Have you ever noticed that you feel compelled to do something for people who have helped you along the way – even if they haven’t asked you to?
There’s something very powerful at play that causes this phenomenon.
Social psychologists call it The Law of Reciprocity – and it basically says that when someone does something nice for you, you will have a deep-rooted psychological urge to do something nice in return.
As a matter of fact, you may even reciprocate with a gesture far more generous than their original good deed. You can try and resist this law, but as a human, you will more than likely still feel that you need to respond in kind to a good deed.
If that’s true (and it is) then it would be to your advantage to understand the right way – and the wrong way to take advantage of this powerful law.
Reciprocity and The Business Person
As someone who is running (or is aspiring to run) their own business, there are a couple of ways you can choose to use this power: for good – or for evil. Or, for our purposes, the right way and the wrong way.
The Right Way
One of the hardest parts of a new business relationship is building trust and rapport. And to do that, there are some things you have to establish up front with a new prospect to show them you’re one of the good guys. Things like intent, empathy, and credibility.
So, if you really are one of the good guys, you can show people what you’re made of simply by being friendly, honest, and helpful. That’s the idea behind a lot of the freebies that bloggers give away all the time. By giving something that’s of legitimate value away with no expectation of compensation, you’re achieving several things.
- If the material or help you’re giving away is of high quality, you’re establishing yourself as a person of credibility – someone who knows what they’re talking about.
- You’re demonstrating empathy by showing the recipient that you understand they’re looking for answers. You understand that they need help – and you’re someone who’s willing to give it to them.
- You’re showing that your intent is not just to get into their wallets – but to sincerely help.
And in the process, you put The Law of Reciprocity into play. When you establish yourself as an honest, sincere, and giving person – you make it much easier for people to buy from you when you have something to offer.
At that point they already like you, they have seen that you know your stuff, and they trust you. All that makes it much easier for them to choose you.
The Wrong Way
While responding to The Law of Reciprocity is hard-wired into us, most people aren’t stupid. If the law is exploited as a tactic, they can smell it from a mile away and it won’t work. At least it won’t work long-term.
Exploiting the law means using it as a front. Pretending to be sincere and helpful only to trick people into feeling a sense of obligation to a future sales pitch. Lousy salespeople are easy to find – and when someone is using reciprocity as a pressure tactic, it’s obvious.
You’ve been there as a consumer. I’ll bet you don’t have to go back very far in your memory bank to remember a time when someone seemed a little too nice. Even though they were doing something positive for you, you still instinctively didn’t trust them.
That’s because their intentions weren’t sincere and you sensed it. Using the law that way may trick someone from time to time, but it likely won’t lead to repeat sales, good will, or referrals. Pressured prospects tend to disappear quietly. Sometimes not so quietly.
The right way to gain maximum benefit from the Law of reciprocity is to use it sincerely and for the right reasons: to help others and to grow your relationships.
With Great Power…
There is a lot of aggressive sales and marketing advice out there, but listen to it with caution. Consumers are savvier than ever before. Being aggressive tends to offend and alienate. Instead, aim for active.
What’s the difference? Aggressive is relentless and pushy. Active is, well, active. If what you’re selling is truly of value, you don’t have to be a bully to get people to buy. You just have to work hard to get your name out there and develop your brand.
Your offering and your reputation should speak for itself.
Even if you’re coming from a sincere place – if you tread too closely to the aggressive vs. active line, you run the risk of mistakenly being seen as “one of those pushy marketers.”
What Can You Do Today?
Since you are one of the good guys, ask yourself, “What small thing can I provide today that my customers can really use?”
And when you come up with an answer – give it to them. It’s the right thing to do – and because of The Law of Reciprocity, your customers will gladly return that generosity when you do have something to sell.
Time to speak up!
Share your experiences with reciprocity in the comments. Where have you seen it used well – or poorly?
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