In San Cristobal, Mexico, I walked into a health food store and the owner offered me a sample of their “famous healthy granola”. I accepted it and he went on to tell me about it’s healing properties. I was immediately engaged in an exchange of one of the powers of influence – reciprocity.
Whether the shop owner was aware of it or not, he was using the method of reciprocation to encourage me to purchase something. Reciprocity involves offering something small to solicit a return gesture from those on the receiving end. It is human nature to feel a sense of obligation to someone who has bestowed a ‘gift’ upon us. The Hare Krishna society have been using this theory for years with their floral ‘gifts’.
We’ve all experienced the salesperson in the supermarket offering you a toothpick of cheese. We enjoy taking one piece (or five) of the raisin bread in the ‘try me’ basket at the bakery – these are two examples of reciprocity in action. So how do we use it for our own marketing purposes?
As consultants, we can do likewise by offering a piece of strategic advice to a potential client – a sample of our ‘knowledge loaf’. It costs us nothing to offer advice on a strategy that has proven successful for previous clients. This has a twin effect:
We are enacting the power of reciprocity and can reasonably expect something in return. The receiver of our gift of knowledge may then feel obliged to use our services when they decide to action the advice.
We are demonstrating our expertise within the field.
It is important to note the vast difference between sharing knowledge, with minimal work required, and spending time providing services. Your services and time are valuable and not charging adequately for any significant time spent providing these de-values the service itself. Reciprocation should be considered as a valuable power of persuasion, but should not have a deceitful intention.
Once you are aware of reciprocation in action, you will begin to question it’s influence on your own decisions.
So back to the Mexican health food store, I did purchase the ‘famous healthy granola’ – but not without due consideration. I understood that the power of reciprocation had been invoked but did not let that influence my decision making process. If I had not been given the sample I still would have purchased the bag… at least I think I would have.
The power of reciprocation is one of the six weapons of influence as described in detail in Robert B. Cialdini’s book, Influence – the Psychology of Persuasion. This is one of the five business books you need to read.