“There is one word which may serve as a rule of practice for all one’s life – reciprocity.” – Confucius

Recently, Google AdWords expert Perry Marshall sent me a letter. Enclosed with the letter was a crisp, new $50 bill.

That certainly got my attention. Wouldn’t it get yours?

But it did something in addition to getting my attention. It made me feel obligated to read Perry’s letter – and to comply with whatever he was going to ask of me.

The letter began: “The most important thing you need to know about this $50 bill is there are more where this came from – a lot more.”

His offer: Promote a free Perry Marshall teleseminar to my subscriber list – and get a nice affiliate commission from back-end sales of his coaching services to them.

Perry sent the same letter to 23 people with lists that he thought would work for his offer. With a $50 bill in each letter, he gave away $1,150 in cash.

Did it work?

Yes. Perry reports that eight or nine of the 23 recipients promoted his teleseminars to their subscribers.

A few recipients who had to decline Perry’s offer for one reason or another sent back the $50 via PayPal. If I had not accepted it, I probably would have done the same. But when you’re holding cash in your hand, it’s hard to give it up.

I likely would have done the deal even if the $50 bill hadn’t been enclosed, because Perry is a friend and admired colleague. However, it made me give his request my immediate attention instead of putting it aside for consideration when I had more time. So in my case, enclosing the money certainly helped Perry get my commitment to his promotion in a timely manner.

The bottom line? Perry added 4,000 new subscribers to his e-list… and closed coaching contracts worth around $100,000. All those new coaching sales were to his affiliates’ subscribers – buyers who were NOT on Perry’s list.

Why am I telling you about this?

Because it demonstrates a principle that Robert Cialdini talks about in his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. That principle is “reciprocity”… and it’s something Michael Masterson has written and lectured about.

Reciprocity means you give something away to your prospects – and, by doing so, you create in them a need to reciprocate in some way. As a result, they feel obligated to – if not buy what you are selling – at least consider your proposition.

It’s an old – and proven – idea.

Market research companies used to mail consumer surveys with a dollar attached. Those companies knew the dollar wasn’t really important to the recipient. The cover letter usually stated: “I know this dollar is not important to you. But it may brighten the day of a child you know.”

By keeping the dollar bill, recipients felt obliged to reciprocate by answering the survey. It boosted response rates… because many felt it would be wrong to take the dollar without filling out the questionnaire.

But you don’t have to give away a dollar – or even $1,150, like Perry Marshall did – to use reciprocity as a marketing tool. Anything of value that you do for – or give to – your prospects or customers can create a sense of obligation… and increase your sales.

For instance, you could give away a free white paper… a free CD… a free book… a free calculator… a tele-class… a coaching session.

If the recipients find your gift valuable and useful, that doesn’t guarantee a sale. But it does increase the chances that they will listen to your sales pitch… read your copy… or accept a free trial of your product or service.

[Ed. Note: Bob Bly is a popular Early to Rise columnist, self-made multi-millionaire, and the author of more than 60 books. He is also the editor of ETR’s Direct Marketing Masters Edition – a program to help you start your own successful direct-mail business.]

Bob Bly

Bob Bly is an independent copywriter and consultant specializing in business-to-business and direct marketing. He has been hired as a consultant by such companies as Sony, Chemical Bank, J. Walter Thompson, Westinghouse, and Prentice-Hall. Bob is also the author of more than 50 books including The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Direct Marketing (Alpha Books), Targeted Public Relations, Selling Your Services, How to Promote Your Own Business, and Keeping Clients Satisfied. A phenomenal public speaker, Bob will share with you how easy it is to start your own business. Whether you’re ready to quit your job or are just looking to make a little money on the side, you’ll want to hear Bob’s advice.