A Lesson From Pavlov’s Dog

Reward your referral partners and you will encourage them to send more.

Think for a minute back to when you were a teenager and you were in science class. You learned about Pavlov’s dog. If you remember, Pavlov taught his dog how to salivate. He did that by ringing a bell and setting out food over and over again. This repeated action taught the dog that every time the dog heard the bell, there was going to be food, so pretty soon he could ring the bell, the dog would salivate even when there was no food.

reward your referral partners

You need to do the same thing in your business.  You need to condition and train your referral partners so that they will give you referrals over and over again. The way you do this is you reward the behavior just like Pavlov did. The dog was rewarded with food every time the bell rang. You’re going to reward your referral partners with a thank-you gift every time they give you a referral. When that reward system happens over and over, they’re going to learn that you appreciate referrals and that they’re going to be rewarded for it.

Reward Your Referral Partners

A lot of business owners worry about budget. The reward doesn’t have to be something big. You might only spend five or ten dollars. The important thing is that you reward them over and over again, every time you receive a referral.  Some business owners worry about spending money on a referral that doesn’t end up turning into business. Even if the referral doesn’t turn into new business, it needs to be rewarded. That’s not their decision; that’s a decision between you and the person they referred to you. You have to work that out through the sales process.

Their job is to refer to you, so every time a referral comes in, give them a reward. If it’s a good referral, if it’s a bad referral, it doesn’t matter. Always give them a reward and then the referrals are going to keep coming over and over again. The more referrals you get, the more clients you get. Make sure you that you’re always rewarding those referrals. When you do, you’re going to get more referrals and your business is going to grow.

Some businesses have regulations against giving “kickbacks” or payment for referrals.  Other industries commonly give out referral fees or commissions.  You need to know your industry and what is acceptable.  If you can’t give a monetary fee, you may still be able to send a thank you gift.  If it is really illegal for you to give any sort of reward, at least write a thank-you note.

Figure out a way that you can reward your referral partners. Let them know that you appreciate it and then you’ll get more referrals.  Remember Pavlov’s dog: ring the bell, put out the food. In your business, give a reward every single time you get a referral if you want to get more. If you’re curious how your referral plans stack up, sign up for a Client Loyalty Audit. We’ll identify areas for improvement with your referral partners and all your business relationships.


  1. One note in particular caught my attention today.

    “Even if the referral doesn’t turn into new business, it needs to be rewarded. That’s not their decision; that’s a decision between you and the person they referred to you. You have to work that out through the sales process.”

    Eye opener here for me because I considered it as though they didn’t send me the correct type of referral.

    Thanks so much for the eye opener for me!!

    • Elda,

      Excellent! Yes. In their eyes they sent you a referral. So at least SAY thank you. Then you can redirect and help qualify future referrals.


  2. Really great! I hadn’t given much thought to referrals that don’t pan out, but at minimum a thank you is needed. One thing I’ve noticed hand-written thank you notes are, even when giving an actual gift. In the age of technology and text and computers, the act of taking out a pen and some pretty stationary means a lot.


  3. Dawn Bennett says

    I sometimes get a bit lax on tracking my referrals. Thank you for the reminder to not only track, but Thank! (I as well, thank when closed, not when first received.)

  4. Thank you for this reminder, Deb. A couple of years ago, I put a referral plan together based on your advice. I’ve drifted away from my original plan, and this post reminded me that I need to send a thank you note to someone who recently connected me with someone interested in sharing her story.

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