Yo! Welcome to the next episode of The Content Strategy Reeder where 3,241 reeders spend five minutes getting better at content creation and strategy.
Reciprocity is wired into our DNA.
It’s a built-in system designed to build relationships and community.
Put more literally, reciprocity is the act of responding to one positive action with another positive action, usually of near-equal value.
You buy me a birthday gift, I’ll feel compelled to do the same for you.
If I pick up the first round of tequila, you’ll be more motivated to buy the second.
You invite me to your wedding, I’ll feel obliged to invite you to mine — even if it’s years later.
Robert Cialdini made this a broadly known concept via his book, Influence, where he explained how reciprocity can be used as a persuasive tool.
He cites a study where people were 3x more likely to comply with a substantial request when the law of reciprocity was involved.
In other words, you can use reciprocity to get people to do what you want. But only if it’s done correctly.
(Disclaimer: I am not promoting reciprocity as a took for manipulation. I'm simply sharing that it is objectively a potent device for gaining compliance.)
But in B2B, I see it done incorrectly all the time.
Here’s a real life example of a message that I received in the mail this week attached to a box of brownies:
Imagine you received this... what would your response be?
A: Contact the sales rep and set up a meeting
B: Eat the brownies and ignore the note
C: Trash the whole package
My hunch is that you’d pick B.
I did. The Reed fam ate ‘em up.
Or maybe C if you’re anti-sweets.
Here’s why: this isn’t reciprocity, it’s a transaction.
Transactions are an immediate exchange of goods worth the same perceived value.
For example, if I give your $20 for the Steph Curry bobblehead, it’s because we agreed that’s what it’s worth.
We make the exchange, and it’s a done deal.
The problem with the offer I received is that it's actually a trade because of the wording. The exchange of "goods" is immediate. Additionally, it's a miss because I don’t agree that 30 minutes of my time is worth a ~$15 box of treats and a sales pitch.
And for that reason, this sales tactic failed.
But let’s take a different approach. Say you gave me a Steph Curry bobblehead, without prompting or asking for something in return.
Then you’d have tapped into the power of reciprocity. Because should you ask for a favor in the future – like a sales meeting, perhaps – I’d be 3x more likely to comply.
Simply because you lead the engagement by giving first and without any expectation.
Similar versions of a transaction poorly masked as reciprocity plagues B2B sales and marketing teams.
You might have seen other versions in the form offering money, donations to charity, or gifts in exchange for sales meetings. Despite being used often, I’ve never actually heard of them being successful nor enjoyed by the receiver.
While I personally don't believe in this artificially created dynamic to sell a product, you can at least make it more effective with better messaging. Here’s what I would suggest trying instead:
Send brownies with a slightly altered message:
Hey Devin – Hoping this gift scores you some “brownie points” with your family (if you choose to share, I won’t tell!)
Talk soon, Name | Company Name
That’s it. Just give the gift and be clear who it's from.
Then two or three days later, follow up with an email/LI inmail saying:
Hey Devin, Hope those brownies hit the spot. I have something even sweeter that you might be interested in. I know you’re focused on scaling Gong’s content strategy internationally, and that’s exactly how we help B2B marketing leaders. Are you game to learn how we can support your team to grow brand awareness in UKI?
This might not be perfect, but it makes two improvements:
- Allows time to pass, lessening the transactional feel
- Creates a connection between my challenges and their offering
With this approach, I might take a call because they went above and beyond to get my attention, did it thoughtfully, and did their research.
Much more appealing than attempting to buy my time.
Remember, reciprocity is a way to connect and build lasting relationships — but it falls apart immediately when you try to scale it and make it transactional.
Don't try to buy you audience. Instead, win them over by giving immense value over and over.
Holler at you next Saturday,
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Did you get value from this post? If so, you’d make me sing “Gin and Juice” by Snoop D-O-Double-G if you shared this link with your friends or on LinkedIn. Here’s an example from Dani Kimble for inspiration.