Chef Laura: The lollipop trick

When a carrot is dangled in front of a customer, they become better customers than when that carrot is given to them outright. 

This lesson was reinforced when I worked for a snack company.  We had several display racks, ranging in size and sophistication, we were able to give to customers, gratis.  Being an eager saleswoman, I’d sell in several cases of snacks and then quickly follow that by offering them a complimentary display rack.

I was expecting them to say “Wow!  Thank you so much!”  But instead, I usually got “Sure, ship in the rack if you want.” 

I was perplexed; I just gave them something useful for free and they agreed to take one as if they were doing me the favor.

Then I became a parent and figured out the secret so I wouldn’t have to take any more licks.

Instead of dangling carrots, the prize of choice is sugary lollipops.  If offered, my children will always accept a lollipop – always.  Wanting to be a thoughtful and cool mother, I’d give them what they coveted only to receive a half-hearted “Thanks Mommy,” making me feel like a sucker.   

While riffling through my purse one day, my daughter spied an errant lollipop I picked up at my local dry cleaners slip through my fingers. 

“Can I have that lollipop, Mommy?” 

The words “Sure, Sweetie” were on my lips – I had every intention of giving her the cotton candy-flavored Dum-Dums – but then I paused.  It was the perfect time to institute the flip; a little quid pro quo was in order. 

“Ummm,” I paused “I don’t think so Tootsie.” 

“Can I please, please, please have it?” (notice the use of manners now). 

I was silent a moment longer than usual. 

“I won’t leave the wrapper in your car,” my eldest promised. 

Me = silence.

 “And that will be my dessert for tonight,” she bargained.  

Me = silence.

“And I’ll fold the laundry when we get home!” desperation finally setting in. 

Me = “Well, okay.  I’ll let you have it this time.”

She popped the candy in their mouth and really savored it, a big smile on her sticky face thinking Big Sis just outsmarted her ol’ mama. Worked like a charm. 

I applied the lollipop trick to the snack racks at work. 

“If you buy five cases, I can get you this starter rack, 10 cases earns you this nicer rack.  If you order 20 cases, I can probably upgrade you to this new model.” 

Their response sounded an awful lot like my kids “Can I please have it?”  It went from a throwaway scrap of metal and plastic to a coveted piece of equipment. 

Companies institute the lollipop trick all the time with rewards programs.  Stay ten nights at Marriott and become a Silver member, log thirty stars at Starbucks and become a Gold customer, or travel 75,000 miles on United to achieve Platinum status.  Customers actually like to work for their perks.    

The lollipop trick is a helpful tool that makes both the customer and salesperson feel like winners.  Carrots, lollipops, snack racks: whatever you’re dangling in front of your customers, make ‘em earn it. They’re not dumb-dumbs, they just prefer a little effort for their rewards.  Sweet.

Categories: Sales & Marketing