If you’ve read Robert Cialdini’s excellent book “Influence: The Science of Persuasion”, you’ve probably heard of the so-called Reciprocity Rule. Basically, it states that by giving away something first, you’ll be in a much better position to ask for something in return later.

Cialdini makes various observations around this strategy: first, there is no correlation between the size or importance of what you give and what you ask (meaning you could – theoretically – give away something small and ask for something big, or vice versa). Second, you can give and ask for very different things (he gives the example of an experiment where someone gave away a Coke and later on asked the recipient of the “gift” to buy raffle tickets).

But the Reciprocity Rule is about more than experiments or trying to manipulate others into compliance. When used well (and ethically) it can be a powerful ally in getting buyers to take action at crucial times in the buying process.

By giving away (information, insights, …) early on in the sales process, you build relationship equity. That equity can come in very handy later on, when you need your buyer to do things for you (like get back to you, make an internal sale, provide you with some information or tell you how you’re doing versus your competitors in the sales process).

The Reciprocity Rule: 3 Simple Steps.

1. Give value first

The important thing is to always give value first. Value can take different forms, but in sales one of the best and most “valuable” forms of value is providing (your buyer with) new ideas and perspectives (see also our research on “What Sales Winners Do Differently”).

2. Put the information into context

Without context, information is just data – and leaving the interpretation of that “data” to your buyer is a classic rookie mistake. Don’t assume buyers will somehow “magically” see the connection between the insights you’ve just given them, and how it benefits their business. They won’t – and even if they do, they’ll never be able to do it in the same way as you.

As a seller, your job is not (only) to provide new insights and information, but to provide context – to help your buyer make the connections needed and see what the “bottom line” for their business would be, and why it matters.

3. Engage and Ask

The third, and final step, is then to “make the ask”. For best results, don’t ask for something right away, but give your buyer some time to (ideally) get some benefits or early results from the new insights and perspectives you’ve given them. Some proof that it works, if you like.

Finally – never do anything unethical, cut corners or deliberately attempt to manipulate your buyer’s behaviour. Not only will most sophisticated buyers see through this, but it may (and likely will) damage your reputation in the long run.

When used well, the Reciprocity Rule truly can be a seller’s best friend. By providing value early on in the sales process, you build powerful relationships – which mean you’ll be making things a whole lot easier down the line.

Reciprocity: How To Apply The Robert Cialdini Reciprocity Rule In Sales