Cardinal Path’s response to COVID-19 Cardinal Path is sharing all we know to help marketers during COVID-19.  Learn more.

One of the most fundamental unwritten rules (or “social norms”) in virtually all human cultures throughout history – is that if someone does something for us, we must at some point return the favor.

This applies not only to individuals, but also to groups – including companies. (It even applies to countries, but that’s beyond the scope of this post.)

From early childhood through adulthood, we’ve all been trained to play by this rule: You must not take without giving back.

Consider how we label those who violate this rule: A moocher, an ingrate, a user, a taker… generally a person to be avoided.

Think about how you feel when:

  • Someone sends you an unexpected birthday gift
  • Someone invites you over for dinner
  • You’re in a jam at work and – without even being asked – someone goes out of their way to help you

In all cases, you will feel an obligation to pay that person back in kind. Because when someone does you a favor, you owe them.

But here’s the best (and most useful) part: We say YES to those we owe.

How can Reciprocation affect relationships with potential customers?

If you want to influence potential customers – if you want them to say YES to future requests –  the first questions you should ask are not:

  • “Who can help me?”, and
  • “What can I get from this person?”

Rather, you should ask,

  • “Who can I help?”, and
  • “What useful favor can I do for this person?”

Or to put it another way, ask “whose business outcomes can I advance, and how?”

Is there a quick win you can give someone? A great lead or customer referral? A quick consultation that will solve a nagging problem for them? A free copy of your software?

If so, give it to them. Cheerfully and without request for payment. Then see if they’re not much more likely to return the favor and throw some business your way (often before you even ask).

As the Principle of Reciprocation is one of the most powerful persuasion techniques, I’ll be covering it in my next “Online Persuasion” webinar. We haven’t set a date yet, but stay tuned.


State of Digital Marketing Analytics

The 2020 State of Digital Marketing Analytics examines the marketing technology that supports the world's most successful enterprises and highlights the challenges and strategies for navigating the new normal..