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Beyond Quid Pro Quo

Kildare Escoto is the best performing salesman in a North Carolina optometry business.

When Wharton Business School professor Adam Grant walks into that eye care office posing as a mystery shopper, Kildare doesn’t give the hard sell. He doesn’t show off cool shades or push hip frames in Grant’s face. Instead, he asks Grant whether it’s his first visit, about his lifestyle, and what he needs — and he takes the time to listen.

Businesses usually operate according to the principle of quid pro quo. We exchange money for goods and services, and that seems like a perfectly fair system. You scratch my back, I scratch yours. We both win.

Yet here’s Kildare, who breaks away from that model. The transaction doesn’t appear to even be on his mind. Instead, he wants to find out about the itch on your back — and that’s the secret to his success.

The Path to the Top Has No Strings

There are three reciprocity styles, as Grant explains in his fascinating bestseller, Give and Take. You’re a giver, a taker, or a matcher.

Takers are simply selfish. They have to be top dog in a world they see as dog-eat-dog. Givers are the opposite. They focus on others and their needs and expect nothing in return. Matchers are all about equal give-and-take. They expect tit for tat, because they feel it’s fair to give in order to receive.

Most people fall into this third category, and when you consider the world of work and commerce, being a matcher seems entirely rational. Yet as Grant’s research uncovers, this approach actually fall short.

Surprisingly, the most successful people turn out to be givers. They give, rather than claw or barter, their way to the top.

The Paradoxical Power of Giving

So what is it about giving that is so effective?

Kildare, of course, is a giver. He’s not only the company’s best salesman, he actually brings in more than twice the average sales revenue. And he does it by not focusing on the sale but the person in front of him, redefining his role and objective. Listen to how he explains his success:

I don’t look at it as selling . . . I see myself as an optician. We’re in the medical field first, retail second, sales maybe third. My job is to take the patient, ask the patient questions, and see what the patient needs. My mind-set is not to sell. My job is to help. My main purpose is to educate and inform patients on what’s important. My true concern in the long run is that the patient can see.

Here’s a top salesman who believes his job isn’t to sell. His goal everyday when he comes into work is the opposite of “always be closing.” Instead his job is to help, to educate, and to inform — to consider the good of the patient in the long term rather than his earnings in the short term.

It’s the giver’s paradox. Their defining characteristic to focus on others is what makes them so persuasive. People are more likely to give their attention and trust, not to those who shout the loudest but instead listen and help. Giving confers a position of strength that doesn’t depend on dominance.

In contrast, the matching reciprocity approach actually weakens.

Not only is having to keep a favor score mentally draining, it discourages connection. Asking for help and support become fraught and difficult for matchers because such requests trigger future favors in return. That makes for weaker quality connections, which lack a sincerity of trust, as Grant points out, “since they’ve been more like transactional exchanges than meaningful relationships.”

Seth Godin sums up the result:

The irony of “getting in return for giving” is that it doesn’t work nearly as well as merely giving. Giving because you care, because you have something to say and because it feels right. No Tat.

How Giving Makes Marketing Easier

Belief in “giving because you care” fuels our own karma-based marketing strategy. We provide educational content for customers and audience members who told us they want to learn how to be better at email. And we aim to do so by moving beyond the matchers’ norm to follow this principle: “Don’t ask for the sale when you’re doing good things for people.”

In other words, don’t transform giving into a transaction, a calculated exchange. That devalues both the act and the relationship.

It all boils down to the question of what will help your people (your audience, customers, members, community) succeed? That’s a much clearer, more encouraging reason to get up for work every day.

Stopping to ask that question can illuminate the right way forward for your marketing strategy, whether you’re deciding how to go about your lifecycle emails, how to build your email list, or simply how to spend your day. We recently ditched our Facebook page, for example, because we felt it wasn’t helping or contributing value to anyone.

In HelpScout’s case, asking that question led to their decision to open access to all their resources by removing all their email gates, a technique that up until that point had gotten them 30,000 subscribers in one year. Moving past quid pro quo meant they could embark on an experiment that was more in line with their values: “of giving without an ulterior motive and allowing the goodwill to make its way back to us.” According to Grant’s research, that’s a smart move.

When you think about the companies you trust and admire, chances are they are givers. And when a business operates based purely on quid pro quo exchange, it tends to send a message that they see customers not as people but as dollar signs.

When you care about people, you give wholeheartedly and without reservation. That’s why we tend to be matchers in the workplace but givers when it comes to our families and friends. A business is not such foreign ground for all this seemingly fuzzy, warm, caring generosity. Customers are people with whom you both benefit from long-term relationships. And relationships are based on trust.

You want to build that trust by doing the right thing rather than the fair thing.

What are some of your favorite businesses that embody the giving mindset? Share with us in the comments!