Cialdini Influence: Tapping into the Power of Reciprocity

Women’s clothing retailer Anthropologie emails me a special coupon for my birthday. My friend’s local realtor brings her a pumpkin in the fall and offers a photo with Santa in December. A colleague receives a yearly birthday card from her husband’s college alma mater…

This gifting technique is familiar to many people in sales and marketing, and it’s the first example Robert Cialdini covers in his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. Called reciprocity, Cialdini says this influencer is the most powerful form of persuasion because it makes a person feel obligated to “repay, in kind, what another person has provided us.”

Cialdini’s Influence, along with his many other publications and consulting work, provides useful takeaways for both in-person and social media interactions in the financial services industry.

Beginning with centers of influence, you can start the reciprocity cycle by giving them a piece of business. An industry CPA or attorney will be much more likely to provide you with a referral if you are the first to give and bring them a client.

Building up others, whether they are centers of influence or just general contacts, builds you up in the eyes of others. Reciprocal obligations may not be realized immediately, but Cialdini says the reach is powerful and can extend well into the future.

The key is to be genuine and considerate. Your referrals should be well considered and include personal introductions, phone calls or email.

You can take a similar approach in social media by re-sharing content or commenting on other people’s blogs.

Consider keeping the reciprocal process in play with a thoughtful thank you when you receive a referral or new business. My thanks can come in many forms as I try to make them dependent on each person’s interest. For instance, if I know someone is a big supporter of an animal rescue center, I might donate my time or bring in much needed supplies like old blankets and towels.

What does your referral program look like? Do you keep track of referrals and say thank you? Is the gesture unique to your firm? Is it valuable and done in a heartfelt manner?

Remember, some of these ongoing thank you gestures can be helped along with automation tools. Google Alert and calendar notifications can work wonders! Just be sure to include something personalized or unexpected; people notice the effort!

The birthday email from Anthropologie may not seem like much, but it’s a nice touch. While I may not use my coupon I certainly do appreciate the offer, and I reciprocate the gesture by shopping at the retailer throughout the year.