A Real Estate Agent's Guide to Gift Giving
It's not the thought that counts, it's the thoughtful thought that counts
I love giving gifts. I don’t remember the last time I did my Christmas shopping in the month of December. There was a time that I had 4 years of gifts for my sister sitting my closet because I kept finding the perfect thing she would love. But for many, gift giving can be a daunting task. You want to give something thoughtful, but maybe don’t have a lot of money to spend. You want to appear genuine but kept putting it off until the last second and now you are browsing the aisle of IKEA looking for a cheap lamp. In this week’s article I’d like to discuss the concept of gift giving, offer some advice on what makes a great gift and how you can use this to strengthen your client relationships.
I feel that far too often we resort to gift cards as our way of saying “I appreciate you[r business]!” While many people say “it’s the thought that counts” I will argue that a thoughtless thought will hurt your business more than no thought at all. John Ruhlin owns a company that specializes in giving gifts as a way to open doors, meet new clients, and maintain client relationships. John isn’t sending generic made in China junk on behalf of those who hire him. He is sending handmade, handcrafted quality items that represent the best his clients have to offer. John is quoted to say “It’s the thoughtful thought that counts.” If you don’t put effort into your gift giving, it will serve you better to give no gift at all.
Think back to all the gifts you received. Do you remember every gift you were ever given for birthdays, anniversaries, or Christmases? I certainly don’t. But I do remember the ones that meant something to me or the giver. It is usually the custom, handmade items that we remember the most. My wife made me a larger-than-king-size crocheted blanket for my birthday when we were dating. It took her almost a year to complete and over $400 worth of alpaca blend wool (not the cheap stuff). I have a camp stove that runs off of sticks and twigs. It has a battery pack and uses heat to produce electricity so you can charge your device while cooking. It is awesome. My mom gave that to me for my birthday a number of years ago because she knows that I love camping and backpacking. I have a set of very nice mechanics tools (wrenches, ratchets, sockets) that was given to me for Christmas 10 years ago when I was learning how to work on cars. I still use that set on a regular basis and it has helped me take apart (and put back together...mostly) a car from bumper to bumper. A boss I had a few years ago decided to go against the usual small box of chocolates or candy for a Christmas gift and gave us all a little 4 headed screwdriver key chain. I keep that screwdriver with my photography gear and use it all the time. It probably cost $3 at Home Depot but I will never forget who gave it to me.
Sure, I’ve gotten cash and gift cards, and those are fine, but I can’t remember for the life of me what I spent any of that money on. I’m sure I appreciated it and I’m sure I enjoyed it, but I don’t remember it. I’m certain your clients will feel the same way about the gift you give them. Do you want to be a fleeting memory that provides a quickly forgotten cup of coffee? Or do you want to be a lasting memory that is cherished and provides perpetual value? A great suggestion is to give gift that provides frequent utility. A handmade cutting board can be used to prepare every meal. A nice set of dinner knives and custom knife block can be used for every dinner. A piece of fine art will adorn the walls of the home and be looked at every day.
It is time that we step away from the easy, generic, thoughtless gifts such as gift cards or mass produced brownies. These things will have no lasting memory in the minds of your clients. To be clear, I am speaking about gifts after you buy or sell a home for a client. A simple $5 gift card to Starbucks or a $10 gift card to the movies would be great for a birthday. A nice bouquet of flowers (from a local florist) would be great if your client was celebrating their anniversary. But don’t tell your client how much you appreciate their business after a large transaction by sending a box of fat and sugar or a cup of coffee.
The first rule of gift giving is that thoughtfulness always wins over cost. This is especially applicable if you are on a tight budget or you have a rich client who already has everything. Don't be lazy and send out a generic popcorn gift basket you bought at Target. But don't try to impress them with a $500 bottle of single malt scotch either just because you think they expect an expensive gift.
When it comes to thoughtfulness, a good story goes a long way to add an impression to a gift. For example, you could buy a bottle of scotch if it has a great story behind it, like the distillery in Scotland that makes it only makes 200 bottles per year because they age it in oak barrels that come from this specific manufacture who gets their wood from a old Scottish castle and they can only get 5 barrels per year or something. See, that's a cool story. Much better than running to the liquor store and buying a bottle off the shelf.
The best way to give a thoughtful gift is to take a personal inventory of your client’s life. What are their interests, their hobbies, their favorite vacation spots, their sports teams? What do they do on the weekends? What do they do as a family? What do their kids love to do? What kind of art do they have on their wall of their home? Use an app like Evernote or Google Keep to write all this stuff down so you don’t have to remember it. Refer back to it often so you can slow cook some ideas in your head that show how much you value their relationship and their business. They chose you as their agent because they liked you, show them how much you appreciate that by taking a personal interest in their lives. This is how you stand out. Far too many agents view their clients as numbers and paychecks. This doesn’t have to be you.
Whenever giving a gift, don’t give it while expecting something in return. These are called “reciprocity gifts” and are worse than giving nothing at all. Gifts should be sent free and clear with no strings attached. When you give genuinely, people are more willing to refer business to you because you are showing them you care enough to do something meaningful for them. Don’t try to bait them for business by saying things like “Know someone who needs an agent?? A free pair of movie tickets for every person you refer to me!!” This is not a gift.
When gifting, don’t slap your name or logo on whatever you are giving. Businesses do this because they have a poor relationship with their clients and are afraid they will be forgotten. I am reminded of a business who gave a client gift that was a very nice, high quality travel mug (a Yeti vacuum tumbler)...and laser etched with their company's logo. They didn't make it personal by laser etching each of their client's names or logos on it. This went from what could have been a personal, thoughtful, individualized gift, to what amounts to generic tchotchkes at a convention booth. All this says is, “Thanks for being an awesome client, I really appreciate your business. Please be my billboard.”
Find a way to be different with your gifts. There is an agent who gives his clients a handcrafted (by a local woodworker) cutting board, a nice knife, and a selection of fancy cheeses. He doesn’t engrave his logo on the board or the knife because he knows his clients will remember who gave it to them. Another agent commissions a local artist to do wood burnings for her clients. She remembers their likes and their interests and has some art made that she thinks they will enjoy in their new home. These are two surprisingly affordable options that will speak volumes about how much you appreciate your client’s business.
And yet another agent had a porch bench made for her clients because the first thing they fell in love with at the home they purchased was the relaxing porch. She commissioned a local woodworker to made them a custom piece.
A great way to stir up ideas for thoughtful gifts (or to find the perfect gift) is through Etsy. If you've never heard of Etsy, it is a great online marketplace for handmade items by artists, designers, and other creators throughout the United States and worldwide. If you aren't sure of a specific gift to give you can browse the different categories until you find the perfect one. I have used Etsy many times for gifts including a solar system necklace made out of rare polished stones for my astronomy nerd sister and a 20x50" family name plaque made from solid cedar for my sister and her husband when they got married.
Give the best-in-class gift that your budget will allow. Don't buy a Seiko watch if your client wears Rolex. It doesn't matter that you spent $500 on a nice watch, your client will never take off the $5000 one to wear it. If you want to give them art, don't buy it at Ikea. If you want to give them a set of noise cancelling headphones for their frequent plane trips, don't buy them at Best Buy. It is amazing how well you can leverage the Internet to find the best-in-class goods. My wife wanted a new hair curler for her birthday. I knew the junk they sold at Target wasn't going to impress her so I took to the Internet. I quickly found a forum all about hair styling and discovered a clipless curling iron that worked from the root to the tip (instead of the other way around) and not only provided a better curl but prevented split ends. She loved it and uses it all the time.
Don’t spent money to make yourself look bad and don’t give people a reason to withhold business from you. Here are few real life examples:
These agents are spending money to have people think less of them. Try to avoid lowering your standing with your clients when you give a gift.
A gift budget doesn’t have to be huge, but it should be proportionate to the sale. A friend got his car repaired at a local mechanic shop to the tune of about $1600. They sent him a box of brownies in the mail and a gift card to a local restaurant. The same friend spent $12,000 on his agent to sell his home. His agent sent him a box of brownies and a thank you card. Which business is going to get more referrals? Industry experts like John Ruhlin recommend 5% of net profits go toward client appreciation gifts. If you only have$50 to spend, make it something unique. If you have $500 to spend, make it something impressive they will cherish for years. In either case, don’t send them something that will end up at a thrift store. If you wouldn’t give it to your spouse on your anniversary, don’t give it to your client.
Note: I know I’m slamming brownies pretty hard in this article. I love brownies as much as the next guy, but they are something you give your neighbor for Christmas, not your most important client.
Gift giving will take some time and some practice to get good at. But just like anything in life, you can get really good at doing it. As a real estate photographer here in Salt Lake City, I hear a lot about gifts. The great thing about giving gifts is that most agents aren’t putting much effort into it. It is a great way to stand out. No one remembers the agent who gave them a $25 gift card to Starbucks after the last drop of coffee is gone. But they will remember the agent who gave them a landscape print of their favorite national park to hang on the wall of their new home.
For more information on gift giving, listen to the Wright Bros podcast episode 30: How to win at gift giving.
For some ideas on gifts that don’t suck, check out my frequently updated list here.
For John Ruhlin’s top ten gifts to avoid giving your clients, check it out here.
To hear John's interview with Jordan Harbinger of The Art of Charm, check it out here.
Keywords: client appreciation, gift, giving, interior, marketing, photography, real estate agent, salt lake city, salt lake city real estate photographer, thank you
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