Cancel the Reservations and Tee Times? Yes!

By Verne Harnish, an EO DC member and founding partner of Gazelles, Inc.
Taking a  client or prospect out to dinner is pretty standard business. If you want to grow business, you need to wine and dine clients, right? Nothing radical about that concept. How could anyone poke holes in this centuries-old business practice? Well, a friend of mine recently challenged me on this, and asked me a question that I hadn’t really considered; based upon my experience, most in business haven’t either.

His question was simple: Why do most companies take their clients out to expensive dinners or rounds of golf that cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars, and then when it comes time to send them a gift, those same executives get wigged out over a gift that costs a couple hundred dollars?
He went on to explain that the meal is consumable and gone the same day, and although there is a memory created, most clients have that same experience with dozens of vendors each year and the memory fades quickly. Why is your dining or social experience any better than the next guy? Doesn’t it make sense to instead surprise your best clients with a gift that is best in class, practical, unique and that every time they use it they think of you for decades after?
I was stunned by the simplicity of the concept, and it dawned on me that he may be on to something. We as business owners have been programmed to do the same things our competition is doing and think we are making an impact or truly deepening a relationship for the long term. We take people out to a nice three hour dinner with great food and drink or spend hundreds of dollars on a five hour round of golf, only to leave the client without a tangible and physical memory point to be reminded of our relationship.
At best we leave them with some promotional trinket from China. I decided to test his line of thinking and ordered 15 of his best-selling gifts, which was from his exclusive Cutco cutlery line. Many of you are likely familiar with the brand, as it’s the Rolex and Tiffany of cutlery … but what most don’t know is that this friend of mine, EO St. Louis memberJohn Ruhlin, invented their corporate engraving business, and has built much of his strategic gifting company around this one product.
John’s team had my logo and each client’s name custom engraved into each of the two-piece cutlery gift sets (gotta love personalization!), along with a handwritten note to each person. The cost was a couple hundred dollars a gift total. They were sent in February so the client was not expecting anything and the basic premise was to thank them for “carving out room” for us to work together. The gifts were mailed off, and I waited anxiously to see if I would get a response or if people would be too busy to even mention the gesture. It did not take long, and the response was beyond my already high expectations!!
My clients loved not just the product (the brand of Cutco carried some nice weight) but went on and on about the handwritten note and the fact that a high end product like Cutco was custom engraved with their name on it. They felt special and their spouses also loved being included for once in an business-appreciation experience. Big brownie points for me with the spouse … huge!
The cool thing I realized is that unlike the dining experience that wears off in the weeks following, with a special gift like this, for the next 10-20 years my most cherished business relationships will be reminded of me a couple times a week, and the fact that I took the time to say thank you in a special way. It will be with them when they host clients and friends at their home for decades to come. While there is nothing wrong with social experiences, that cannot be said for the dinners I have had or the golf rounds I have played.
Like most of the powerful concepts in business, giving a special gift like this is not rocket science, but most of us are too caught up in e-mail or the next deal to take a few minutes to think strategically about how we are going to leverage and impact our most important relationships.

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