The Power of Favours

The disproportionate impact of a perceived favours in influence communication and how to leverage the affect for sales persuasion techniques in sales situations.


Influence and Persuasion



An unlicensed taxi driver ran his car into my wife’s car at a junction on a quiet country road. He was very aggressive and attempted to place all the blame on Louise who, as you might imagine, was already shaken by the incident. Her distress would have been greater but for a passer by who intervened and defended her.

It was perhaps a small thing that many of you would have done or have done in similar circumstances. Both my wife and I felt indebted to the stranger. The wonderful thing about most people is their sense of fair play. Whether it is born from a dislike of feeling beholden or from the pleasure of giving, people strive to repay a favour.

It is as if we each have a silent accountant residing in our minds. He, or if you prefer, she, keeps track of every exchange we have with others, recording deposits or withdrawals according to how we evaluate what they say and do and what we say and do in return.

Most of us experience some discomfort when there is an imbalance.

Sales people ought to be well aware of this human characteristic and look for opportunities to make deposits. All too often we overlook the need to work out what will be considered a deposit, from the prospect’s perspective. Otherwise we guess or make superficial gestures that are transparent.

In a sales situation people are likely to view common courtesy and even big favours as part of the sales persons job. Almost anything you do could be construed as having the ulterior motive of currying favour.

The first step in developing a sense of obligation on the part of your prospect is to understand what they really want. In a car showroom it may be safe to make some assumptions about someone who walks in, and wants to talk to you. In business to business sales, the person you speak with may not know what they want to buy. Making a connection between their need and your product and service is more complicated.

Personal purpose gets entangled with business goals and objectives, further muddling the circumstances. Until real purpose is understood from business and personal perspectives, attempts to make emotional deposits, in the brownie point bank account, are likely to bounce off the armour we all wear for meeting sales people.

Prospects know what sales people want. The game is balancing the scales of value in your prospect’s eyes.
No matter how alike you and your prospect are, their way of thinking will differ from yours. The sale persons personal perspective and preconceptions just get in the way.

Understanding what the prospect wants depends on suspending judgement. Only by setting aside our own agenda, can we hope to truly appreciate theirs.

After you have achieved understanding - when you can sense the world from a prospect’s perspective, you still have to overcome their natural prejudice against being sold. To make deposits you have to disconnect the favour or courtesy from any expectation of return.

If you harbour the hope, your prospect will probably sense it. If you do things for others that you don’t have to, with a clear conscience, without any expectation of getting something back, you create unconscious obligation.

About a week after the collision with the taxi, when a stranger helped my wife deal with its rude and aggressive driver, I had an opportunity to repay the favour by helping someone else, who lost control of her car on a bend and ended up in a hedge. There was no connection between the two events, just the sense of obligation I felt, to somehow show appreciation for another’s thoughtfulness.

Article by Clive Miller

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