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Use reciprocity to build influence and make sales

19th Feb 2017
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When it comes to making decisions, humans are prone to various cognitive bias.

Some are particularly hard to overcome like "anchoring bias”, which makes us over-reliant on the first piece of information we hear. For instance, the person who names the exact number first while haggling will establish a list of reasonable possibilities in each person’s mind.

Or “confirmation bias”, which make us stubbornly believe and listen to only those information, which already confirms our existing pre-conceptions.

Perceived authority, scarcity, and social proof are the other three major decision-making drivers (and bias) often used in sales. And the cherry on top of those is reciprocity.

Reciprocity as a tool to influence people

Broadly defined, reciprocity stands for our willingness to return a favor when someone did something nice for us or blacklist someone for being mean.

As Andreas Diekmann puts it in his paper: Reciprocity is conditional fairness.

Here’s a quick example from the 70s. Back then the Hare Krishna Society often fundraised publicly in busy spaces e.g. airports. They offered a flower or pamphlet in exchange for a donation. And though a lot of people deemed them “weird”, they still were compelled to donate due to their reciprocation tactic.

Obviously, the exact same approach no longer works as magic pill today. But reciprocity hasn’t lost its undeniable power. Instead, it evolved.

Let's take a look at blogging.

Today, a lot of people create blogs out of the sheer pleasure to share their tips, knowledge, and expertise to the world. Businesses start blogs to share their "trade secrets" and educate the consumers. Content marketing is a massive hype.

Yet, the reason why a lot of independent bloggers are often much more successful than “blogging businesses” is due to the difference in the attitude.

Bloggers usually adopt the “Give, Give, Give and occasionally ask for a small Take”. While the majority of businesses employ the “Give and Take, Take, Take” approach when it comes to sales.

You are probably familiar with the latter. You’ve just given away your email to a company in exchange for an industry report. They promised not to spam you. Yet within the following three days you receive 5 emails screaming to purchase their products, add your credit card or finalize your trial subscription.

Is it reciprocity in action?

No. The true power of reciprocity lies in continuously accumulating the “good karma” credit before pushing a request to the not yet enticed listeners.

Want to make people pay attention to what and when you are asking for something? In that case, focus on building positive reciprocity for your business. Here’s how.

Offer customer support to those who are not your customers (yet)

Today there’s an online community or a Facebook/LinkedIn group for pretty much any audience segment or interest – from gardening to rocket science (no kidding).

Quora, Reddit, and Twitter are also the go-to places where people ask for all sorts of advice – from buying a car to rating their landing page.

Now, don’t galore into those communities to drop a link to your latest product or blog post and shamelessly self-promote yourself. Surprise, surprise, this likely won’t bring you any traction.

Instead spend the time writing one huge, detailed and super-helpful answer to the posted question or problem. Sure, you may mention that you also have a product for that or a post covering the same subject, but leave it all until the end.

Explain to them how exactly they can solve their pressing issue and high chances are that they will return you the favor in one way or another – as a social share, sale, or business development opportunity. Even when you use paid channels like Facebook ad platform, a great tactic to boost conversion is to be helpful or entertaining, rather than just pushing for a sale.

Be consistent and deliver

Don’t forget the “Give, Give, Give” mantra. Acknowledge people you have mentioned in your content or who have outreached to you in some way. Deliver value without asking for that “favor” first. Focus on accumulating as many as possible reciprocity credits before serving your big “ask”. Which leads to the next point…

Invest in building quality relationships with others  

Don’t be the first one to land the hand of reciprocity. Mention people you want to connect with. Highlight the comments you receive from your customers and take advantage of the user-generated content they are sending your way.

Network with people in your niche and keep your focus on building meaningful interactions before engaging with them in any way.  For instance, wondering why your outreach emails to journalists and online media publishers yield no results? It’s probably you, not them.

Most likely your entire pitch is about you and you forgot to mention the "what's in it for them" bait. Why would they want to interview your CEO, review your product or invite you as a podcast guest if they even don't know you well enough?

That’s exactly where reciprocity is so important. Start doing favors to them first and building relationships with one small step at a time before jumping in with your ask for something.

And when you do ask, clearly outline what they’ll receive in return – an awesome piece of content to interest their audience, a mutually beneficial business arrangement or tons of social traffic you’ll be sending their way when promoting the co-branded piece.

Influence your existing audience

To elicit positive reciprocity response from your current audience stay focused on delivering continuous value. In fact, over-deliver whenever it is possible.

Package your best ideas and tips into helpful resources and checklists. Reward your most loyal customers and product evangelists. And give, give, give more than you take!

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