Like most folks, I am not usually fond of people ringing my doorbell and trying to sell me something. That being said, I do have a place in my heart for folks who are out there hustling to make a living. And as much as I say I may not favor it, I have actually hired some of these folks for random jobs over the past year. (So, yes, blame me for encouraging door-knockers.)

Last week, a young entrepreneur reminded me that one of our most powerful drivers is the desire to reciprocate good will. This particular young man was driving local neighborhoods and looking for tree-trimming work. As I'm in the habit of trimming my own trees, I was not immediately interested.

But he was really polite (using "sir" often) and seemed a little nervous. I figured he had at least 10 doors closed in his face for every person who even let him talk about his services. So, I decided to let him talk to me about what he does.

After letting him make his pitch, I asked him for an estimate to trim my trees. He took a few moments to survey the yard and gave me a price. I told him that his price sounded reasonable, but it wasn't something I normally hired others to do, so thanks … but, no thanks.

Most folks would have simply moved on. But this young man did something different. He said, "I can understand that. If you have the time and equipment, I can see you wanting to save the money. But, can I give you a couple of tips?"

I wasn't sure what he was getting at, but I said, "Sure." He then walked me around my yard and pointed to branches and offered advice about which ones should be left alone, which should be trimmed and by how much, and which should be removed altogether. He referenced one of my neighbor's trees to show me an example of what happens when people apparently trim branches without an idea of what they are doing.

In a couple of minutes, I actually learned useful tips about properly trimming trees from a guy whom I had just told I wasn't going to hire. And he never pushed the issue or asked me to reconsider. I thanked him and asked for one of his cards, in case I ever needed it.

Later, the more I reflected on his nice gesture even after I had turned him down, the more I thought that he was the kind of guy who deserves a shot. I have since called him to do the job. It wasn't a "sales pitch" that impressed me. It was his good will gesture that triggered a desire to reciprocate.

The hardwired human desire for reciprocity is one of my favorite topics when conducting sales and service seminars with bankers. One slide I'm fond of showing is the "Good will generator on a stick," otherwise known as a lollipop.

I share the story of the two banks my wife sometimes visited when running errands with my kids. One bank's drive-thru window never failed to send lollipops back in the canister for our kids. The other bank (like most) did no such thing.

It wasn't long before my kids, when realizing what part of town they were in, would begin asking my wife to visit "their" bank. It was funnier still whenever she would pull into the parking lot of the other bank and the kids would protest, "No, not this one! Let's go to the good bank!"

Can you think of what kind of marketing campaign could possibly get the most important people in a bank customer's life to shout out banking preferences while that customer is driving? And the next time that customer is contemplating which bank to do additional business with and all other things being equal which bank do you think would have an edge?

It's often the most basic and simple good will gestures that generate the kind of awareness and positive personal impressions that "marketing campaigns" can seldom deliver.

In tough economic times, folks are even more tuned-in to identifying the people who are the "good guys." But they don't form these judgments based on what our marketing says. They judge by what they actually see us do.

Take a minute this week to consider which bank in your market(s) generates the most good will gestures for customers, local groups and organizations.

Who hands out the most ink pens or lollipops or any number of popular "freebies?" Who lends their facilities to the most local organizations? Who conducts or sponsors the most financial seminars? Who does the most favors for the people and organizations in your community?

The answer to that question isn't necessarily the bank spending the most marketing dollars in a market. But that bank is generating the type of customer preferences that marketing alone cannot.

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