TALKING SALES 155: "Reciprocity: The forgotten Sales Strategy"

John Smibert

reciprocity-3-forgotten-800x400"Reciprocity is what you get back in return for giving help" - an interview by John Smibert.

Some time ago I published an interview with sales futurist Cian McLoughlin where he said "The 'giving is gain' philosophy is very, very important. It tends to trigger reciprocity. If I'm given something of value, innately I have this sense that I must give something back".John Dougan

More recently I heard  John Dougan  state that "reciprocity is the forgotten sales strategy". This was ringing bells with me so I invited him to explain what he meant. This interview seen below below is what resulted.

John told me "Reciprocity is the idea of doing favours. How often in our everyday life do we do something as human beings for somebody else, without expecting anything in return? If you can master that as a sales practitioner, you'll do very well indeed.

In the full discussion - that can be viewed or read below - John  provides great recommendations for salespeople. I hope you like it.


John Dougan is the Intrepid Sales Detective, a noted writer and blogger on sales effectiveness.


John S: Hello, I've got John Dougan with me again - welcome back, John!

John D: Thank you, John!

John S: Hey John, I've heard you talk about reciprocity as a forgotten strategy in sales. I'd like you to tell us what you really mean by that.

John D: Firstly, John, well done on saying reciprocity that way - I was impressed.

John S: I practised a lot, John.

John D: [laughs] What is reciprocity? Do you know what, reciprocity is the idea of doing favours. And John, how often in our everyday life do we do something as human beings for somebody else, without expecting anything in return? I tell you what, if you can master that as a sales practitioner, you'll do very well indeed.

John S: I think you're absolutely right. I mean, I talk a lot about personal branding and social selling and so on, and in that environment, particularly social selling, it's all about giving, it's all about putting out ideas and creating value for others and commenting and responding in a positive way to other people. It's not about trying to get something out of somebody in social, and I think selling's like that. If we go in with the attitude that we're going to try and get something from this customer, it's the wrong intent.

reciprocity-1-monkeysJohn D: Well, John, it's the oldest adage in sales, isn't it, the idea that I give more in value than I take from you as a customer, and we've got to be cognizant of that every time. I'm actually saying be a little bit more deliberate about it. Be a little bit more deliberate about the information that you share, be a little bit more deliberate about the way that you approach clients. If it comes to Christmas time, do you know what? Rather than sending a bottle of wine, why don't you send a book that you think they'd be really interested in, and inscribe on the front, "I thought of you when I read this, I thought you might like it. Would love to reconnect in the New Year."

John S: And I think in the sales environment, often we are all focused on getting our product or service into the customer environment and our activity is very focused on that. But if we lift ourselves up above that and say, "How can we help this customer? How can we create value for the customer?" And sometimes it might involve our products and services and sometimes it might not.

John D: Beautiful, beautiful comment, John. I called that, back in my old days, the broker of capabilities. The idea that if you cannot service your client and you can recommend somebody who can, you in my eyes have done the best job you can do as a salesperson. Imagine the trust that that builds when they then have something that you credibly can't help them with.

trust-tigerJohn S: Well, it builds trust, but it also builds a desire to give back, doesn't it? For a lot of customers, they will be looking for ways in which "This person's created a lot of value for me. Let's look at how I can help this person," and that's when it doesn't really matter what the product is, ~they'll buy~ your product, because they're giving back. But also, there's an issue there too; you need to manage reciprocity.

John D: Definitely. But at the same time, don't be afraid to be non-destructively ruthless with it. The idea of somebody... When you do a favour for somebody, do you know what? They already understand that they owe you a favour back, that's human nature. So don't be afraid ever to do a favour on the basis that you may get something in return, just don't expect it immediately, or don't expect it as a direct result of what you've done there and then.

John S: I think it's important though to test your customer occasionally, because if you're giving all the time and never get anything back, that's a good qualifier; maybe you're either, "Now it's time we deliberately ask for something back, or we qualify out."

John D: Absolutely. And that's one of the beautiful things about asking for favours or reciprocity is this... If they can't help you there and then, who else do you know in your network that can actually help me? And the beautiful art of cross-selling and asking for referrals comes to the fore there.

John S: Reciprocity, referrals are a significant part of that. But it's not just that, it's getting the order in the first place. I've created a whole lot of value in the discussions we've had; a really good discovery creates enormous value for the customer. If you've been in there, in a nice way, challenging, teaching, putting insight on the table, getting them to rethink the way they're running their business to drive more value in their business, they owe you something, and that's probably a bit of business.

John D: Absolutely. And, again, if you've earnt the right, never be afraid to ask for the outcome.

John S: And to me that's when the negotiation and closing becomes really simple. If you've created that value through the discovery process, it's just natural that the value proposition flows out of that, and it's just natural that they're going to give you a commitment. It's time to ask, but it's not a real, heavy close.

John D: If your customer believes and understands the value that you've created throughout your interactions, when you ask for the business you will get it.

John S: Reciprocity. Love it, John - good strategy.

John D: Thank you, John!


If you like John Dougan  you can see more of his interviews here:

  1. Adapting Sales Process to Buyer Behaviour
  2. Choosing the right sales methodology
  3. The social selling evolution
  4. The sales profession
  5. Why is your sales meeting de-motivating?
  6. Research shows sales meetings suck
  7. Coaching for sustainable sales growth
  8. Coaching for behavioural change



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Want to touch base? If you have questions please feel free to contact me - email: john.smibert(at), Phone: +61 404857893 or Skype: john.smibert

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