The 7 Key Rules for Gifting Customers

Last Updated Sep 28, 2010 6:32 AM EDT

One way to forge a stronger relationship with a customer, and build rapport, is to give that customer a ...thoughtful gift. However, the seller-buyer relationship has some special rules for gifting that you break at your peril:

  • Rule #1: Only gift friends, not acquaintances. You use a gift to deepen a relationship not to develop one. Giving a gift too early in a relationship seems phony and desperate, like when a guy shows up on a blind date with a dozen roses.
  • Rule #2: Never gift a mere prospect. In almost all cases, you won't have enough of a relationship with a prospect to justify the giving of a gift. So don't even think about gifting until you've got an ongoing business relationship.
  • Rule #3: Never give an expensive gift. If a gift is too big, it's going to be perceived as a bribe. You want to show that you care, not make the customer feel obligated to buy. I once developed a long-term business relationship using a Star Trek poster I got for free at the drug store.
  • Rule #4: Always personalize the gift. A gift that ties into a customer's outside interest and which is unusual is more likely to be memorable than something that's generic or might appeal to anybody.  The more it matches the customer, the more it will be appreciated.
  • Rule #5: Don't gift promotional items. If a "gift" has your logo on it, you are asking the recipient to provide you with free advertising, so it is not really a gift. Go ahead and hand out your logo spam, but don't think that anybody is going to be influenced to buy.
  • Rule #6: Obey all ethics restrictions. For example, journalists are not allowed to accept gifts from people or companies that they cover.  While it's true that some bloggers break this rule, real journalists (like your truly) are bound by journalistic ethics to remain gift-free.
  • Rule #7: The rules change in different regions. For example, it's apparently considered rude to open a business negotiation in Russia without providing a fairly substantial gift, like a bottle of fancy vodka. Similarly, developing guanxi relationships in China often involve the giving of gifts

BTW, the above is based on a conversation with Jerry Acuff, author of "The Relationship Edge in Business."  Jerry has a site (FreeAcuff.com) where readers can receive free video training tips.