The Law of Reciprocity

Published: Tuesday 25th February 2020

In Robert Cialdini’s highly acclaimed best seller, “Influence: The Psychology Of Persuasion”, he identifies reciprocity as one of six principles for getting others to say “yes”. 

And getting others to say “yes” is a pivotal new business skill.

Stephen Covey describes the Law Of Reciprocity in his book “The Seven Habits Of Highly Successful People” and likens it to an “Emotional Bank Account”.   It is just that.  As humans, hardwired within us at a deep emotional level, is the idea that one good act deserves another.  It can be described as a value exchange, and as such comes with the expectation that something of value will be given in return.

Reciprocity is a powerful new business tool, and now more than ever.  Not only does it yield results, it’s actually rather a pleasant way to do business.

Let’s take networking, which you may be born to or which may instead fill you with dread.  If you feel that the sole objective of entering a room largely comprised of strangers, is to exit with a client brief as demanded by your agency chief, you’re hardly going to enjoy the situation and are most likely to be met with disappointment.

Look at it another way.  Your objective is to be a valued part of an interconnected web of people.  Your role is to be of service and value to others and the mantra playing in your head should be “What can I do for you?”  So firstly, be interested in others and listen.  Then think about how you can help them with any business issue they may be facing, for instance by providing a research report, a book or perhaps a white paper.  Make introductions, oil the wheels of social interaction and connect people.  Then follow through with any offers of help – this is paramount or else you risk damaging your credibility and reputation.

And there you have it, a credit banked into the account with the expectation that one-day, this favour will be returned   It’s a two way street of course, as the emotional imperative is that where we have ourselves benefitted, we are in turn in debit.

Next we have referrals, which again trigger the value exchange of reciprocation. Referrals are a rich source of potential new business leads, and people – clients, prospects and the industry – talk about referrals and who made them.  The same rules apply, you have to give to receive; those who receive referrals are those most likely to give them.

When we turn to fuelling and sustaining your new business pipeline, the law of reciprocation is not a quick fix.  

However, we can apply our thinking on reciprocation to the pipeline, specifically at that point when the prospect is moving closer to the point of sale: getting warm, but not yet hot.  For this to work, a structured sales and marketing programme needs to be in place.

Imagine you’ve had your initial sales meeting with a prospect.  At this stage, they are not ready to buy – but you are now on their radar.  So next comes initiating further contact.  This is where your marketing campaign can harness reciprocity – by trading something of value in exchange for the prospect’s time, attention and ongoing consideration.

Dependent upon those issues you identified during that first meeting, this could be a ticket to an event, a conference perhaps, or some relevant content your agency has produced which is directly relevant to their business.  Marketing is used to attract your ideal clients and then move them closer to sale.  Engaging with the law of reciprocity will imbue it with humanity.

Reciprocity is a powerful trigger for getting others to say “yes”.  And for us in new business, that answer is solid gold.