Why your clients are biologically hardwired to love you (and how you can make sure they do)

Five Psychological Levers for Creating Superhuman Business Relationships

Relationships are the life-blood of any successful business — that’s why cultivating enduring connections with clients and partners has been near the top of the to-do list for successful business people for centuries.

With that said, nurturing relationships is not the straight forward process it once was. While email blasts, direct mail pieces, social media posts, and even the occasional wine and dine were once sufficient, because of the ever-increasing noise and clutter in today’s world, these types of techniques simply lack the horsepower to reliably capture the attention of our most valuable clients and partners.

But alas, all is not lost; for the truth is that human biology is actually on our side. With just a bit of effort and know how, we can employ techniques that trigger a range of neurological mechanisms proven to create feelings of appreciation, bonding, and trust. It’s a means to fast-track the building of the important relationship bridges that can make your business soar.

Here are five psychological levers you can use to get the very most out of your business relationships.

1. ZERO IN

It’s a scientific fact: we humans have the capacity to maintain only 150–200 meaningful relationships at any given time. First discovered by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, this limitation has far reaching consequences to those of us interested in leveraging relationships to grow our businesses.

Here’s the thing: In the face of this limitation, it’s simply not realistic to expect to maintain any kind of meaningful relationship with all 7,000 (or 70,000) people on our mailing lists. At least not the kind of relationship that is likely to significantly help us in achieving our business objectives.

To be clear, none of this is to say that it is impossible to have more than 150 relationships, it’s just that the farther we venture beyond this magic number, the more superficial the relationships necessarily become. And this is true even with the miracle of social media on our side.

So how do we manage this problem? At BetterBox, it’s a process we call “zeroing in”.

As anyone who has paused long enough to consider, all business relationships are not equal. Some key people in our circles can have a much greater impact on our businesses than others. Not surprisingly, these are the folks who can help exponentially increase our success and are the ones who we need to prioritize or “zero in” on.

Here’s what to do:

Create a short list of the people who can most dramatically impact the trajectory of your business:

• 50 Most Important Clients
Ask: Who are my most valuable customers? (Hint: they might not be simply your largest customers. Think total lifetime customer value minus account maintenance costs).

• 50 Most Valuable Multipliers
Ask: Who could provide me with introductions and referrals to significantly grow my business? (Hint: Think laterally, the most valuable multipliers might exist outside of your traditional industry circles).

• 50 Most Important Influencers
Ask: Who in my industry do people seek out for inspiration and advice? (Hint: the landscape of influence is rapidly changing, traditional influencers like reporters and business leaders are being joined by social media personalities and other new media taste makers).

Once your list is complete, diligently focus 70–80% of your relationship cultivation efforts on the folks on these lists.

2. STAND OUT

We’ve just seen how our ability to cultivate meaningful relationships is limited. So it naturally follows that the same is true for our clients. They too have the finite resource of attention and memory that they get to decide how to parse across a precious few individuals in their worlds.

So who is it that gets the gift of our client’s attention? Those who earn it, of course. And our first step in doing that is to stand out.

In his wonderful book, Stumbling on Happiness, Dan Gilbert, PhD., speaks of yet another feature of human psychology we can leverage: “The human brain is not particularly sensitive to the absolute magnitude of stimulation, but it is extraordinarily sensitive to differences and changes,” he says. In other words, heads and shoulders above anything else, we are hardwired to notice changes in our environment.

In short, being different matters.

Think of how moved you might be to receive my holiday card in the mail together with a morass of twenty three other cards on the 15th of December; now, contrast that with your feelings about my card that comes out of the blue at another random time of year — say April 22nd — just to say “I’m thinking of you.” I think we can agree that my April card is likely to have a more memorable impact. It’s because anything that defies the predicted pattern of our environment automatically earns our attention.

This is why surprising or unexpected acts can be such powerful relationship cultivation tools, and when performed at random intervals, even more so, as it then takes advantage of yet another nifty psychological point of leverage.

In the 1950s renowned psychologist B.F. Skinner conducted a series of experiments to measure the effect of rewards on lab mice. In a discovery that was really no surprise to anyone, he found that the mice would respond favorably to rewards, but the real discovery had to do with how the rewards were distributed.

In the first group of mice, the rewards, in the form of small treats, were dispensed predictably (that is, every pull of the lever, or every three pulls of the lever, etcetera, would yield a treat). These mice responded favorably to the rewards and learned to pull the lever whenever they felt like a treat.

In the second group of mice, the rewards were distributed randomly (in this case, the treats might be dispensed after one, three, seven, or ten pulls of the lever). This unpredictable distribution of rewards had the effect of causing the mice to compulsively pull the lever with an enthusiasm bordering on obsession.

The lesson? The unpredictable disbursement of rewards creates compulsive responses, and more importantly, this is not just true for lab mice. As it turns out, we’re not as different from those hankering rodents as we’d like to think. This little cognitive quirk exists in all of us as well, and in fact, is one ingredient in the secret sauce that makes everything from video games to slot machines so addictive.

Here’s what to do:

Make sure that you vary your contacts with important clients two important ways:

1. When you connect: Don’t allow yourself to fall into the trap of gifting only at the holidays. Your time and effort will be dramatically undermined by predictability (not to mention it’s too easy to get lost in the crowd).

2. How you connect: Gift baskets, wine, flowers. Yawn. Remember, your client’s brains are hardwired to notice differences. So, be different.

3. GIVE FREELY

If you’ve spent any time studying sales or marketing, you’re likely familiar with the Law of Reciprocity.

Long studied by cultural anthropologists, it refers to how human beings are biologically predisposed to return acts of kindness. When someone does something nice for us, we feel obliged to repay the favor.

It’s a little evolutionarily trick built into us by Mother Nature. Let’s face it, we humans have never been the biggest or baddest kids in the forest, so our survival in the face of lions, tigers, and bears (oh my!), depends on our working together.

And this is where the Law of Reciprocity comes in.

By hardwiring our neurology to make us feel indebted to those who look out for our best interests, Mother Nature has predisposed us to work together, and has thus increased the chances we’ll survive in a dangerous world.

One of the first and most famous studies on the Law of Reciprocity was the famous “Coca-Cola” experiment conducted in 1971 by Professor Dennis Regan at Cornell University.

During the experiment, subjects were placed in a room together with Regan’s assistant, “Joe,” (who subjects believed to be nothing more than another study participant). They were told they would be evaluating a piece of art. At a certain point in the experiment, “Joe” would leave the room and then return after a few minutes.

In some cases, “Joe” returned with a can of Coke, saying “I asked him [the experimenter] if I could get myself a Coke, and he said it was okay, so I bought one for you, too.” In other cases he returned empty handed. At the end of the experiment, “Joe” asked the subjects if they would buy a raffle ticket from him to help him win a prize.

The subjects who received a Coke from Joe bought twice as many raffle tickets as the ones who hadn’t received a Coke from him. What’s more, they paid far more for the tickets than the value of the Coke.

As it turns out, it truly is better to give than receive because when we do, we’re most likely to get both.

Here’s what to do:

Every good deed has the potential to trigger the Law of Reciprocity. A well-constructed corporate gifting strategy is one proven mechanism to leverage this psychological lever, but many other vehicles can be added to the mix including:

• Providing advice and assistance in your area of expertise.
• Publically recognizing individuals for accomplishments or good works.
• Making introductions between friends, associates, and coworkers.

No matter which strategies you choose to employ, remember that giving regularly over a protracted period of time will have the most impactful effect.

4. BUILD TRUST

It’s no secret that trust is the very basis of all important relationships. So in our quest to foster business connections that can meaningfully contribute to our bottom lines, creating trust needs to be a top priority.

The difficulty lies in the fact that trust takes time to earn. Through a repeated demonstration of words and actions, we come, over time, to trust someone. But what if we’re unable to regularly see a person to earn that trust? Or what if we simply wish to speed up the process?

Once again, a nifty neurological hack can come to our rescue.

As Simon Sinek points out in his fascinating book Leaders Eat Last, the human endocrine system produces a range of hormones each designed to drive certain behaviors.

Much like the aforementioned Law of Reciprocity, these hormones encourage us to act in ways that are most likely to perpetuate the survival of our species: endorphines mask pain so that we may push through challenges, seratonin creates the feeling of status and hierarchy to help us organize and work cooperatively, and oxytocin plays a central role in bonding us together as trusted friends and collaborators, to name a few examples.

As you may have by now guessed, in our quest to foster optimal business relationships, oxytocin is our friend.

Oxytocin is a powerful hormone created in the deepest recesses of our brains. Sometimes called “liquid trust”, oxytocin has been shown to drive a range of social behaviors including strengthening social bonds, fostering connection, and promoting collaboration.

As one example, in a study conducted by Professor Michael Kosfeld at the University of Zurich, persons exposed to oxytocin demonstrated a substantial increase in their willingness to trust strangers with their money (yes, I said trust, strangers, and money, all in one sentence). It’s a significant marker of increased trust if there ever was one.

While that may be all well and good, the question remains: how can we use oxytocin’s effect to our advantage?

Well, a number of circumstances are most famous for causing oxytocin’s release into the bloodstream including childbirth, sexual congress, and physical contact like hugging, none of which are particularly helpful to our discussion here, but there is another way.

As it turns out, there’s something else that triggers the production of this trust-producing hormone: acts of altruism. Whenever we put aside our own agendas long enough to perform a good deed for another person, we’re rewarded with a dose of oxytocin and the warm feelings of trust and connectedness come right along with it.

But it gets better, because the hormone is released not only in those who perform the acts, but in those who witness them as well. If you’ve ever wondered how Upworthy managed to get nearly a million followers on Facebook, well, here’s your answer.

While even the smallest acts, performed sincerely can trigger this effect, it’s important to note that acts that involve the donation of money have proven to have little effect on the production of oxytocin. It’s our investment of our precious time that counts. So focus your energies on acts that are perceived to have required more thought or effort on your part:

• A hand-written note will be more effective than a thank you email.
”Wow, I’m touched she took the time to get me a card!”

• An imaginative gift will be more valuable than yet another gift basket.
“He put some real thought into this!”

• A congratulations on someone’s six year old’s kindergarten graduation will be more impactful than a card at the holidays. 
“How in the world did she know about Jimmy’s graduation?!”

Here’s what to do:

For those on your “Zeroed In” list, perform regular acts of kindness focusing on methods where the personal cost in time to you (whether from gift selection, forethought, or effort) is evident. Regularity is key, building repetitive touches into your strategy is important. A few things you can do.

• Demonstrated selfless care for our shared communities.
• Send an unexpected gift in appreciation of friendship.
• Recognize special occasions (anniversaries, promotions, birthdays, children’s graduations).

5. THINK ACTIVITIES

When it comes to creating meaningful personal bonds, experiences trump material goods every time.

A study conducted by University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, found that “recipients of experiential gifts felt more connected to their gift givers as a result of their receiving a gift, compared to those who had received a material gift.” And this is true even in cases when people like the material gift just as much as they did the experiential gift.

The key seems to lie in emotion. According to the study’s author, professor Cassie Mogilner, the fact that people are more likely to experience positive emotions while consuming an experience is the first factor. When this combines with the fact that the recipient is more likely than not to associate those positive emotions with the gift giver, we end up with a recipe for creating feelings of appreciation and connection.

Here’s what to do:

When considering gift alternatives, keep experiential gifts on your radar. While it may be quick and easy to send off a gift basket or a bottle of wine, you may be inadvertently shooting yourself in the foot (not to mention blending into the crowd). A few ideas:

• Host a special appreciation event or dinner.

• Invite clients along on a special occasion.

• Select gifts that involve an experiential component.

Let’s face it. Enduring and trusted relationships are the oil that keep our businesses running at peak efficiency. So it only makes sense to invest intelligently in their cultivation. Creating a relationship strategy that accounts for the noise and clutter of today’s hectic business world while taking advantage of these psychological levers is one way to ensure our success.

About Eric Walrabenstein

Eric Walrabenstein is a nationally-recognized educator in the field of mind-body wellness, the author of the best-selling book Waging Inner Peace, and is the president of BetterBox.

The team at BetterBox specializes in the creation of simple but effective giftable experiences designed to create and solidify enduring business relationships. Engineered specifically to surprise and delight while taking advantage of a range of psychological points of leverage, BetterBox is the only corporate gift that provides 21 touch points with clients. Learn more at www.betterbox.life.