Salespeople have long known that establishing rapport with a customer can help close a sale. And in these days of the cautious consumer, the tactic of revealing personal information about personnel "has become increasingly popular in sales and customer-service contexts," a group of researchers recently reported.

One of the factors their research focused on was "incidental similarity," where two people notice a coincidentally shared history or experience. The team conducted five tests to examine the effect of incidental similarity between a salesperson and a potential customer in different sales environments.

In one experiment, pairs of participants were asked for feedback on a new "personal trainer program" to be offered at a local recreation center. They were provided a brochure describing the program that included a short biography of a "trainer." The bio was altered for one of the two participants in each pairing to include the birth date of the trainer—which coincidentally matched the birthday of the participant.

The results? "The existence of a shared birthday significantly increased an individual's intention to enroll in the program," the researchers report.

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