. When offering a simple “scratch-and-save” offer, consumers do not find as much value in the discount, as everyone else is receiving the same offer. However, when involved in a one-on-one negotiation, consumers place a greater value on a discount paired with a request for a favor, as it is seen as less of a ploy and more as an individualized offer.
It is important to note, sellers must request a favor that is appropriate for the deal being made and not make the requested favor mandatory, otherwise, the strategy could backfire.
Simon Blanchard, an assistant professor of marketing at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, is the co-author of the study, “The Favor Request Effect: Requesting a Favor from Consumers to Seal the Deal.”
Burger, J. M. (1986). Increasing compliance by improving the deal: The that's not all technique. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51, 277-283
Jecker, J., & Landy, D. (1969). Liking a person as a function of doing him a favour. Human Relations. 22(4), 371-378
Blanchard, S.J., Carlson, K.A., & Hyodo J.D. (2016). The favor request effect: Requesting a favor from consumers to seal the deal. Journal of Consumer Research, 42 (6), 985-1001