Have you ever been compelled to return a favor to someone? Maybe they helped you negotiate with a demanding customer, and now you want to return the favor.
This is the Law of Reciprocity in action and can be a potent sales tool when used correctly.
What is the Law of Reciprocity?
The rule of reciprocity refers to a social norm where any positive action is responded to with a similar or equal positive action.
It’s often referred to as the rule of reciprocation, the reciprocity technique, or the law of persuasion.
In sales, “you have to give to get” refers to the reciprocity law. It suggests that when we give to others first, the rule of reciprocity will compel them to return the favor, presumably by buying from us.
Benefits of Leveraging Reciprocity in Sales
There are numerous benefits to incorporating the law of reciprocity as part of your sales persuasion strategies.
The most common question sales professionals have when applying the law of reciprocation is, “How can I use reciprocity to sell more?”
Builds Trust & Credibility
Reciprocity benefits the salesperson’s relationship with their customers and their buyers.
When giving takes the form of value to the buyer, such as sharing helpful information, making valuable referrals, or demonstrating a significant return on investment, it builds trust and credibility.
When we were looking for a new truck, the dealer offered to let us take the vehicle home for the weekend to see if it would fit in our garage and if it was a good fit for our family’s needs.
Their willingness to give us the truck for the weekend to satisfy our questions resulted in our belief and confidence that the dealer had our best interests in mind.
Shows Empathy & Willingness to Help
When it comes to reciprocity in business, sales professionals can use its application to demonstrate empathy and a willingness to help.
Several years ago, a pump in our sink failed, resulting in water flooding our basement. We discovered the flooding around 8 pm, and not knowing a plumber, we reached out to our home builder, who came right over to assess the damage.
His willingness to give up his time resulted in our desire to use his contractors to repair the pump. We’ve also told dozens of others about our experience, which has improved his reputation and even helped him close some new home sales.
Long-Term Reciprocity Builds “Social Capital”
When you help others, you build up what is referred to as Social Capital. Think of these like credits in a bank account.
The more you give, the more you build trust, credibility, and social capital, which can help accelerate sales.
Examples of building social capital include:
- Sharing knowledge with clients to help them make crucial decisions.
- Providing free resources that help to address a problem a customer has.
- Giving samples to allow a prospect to test before they invest.
When you build social capital, you position yourself as a valuable, trusted resource, influencing prospects to reciprocate but investing in what you have to offer.
Types of Reciprocity Persuasion Techniques in Sales (with Examples)
There are different kinds of reciprocity, each with its application and outcomes. For our purposes, we’ll focus on the three most common:
- Generalized reciprocity is giving without expecting a specific outcome. An example is when you donate to a charity of your choice.
- Balanced reciprocity refers to when give-and-take is equal. For example, we traded hockey and baseball cards when I was younger. The goal was to ensure the “value” of the players traded was equal.
- Negative reciprocity is an exchange that is considered unequal. For example, hotels often increase their room rates as capacity lessens. If you were to pay more for a hotel room than someone else with the same room, it would be considered negative reciprocity.
Material or Financial Reciprocity Techniques
Another form of reciprocation is what’s referred to as material or financial reciprocation. It refers to when you do something for someone else, and they, in turn, want to pay you back or return the favor by reciprocating in the same way.
You likely experience this form of reciprocation regularly; here are some common examples:
- You loan someone your lawnmower, and they reciprocate by bringing you a small gift.
- You pass along some tickets to a concert you can no longer attend, and the other person sends you a gift basket.
- You refer a client to someone who can assist them with a problem, and they, in turn, introduce you to someone in their network which you might help.
- You help a customer with an issue over the weekend, and they reciprocate by sending you a thank-you card with a small gift.
As much as material or financial reciprocity is commonplace, it can also work negatively. For example, if you speak poorly about a competitor’s product, they will likely do the same about you if they find out!
Remember, reciprocity is such a powerful tool because we have a deep psychological need to remain even with others.
Emotional Reciprocity Techniques
Emotional reciprocity draws on our desire to remain even with others but through an emotional means. It draws on our tendency to make other people feel good.
Examples of emotional reciprocity include the following statements:
- “It’s great to meet you!”
- “Thank you for taking the time to meet with me today.”
- “You’ve got a great group of people working here.”
- “This seems like a great company.”
- “I can see you have many great products.”
Saying something complementary, that causes others to feel good creates a deep emotional desire to reciprocate. This desire is often unconscious as it draws upon the law of reciprocity.
Sales Persuasion Through Reciprocation
When it comes to being a high-performing sales professional, drawing upon and using the law of reciprocity is vital.
Applying the various types of reciprocity can increase your influence over the sale.
How will you put the law of reciprocation to work in your sales techniques?
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