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How this one word can literally change your approach to sales and your life. When you truly understand the power of Reciprocity be aware that it might make you a little cynical, a small price however to pay for a truly powerful tool. Like any tool there are many applications, I’d just like to say at this point, I only condone the ethical use of the power contained in this article.

I first became aware of Reciprocity in the early nineties, I was looking to enhance my learning of why and what makes people buy when I found Dr Robert Cialdini book, Influence, this book changed my life and I hope that some of its teaching and my learning’s will have a similar affect on you.

So what is Reciprocity?

Reciprocity in social psychology refers to responding to a positive action with another positive action, rewarding kind actions. As a social construct, reciprocity means that in response to friendly actions, people are frequently much nicer and much more cooperative than predicted by the self-interest model; conversely, in response to hostile actions they are frequently much more nasty and even brutal.[1]

You can clearly see above that the Wikipedia definition of Reciprocity is in essence like a mirror, your actions are reflective, your actions will determine the reaction, observing these actions in social behavior lead to the research that determined the bases of this article in relation the Reciprocity as a tool in selling.  Reciprocity harbors two tendencies, positive inclinations and retaliatory actions, if you like positive and negative Reciprocity I want to focus on the positive tendencies created by Reciprocity.

As recently as last week (December 12th 2013) I was caught by the power of Reciprocity, let me tell you this short but interesting story. I had been using a data supplier who we spent a regular amount of money with on a monthly basis, around six month ago we stopped using them and started using another supplier. Since this time every month the sales manager would either email me or call me to try and win back our business, every time it was the same reaction from me, but to his credit he never gives up.

Last week my receptionist called up and said that I had received a parcel, as I was not at the office I asked her to open the item as curiosity had gotten the better of me. She painted a picture as she unwrapped the parcel explaining that under Champagne2the delivery packing it was gift wrapped, intrigued further I asked her to continue opening the item. Under the gift wrap she explained was leather presentation box as she continued to open the box she explained that inside was a lavishly presented bottle of Bollinger Champagne and a card that read “Merry Christmas and a Prosperous New Year for All” and was signed by the account manager at the perusing data company.

All very nice you might think at first, as I did, however the realisation and quandary is quite different. You see I haven’t yet decided if I will place any business with his company next year but if I accept the gift I feel compelled that I should at least give him some sort of token order. If I don’t give him something in return I can not accept the gift, I can not return the gift as that would possibly cause offense, I can not give the gift to someone else as it would be the same as accepting it myself. I could take the gift back personally and explain to the account manager that I can not accept it as I feel obligated but I can not guarantee that I will be in a position to release my self from the obligation.

Either way accepting or rejecting the gift is not the point, the point is in what the gift has created. Like the earlier explanation of Reciprocity above the giving has created reflective action but more importantly it has created a feeling of indebtedness, an indebtedness that we feel compelled to remove our self from by reciprocating the others action of giving. You can see why earlier I commented on only using the power of Reciprocity as an ethical tool, maybe you don’t think that any use of Reciprocity on a conscious level is ethical, I will leave you to make your own judgements.

Understanding the power and mechanics of Reciprocity in sales and marketing contexts can be extremely powerful and rewarding. There are many situations where the use of Reciprocity is prevalent in everyday situations, situations which you might take for granted and have never given a second thought. Take for instance the waiter in your local restaurant, he comes with the bill at the same time bearing sweets for all and maybe two for you the person with the wallet (gifts) are these sweets because hes a nice guy or is he employing Reciprocity in favor of his tip?