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The Big Owe

Tradeshows like this month’s Consumer Electronics Show are a little bit like Halloween.

Cashing in on the Power of Goodwill on Your Next Sales Call

Dave Chace ([email protected]) is president of Training Allies, a CE-focused training firm in Philadelphia.

Tradeshows like this month’s Consumer Electronics Show are a little bit like Halloween. You stroll along carpeted avenues, and at almost every address, there’s a bowl of candy from which you’re encouraged to help yourself. It’s glorious.

If you’ve ever succumbed to temptation and grabbed a morsel or two, you understand the genius behind why they put it out there. The candy may be free of charge, but it still comes with a price. Grabbing a mint or a few Tootsie Rolls subtly implies that you’re taking something from them, and in doing so, you are now inclined to provide something in return, which is just what the booth “residents” want. You end up paying with your time as you submit to a bit of conversation so as not to look (or feel) like a moocher.

The candy at tradeshow booths may be free of charge, but it still comes with a price.

The Power of Reciprocity

From childhood it’s ingrained in us not to take without giving in return; therefore, one of the most powerful forces that drives our behavior is the desire not to be indebted or obligated to anyone, even for something minor. For example, think about what happens when someone opens a door for you as you enter a building. If there is another door right after, what do you do? Guaranteed, you hold the door for them, just to even the score.

Suppose you received a holiday card (or worse, a gift) from someone to whom you hadn’t sent anything? What’s your reaction? A professor at Brigham Young University once mailed 100 Christmas cards to complete strangers whose names he’d picked out of a phone book, as an experiment. The result? More than eighty percent of the recipients sent cards in return. The fact is, nobody wants to be “on the hook,” even to someone they don’t know.

When someone gives us something, or does us a favor–regardless of how small the gesture–it creates an imbalance, and we typically feel compelled to respond in kind, so as to correct that imbalance. Smart businesspeople understand this and seek ways to use this to their benefit, and so should you (so long as you do it ethically).

Here are three tips to help you leverage this powerful principle to improve your business this year:

> Keep It Relevant. The more personal or useful your gesture, the more likely the recipient will feel compelled to respond. Suppose I meet with two qualified integrators about installing a system in my home. Afterward, one sends me a pen with his business name on it, while the other sends me a sleeve of Titelist golf balls because he learned that I was a golf fanatic. Assuming both are of equal skill and reputation, whom am I more compelled to give my business to?

> Develop a ‘Giving’ Reputation. Make a point to always be the one to offer something, without expecting to receive. For instance, this might mean offering leads to other businesspeople within your network whenever possible. Maybe you know someone who needs some remodeling work done or is looking for a good landscaper. Be quick to provide the lead to the appropriate contractor; furthermore, make this type of generosity a habit. The more you earn the reputation as a giver, the more likely you are to receive, although it might not be at that same moment, or even from the same person.

> The Power of Concession. Believe it or not, hearing “no” from a customer often presents an ideal opportunity. Evidence shows that immediately after someone rejects a request, they are more inclined to respond favorably to a concession. Consider a child who asks for a sandwich a half hour before dinner. The parent says no, so the kid then asks, “OK…can I just have a few crackers then, to hold me over?” The parent will likely give in. Now, suppose that all the kid wanted were the crackers in the first place? Pretty smart. This works in business just as well. If you aim high and ask for a big-ticket sale, you may hear “no,” but if you then abruptly lower your request to something more reasonable, the customer is far more likely to respond positively.

Chances are you’ve already broken your New Year’s resolution. Why not make a new resolution to do more favors for people this year? You might be amazed at the results.

>Creating Imbalance

The best news is that there are a countless number of simple ways to create an imbalance in your favor. It’s often as easy as providing exemplary service for a customer. When they see the effort you’re willing to make on their behalf, they’ll feel compelled to reward those efforts. –Dave Chace