I posted on Linkedin this week about how CS teams will benefit from thinking beyond service and support and growing their commercial understanding even if they don't hold bookings or revenue targets.

In the comments, my friend Shawn Reidel left a comment about Robert Cialdini and his seven principles of persuasion.

I had never heard of Cialdini or these principles, but I spent some time with his content this week and instantly fell in love...

Cialdini's principles of persuasion provide a scientific explanation of the psychology of influence. The principles are reciprocity, scarcity, authority, commitment and consistency, liking, social proof, and unity (see links below for more detail on these).

These principles provide an excellent foundation for customer-centric, commercially-aware customer success practices.

Over the next few weeks, I'll elaborate on how each principle relates to our work in customer success, but for today let's focus on reciprocity.

The reciprocity principle

The reciprocity principle states that "people are obliged to give back to others the form of a behavior, gift, or service that they have received first."

In the research, an experiment was conducted in McDonald's restaurants. Half the children who entered the restaurant with their families were given a balloon upon entry.

The other half of the children were given a balloon upon exiting the restaurant as a thank-you gift.

The researchers found that the customers who were given the gift before a purchase spent 25% more on average.

What's happening here is supported by multiple studies in Cialdini's work: When we provide value to a customer which is unexpected, given in advance (we "go first"), and with no expectation of reciprocation, the recipient is left with a feeling of indebtedness they are compelled to repay in kind.

On the surface, this principle seems geared toward sales and marketing, and it certainly is.

But why limit it?

While a significant milestone in the customer relationship, the closed-won deal is only the beginning of a relationship that will unfold over time, and the selling is far from over.

Every SaaS customer represents an opportunity beyond the revenue stream it provides. Each is a chance for our brand promise to come alive as the customer realizes its goals.

When it does, we must secure the customer as an advocate to help tell the story on our behalf, further reinforcing the brand promise and building confidence in the next wave of new prospects. This is the secondary benefit of a customer that is vital to every business, especially subscription businesses.

It's the virtuous cycle we often talk about.

Once the value is provided and proven, our goal is to convince the customer to:

  • Spend time and effort on implementation and onboarding (and stick with it even when it gets difficult)
  • Modify their business practices
  • Meet with our CSM
  • Share their story in a blog post, a webinar, or a speaking engagement
  • Provide an audience with our product team to discuss product strategy
  • Create a formal case study
  • Provide a reference
  • Provide product feedback
  • Sign a renewal

And more...

What if we could leverage Cialdini's principle of reciprocity to ensure that customers are primed, willing, and eager to help us when we ask? Wouldn't it be better to ask for support knowing we already deposited value into the relationship bank?

Cialdini would say, "yes," but what does that look like in practice?

Here are some high and low-touch examples of such deposits:

  • Helping someone get a promotion or land a new job
  • Introducing an executive to a peer or industry luminary
  • Providing authentic, positive feedback to your contact's manager
  • Highlighting the great work your customer is doing on social media (and resisting the urge to talk about your product)
  • Writing a monthly newsletter aggregating news about your customer's industry and summarizing the key insights
  • Offering a free trial of new (paid) functionality, or a free product upgrade
  • Providing training workshops on topics outside of your product
  • Utilizing a gifting platform like Alyce or Sendoso to incorporate the delivery of physical gear to customers at prescribed times in the customer journey

Whatever you choose, the key is to offer "behaviors, gifts, or services" in advance, authentically, and with no expectations attached.

How could you use the principle of reciprocity to drive customer retention and advocacy in your business?


💡 Weekly Favorites

Here are some of my favorite podcasts, blogs, and videos from the week:

  • An episode of The Knowledge Project podcast featuring Alan Mulally, former CEO of Boeing and Ford. Mulally discusses moving from Boeing to Ford and his simple yet powerful Working Together Framework.
  • Another episode of the Prof G Podcast with Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody Analytics, gives several reasons we should be upbeat about the economy versus the increasingly gloomy outlook we see elsewhere.
  • Cialdini's principles of persuasion (note, I am not affiliated with Cialdini or his company in any way, although I'd love to interview him if anyway knows him and would be willing to make an intro 🤓).

See you next week. ✌️

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