The Art of the Business Gift: Always Be About the Customer and Not the Company

By Shep Hyken

"Thank you! Here’s one of our company pens to show our
appreciation. Notice it has our logo nicely printed on it so
when you use it you’ll always think of us."

So, is this pen a gift or a marketing campaign?
There is a difference – a huge difference!

In a time when we run around with seemingly never-ending to-do lists and mobile devices that beep at us all day long with important messages needing our immediate attention, we can easily forget to express our gratitude.

This is far more than a social convention. A business relationship is fundamentally the same as a personal relationship. Relationships need to be established and then cared for. How many marriage breakups do think have been accompanied by the words, “You don’t appreciate me anymore!”

In the business world there are two appropriate times for expressing your gratitude, whether it’s through a gift or simply via a kind word:

As the relationship is beginning and anytime thereafter.

I have previously written about an idea I call the “after-experience.” The after-experience takes the idea of follow-through beyond just converting a prospect into a buyer. It takes buyers and converts them into brand loyalists, even evangelists. To create this kind of excitement, the after-experience must be unexpected, appreciated and memorable.

It should be a little easier to create a memorable experience with your clients, however it still takes thought. It is tempting to follow-up the sales call by sending your client a nice pen or calendar with your company’s logo and phone number on it. But, as mentioned, isn’t that really more about you than your client?

If you are into giving something of value, at least give some thought to it and make it personal. If you want to give your client a dinner out on the town, don’t just choose a popular restaurant. What is his or her favorite restaurant? Don’t keep a stack of Starbucks gift cards in your desk drawer and mechanically send them out after you make a sale. A spirit of honest appreciation is required from you.

There is a company called Southern Luxurie in Charlotte, North Carolina. It's a personalized a gift basket (which is actually a Yeti-styled cooler tote) packed with gift cards and products to local businesses around town. Their tagline is "Why give one gift when you can give an entire city?". If a realtor or a recruiter sends this basket to someone, they are not only getting thousands of dollars worth of swag for only $100 but they are giving the recipient an experience at around 70 different places. Sure, the cooler can be branded with a company logo but it can also have the recipient's name on it and if you so choose, your logo as well. A completely personalized experience that anyone who received it would greatly appreciate. The service doesn't end there though. Once someone receives a gift basket they receive emails with everything new that is added to it. It's the absolute definition of the gift that keeps on giving. They will think of the person who gave it to them every time that email pops up in their inbox. 

As I said earlier, anytime can be the right time to create this kind of experience, and that idea was recently driven home to me in a discussion I had with John Ruhlin, who is an appreciation gift guru. He told me how he has used unexpected gift giving to express appreciation with his clients.

John’s gift ideas go beyond a one time gift of wine glasses or knives. His idea is to help his clients create gifting programs that show an ongoing stream of appreciation. And, his “mantra” behind all of this is that the gift always has to be about the customer and not about the company.

Let me leave you with one final thought about expressing your appreciation and gift-giving: Don’t reserve these solely for paying customers, tell your employees how grateful you are for all they do and find occasions to give them gifts as well.