Reciprocity in Sales – the Mint Example


The act of giving a gift is one of those universal principles that are held dear amongst sales representatives everywhere. One of the reasons for this is that salespeople are seeking to take advantage of the norm of reciprocity.

The norm of reciprocity essentially is the societal expectation that people will respond positively if you do something that benefits them. On the flip side, it also means that people will respond negatively if you do something that harms them. Essentially, if you give a gift to someone, they will be more likely to do business with you.

If you are attempting to close a sale right there in the moment, the norm of reciprocity can be a powerful tool for you. This is not conjecture or wishful thinking – it’s actually backed by science.

The Mint Example

In 2002, researchers David Strohmetz, Bruce Rind, Reed Fisher, and Michael Lynn published an article in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology that essentially shows the act of giving gifts can translate into real increases in revenue.

The study focused on waiters and waitresses (henceforth referred to as the wait staff) and how the simple act of giving customers mints with the bill increases the tips for the wait staff. The results are pretty amazing, to say the least:

  • The control group consisted of the wait staff giving the customers no mints with the bill. It’s important to note that the level of service did not change from the control group at all.
  • The first group consisted of the wait staff giving the customers mints along with the bill, without mentioning the mints at all. This increased tips by around 3% against the control group.
  • The second group consisted of the wait staff bringing mints by hand and asking the table if anybody would care for mints before he/she left. This increased tips by 14% against the control group.
  • The third and final group consisted of the wait staff bringing mints along with the check. As he/she was walking away from the table, they would turn around and say something like “Oh, because you all were so good and fun to wait on, here are some more mints for you.” This increased tips by an astonishing 21% against the control group.

The final conclusion of the study was that the norm of reciprocity was responsible for increased tips, not mood management or impression management. They also concluded that the third group took advantage of personalization, meaning that they made the gift exclusive for the customers because they were “good customers and fun to serve.” The personalization of the gift was responsible for the dramatic increase in tips.

This shows that the act of giving personalized gifts can translate into real, tangible, quantifiable increases in revenue for the individual or the company. So, how can you as a sales representative take advantage of this principle and help increase your closing rate?

Give Physical Gifts

Physical gifts, such as company pens, mouse pads, coffee cups, and clothing, are great ways that you can appropriately gift the prospect. If you work for a company who offers these gifts to you to give out, take full advantage of it. It helps with reciprocity and will serve as a subtle advertisement for repeat business. 

Give a Recomendation 

The act of giving gifts does not start and end with a physical product. You can also offer a recommendation to the prospect as your pitch. They can be anything from a local secret to actually doing something above and beyond for the prospect right there. If you are on the phone and not able to give a tangible gift to someone, try this out.

Give a Compliment

Compliments are underrated. Most people hardly get complimented during their day, so it’s refreshing to hear one. Think about the last time you were genuinely complimented by someone. It probably made your day much better and lifted your mood up. If you can make your prospect feel like that, you’ve done a great job, and the reciprocity principle will certainly hold true.

Overall, if you are successful in giving the prospect a gift, whether it’s a simple branded pen or a compliment, you will be more likable to the prospect and will greatly help with your rapport building.  Not to mention, you will have the norm of reciprocity on your side, which was proven by science to be a powerful tool that works.



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Author: Jason Karaman

Hello! I’m a marketing, sales, and customer service author, blogger and doer. I live in the South Carolina Lowcountry with my wife. I enjoy reading, writing, hiking, kayaking, and all things beach. For media inquiries, send an email to

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