Ask the Experts | Giving Gifts on Sales Calls

Question: Do you recommend giving a gift on a sales call? If so, what works well?

Weldon Long; New York Times Best Selling Author & Sales Expert:

I talk a lot about a guy named Robert Cialdini who’s wrote a lot of books on persuasion and he talks about the “Principal of Reciprocity,” which is basically “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” He talks about businesses giving small gifts to their customers, such as Whole Foods offering free samples, because it engenders a feeling of obligation to return the favor. Not everyone does it but there is a lot of research that says enough people do to make it worth the effort.

In the home services industry, there’s also research that this is effective. If you do something nice for a homeowner, they will be more likely to buy from you. You have to be careful about being overly gratuitous and obvious. If a homeowner suspects that they’re being manipulated, it can actually backfire. It has to be done in a subtle way that makes the homeowner feel appreciated.

I think the most common thing we see in our industry is acts of service: bringing in the garbage cans, picking up the newspaper, or helping them change a light bulb. So many of those things are built into the sales process because they leverage the idea of reciprocity and create a feeling of obligation for the homeowner to do something nice for your company in return.

To answer this question, I would say to be cautious of providing a very obvious gift up front. I would focus on small acts of service that are more authentic. For example, I was running a call with a young salesman and 10 minutes into the call, the elderly homeowner informed us that her garbage disposal was broken. I don’t have any plumbing skills – if my disposal was broken, I’d absolutely call a plumber.

But because of the principle of reciprocity, I thought it was a good opportunity to teach this young salesman about the benefits of doing things for people. So, I got under the sink and took the thing apart, found out there was a small fork lodged in it and fixed it in about an hour. It was really messy and dirty, and of course she was extremely apologetic. But I was essentially selling for the entire hour. I did my whole sales presentation with my head under the kitchen sink. I put it back together, got up and washed my hands, sat down at the kitchen table with her and within 15 minutes, the deal was closed.

The crazy thing was, the homeowner told us that her plan was to just have us out for an estimate and talk with a few other companies to get prices from them. But after we spent an hour fixing her garbage disposal, she felt like she needed to go with us. And I thought to myself, “Yeah, that was the whole point!”

So, know that the reciprocity principle is real and you have to be authentic and sincere with it. There are many items you can give, but be cautious of providing any gift that may come off as overtly manipulative. Think about simply going the extra mile with your homeowners and provide acts of service.

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