Selling is an art. It takes skill, training, time and expertise. It takes tenacity and more tenacity. Most understand this. However, many do not recognize that obeying the law can also help increase sales and profits.

Obey the law

I’m talking about the Law of Reciprocity. This law is a social or physiological rule of sorts that demands people give back an equal or even greater amount than they receive. In other words, people feel obligated to repay others for gifts, favors or benefits received. This law, and its results, are real, significant and deeply ingrained in our society.

It works like this: If someone does something nice to or for you, you feel the need to do something nice for them. In fact, you often feel a strong need to return more than you have received. For example, if someone gives you a very nice birthday gift, you may feel the need reciprocate on their birthday with even more generosity than you received.

The ‘Law of Reciprocity’ in business

This law also works in the sales business. Sometimes it’s as simple as smiling and being nice to a prospect — people will tend to return your smile and positive attitude with similar behavior.

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For the customer relations professional, employing this this law is often the only way to turn a contentious argument into a productive problem solving experience. When an angry customer calls, remaining pleasant and calm, using their name and assuring them that you will do everything in your power to solve their dilemma will often result in a happy, satisfied purchaser.

Helping versus selling

I often recommend that salespeople “stop selling and start helping.” When you sell at people, they often refuse to be influenced. (Do you like it when someone clearly tries to sell you something? Most don't.) On the other hand, almost everyone is willing to accept help. When they accept your help, they percieve you as a friend and an expert. They also become predisposed to help you back, often by making the purchase or at least by becoming more receptive to your advice and counsel. 

Understanding and using the Law of Reciprocity can and will dramatically expand your referral base and, therefore, your income. In all honesty, I believe the Law of Reciprocity is the single most effective way to build a strong referral base. However, there are caveats to consider.


The law works when correctly applied. When incorrectly used, it can reap disastrous results.

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While the Law of Reciprocity is naturally ingrained within us, we as people are intelligent and not easily fooled. If you try to use the law as an insincere ploy or cheap sales tactic, you will be found out. You will not only lose the chance to help those prospects — you will also lose their respect. You and your company will be barred from working with them and likely with any of their, friends, family and acquaintances.

Last thoughts

The Law of Reciprocity is sometimes referred to as the‘Law of Abundance because it produces such abundant happiness and wealth. It is actually a pretty simple rule to understand. It has been around since the Code of Hammurabi and is the root of Judeo-Christian teaching. You may recall it with the phrase, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

Want to see if it works? It's easy: just be friendly, honest, deliberate and eager to help others. Think about them and their needs first.