How to Use a Gift to Win and Keep More Agency Business with John Ruhlin

By Jason Swenk on October 24, 2018

Is your agency having difficulty standing out? Want to get attention from perfect prospects and high profile clients? Looking for ways to improve client retention? Getting prospects’ trust, recognition, and loyalty doesn’t have to be complicated. Giving the right gift to the right person at the right time is a gesture that goes noticed and rewarded.

In this episode, we’ll cover:

  • How to send gifts your clients want to receive.
  • 4 things you should never gift.
  • #1 group of people to give to (hint: it’s not the prospect).
  • Bonus: When not to send gifts.

Today, I talked to John Ruhlin, founder of RuhlinGroup, an expert gift-giving agency. He also, quite literally, wrote the book on giving gifts. This is my favorite books of all time (which is really saying a lot since I rarely read!) Giftology: The Art and Science of Using Gifts to Cut Through the Noise, Increase Referrals, and Strengthen Retention is John’s book, and he’s on the show to share strategies in order to score big clients, build business, and gain trust with clients.

How to Send Gifts That Your Clients Want to Receive

What gift does that CEO of the company that your agency has been chasing really want? Great question! You should go figure that out.

John talked about the time he wanted to connect with Cameron Herold (yes, that Cameron Herold,) so John called Cameron’s assistant and asked for his shirt size. What did he do next?

He went to Cameron’s favorite store — Brooks Brothers — and purchased all the shirts, jackets, pants in Cameron’s size.

Then, he literally outfitted Cameron’s entire hotel room in Brooks Brothers merchandise and made it look like a showroom with instructions to pick out all his favorites and John would pick up the tab. Cameron was so impressed at consideration behind the gift that he agreed to a meeting with John. On top of that, Cameron was so touched by the thought itself he wouldn’t let John pay for the clothes. See, it’s not about the gift itself but rather the meaningful gesture.

So, next time you’re looking to impress a client with a gift, don’t just purchase something expensive for them — purchase something that they love and add an element of surprise.

4 Things You Should Never Send to Clients

Sending gifts is a great way to win over clients, increase referrals, and build critical relationships, but some gifts may be doing more harm than good.

John talked about 4 things that you should never send to clients.

  1. Branded Swag: Sending clients that cool branded gear you have is doing way more harm than it is good. Sure, every marketing book ever tells you that you literally need to brand everything, but gifts are supposed to be about the recipient, not you.
  2. Apple Products: Do you want to send that prospect an iPad? John wants you to know something before you do — everyone has an iPad! Don’t send clients swag that they’re just going to end up regifting.
  3. Food: John has two reasons that you shouldn’t give clients food:
    • If you send clients something like a paring knife, they’re going to use it a bunch of time throughout their life and think about you each time. But with food – once they eat that gift, you’re irrelevant
    • There are too many diets! Is your client Paleo? Gluten-free? Kosher? There are tons of diets, allergies, and restrictions. Giving food as a gift is risky.
  4. Gift Cards: Do you know what gift cards say? I’m too lazy to get to know you!

John teased that he actually had 10 gifts that he thinks are bad gift ideas. Get them all here.

#1 Group of People To Gift To

Let’s say you want to nurture a relationship with a CEO with gifting. Should you send your gift to him? Not according to John. You should send a gift to his wife, kid(s), pet(s), or assistant(s) instead. You want to make everyone around him a sales advocate.

Think about it. That CEO gets tons of gifts all the time, but his wife or his assistant doesn’t reap the same benefits. A $1 investment in his wife is like $200 investment in him.

Bonus: When Not to Send Gifts!

Don’t let your gift sit next to 500 other gifts. There’s a reason John never sends gifts on Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries. No matter how great your gift is, you don’t want to be competing with 50 other people. Suddenly the gift you poured your heart into is now lame.

Also, don’t send someone a gift after a referral. You just boiled your entire relationship down to a monetary value. Send them gifts when they aren’t expecting them — not when they are – and add an element of surprise. Remember the scene in Christmas Vacation where Clark bring his boss a gift? Unimpressed and ungrateful, his boss tells him to add it to the stack with all the others.

Ask yourself what gift would provide unexpected thought and creativity… then execute. Don’t be a Clark!

clark griswold gifts

Movie image courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment

Related:  How to Retain More Agency Clients & Increase Recurring Revenue 

What to Remember When Considering Using a Gift for a Client

If after today’s episode you are considering sending a gift to a prospective client, here are some of the main points from today to take with you moving forward.

  • Research your gift – If you want to send a particular client a gift, find out what they like and don’t know. Reach out to staff and find out specific like clothing sizes and allergies etc. It’s not about how much you spend but the effort and thought behind it.
  • Gift the right person – If you want to strengthen your relationship with a client that is prone to receiving gifts, thank outside the box and send a gift to their spouse, children, assistant.
  • Be mindful of your gift – When wanting to impress a client, your mind could go wild with the potential choices for a gift. Taking the time to take a step back and eliminate gifts that won’t be well received and focus on the best gift will help you in the long run.
  • Know when to not send a gift – To make an impact with your gift and a client, timing is everything. Avoid times of the year like birthdays and Christmas but rather when they are not expecting it.

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