You owe me a favour – or do you – reciprocity is a funny old thing..

Reciprocity is the tendency for us to return a kindness.

It is also one of the most misunderstood tools in sales.

The act of making a customer feel special makes them more inclined to favour you with their cash. Pretty obvious huh!

Well yes AND no!

Give everyone a pen at a marketing event and no – one feels special. That’s right – NO ONE. In fact anyone who doesn’t get a pen feels slighted. Lets look at an example.

I remember at a book fair a vendor was giving away free samplers (you know those leaflets that contain either a short story or chapter of a book) and everyone got a single sampler. Except one of the other organisers came up and they gave him all the samplers..every…single..one. I had received a free book and 20 seconds earlier I felt happy – now I feel so put out that I still remember the feeling of indignation now. Heck I know I shouldn’t feel that way – but I do.

Now in similar circumstances a very positive experience.

An artist who was selling his first graphic novel was displaying his work. I didn’t want the comic but was interested in a booklet of his artwork that he also had available and had on display. We talked briefly and I tendered the money. He thanked me and after giving me the bag asked for it back as he wanted to check something. Apparently some of his work was signed in gold pen and some in black – the gold didn’t show and he wanted to make sure that I had one signed in black as I was “such a rare customer” taking the time to ask how his business was going. I still remember the experience and wouldn’t hesitate to buy more from the guy.

Both these events happened more than 3 years ago and I still remember them.

Reciprocity isn’t about returning favours or things – it’s about returning a smile or a kindness.

In fact people are MORE likely to do you a favour if they have already done something for you.
Ben Franklin said this best in his quote:

“He that has once done you a Kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged.”

In fact this is commonly known as the Ben Franklin effect.

It’s debatable whether this is a manifestation of that age old human bugbear the Sunk Cost Fallacy – A human tendency to throw good money after bad and the lure of many types of game of chance. It’s that side of us that tries to convince us “After all the next spin is bound to be lucky if the last ten have all failed”.
I mean if we have already earned your friendship by doing you one favour would we wan’t to risk that by refusing you a second?

So reciprocity is a dual edged
sword –

  • making one person feel special can make others feel slighted.
  • Try and make everyone feel special and risk no-one feeling special.

It is also one of the cornerstones of all business – especially social business.

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