One of my favourite books is ‘Influence : the power of persuasion’ by Robert Cialdini where he documents 5 key strategies used by highly influential people. One of these 5 strategies, reciprocity, is especially important to business networking. It’s a key feature of international business networking organisation BNI for whom the mantra is “If I give you business, you will want to give me business” – and it works.
According to Cialdini, humans seem to have this inbuilt need to reciprocate. You buy someone a pint of beer and they want to buy you one back. You do someone a favour and they want to return the favour. Whether this is nature or nurture is very debateable because, in my experience, some people are just happy to keep taking without any apparent desire to reciprocate.
Fortunately enough people in business networking do get the concept of ‘Givers Gain’ that BNI have done so well to evangelise. In my experience, however, there is one thing you need to bear in mind:
People will give back what you give
They may give back in different ways but it will be something they consider equal value to settle the social ‘debt’. They will rarely give you massively more than you have given.
The way some people give referrals, it’s like they give someone a glass of tap water expecting to get back a glass of fine wine. Sorry but it ain’t gonna happen!
Some people, for example, give a referral by doing no more than giving a name and number of a contact with no effort to make an introduction. With Google and LinkedIn that information these days can be gained with little effort. In sales terms a referral like that adds little. Unfortunately people are often too polite to give feedback except by not giving referrals back.
So my business networking tip is to give as you would like to get. If you want to get more quality referrals or you want to continue getting quality referrals, make sure you are giving quality referrals.