John Ruhlin didn’t set out to become the world’s foremost authority on corporate gift giving.
He grew up on a farm in Ohio, and to help pay his way through university he became a Cutco distributor on the advice of one of his friends.
After applying the principles of generosity he learned from “Attorney Paul” (the father of a girl he was dating at the time), John started selling the largest deals in Cutco history out of 1.5 million other reps and distributors. Yes. 1.5 million.
His strategy worked so well that he founded The Ruhlin Group at the age of 20. He’s gone on to build a thriving business showing people how to gift “practical luxury” items as a way to open doors, appreciate the people around them, and generate an amazing ROI.
Join us for the next 10 minutes we explore what a great gifting strategy looks like, and how you can use it to grow your business.
Doing Giftology Right
Ruhlin is the kind of guy who practices what he preaches.
Cameron Herold was the former COO of 1-800-Got-Junk? and the driving force behind the company’s spectacular jump in revenue from $2 million to $126 million in just six years—without a dime spent on advertising.
One day Ruhlin was attending a conference where Herold was giving a presentation. After waiting for an hour in line to speak to him, Ruhlin invited Herold to be his guest for a Cleveland Cavaliers game which happened to coincide with a speaking engagement Herold had. Knowing that Brooks Brothers was Herold’s favorite clothing store, he also asked him what he shirt size he wore.
When opening day finally came, Herold texted Ruhlin saying that his travel plans went sideways, and that he’d contact him when he was settled in his hotel. Fearing that Herold would back out once he landed in Cleveland, Ruhlin rushed out to the closest Brooks Brothers store with a crazy plan.
He told the sales associate that he wanted one of everything from the new fall line in Herold’s size. $7,000 later, he walked out of the store, drove over the Ritz Carlton where Herold was staying, and convinced the manager to let him set up Herold’s room to look like a Brooks Brothers showroom.
Ruhlin left a message that said Herold could keep whatever items he saw that he wanted to keep.
Long story short, Herold called Ruhlin when he got into the room, and said “whatever you want to talk about for as long as you want to talk about it, I’m all ears.”
Fast-forward to present day, no matter what client Herold has, he asks Ruhlin if he either wants an introduction to them or wants to give them a gift. Keep in mind that these are billion-dollar CEOs, who are impossible to get in front of for most people.
As Ruhlin says in the book, this one relationship has done more for him than $10 million in slick advertising and marketing could have ever done. Herold has also become a mentor, advocate and friend to Ruhlin. And it wouldn’t have happened unless he was able to create such a unique, memorable experience.
Oh, and Herold ended up paying Ruhlin for all of the clothes he kept, so this outrageous gifting strategy actually cost him nothing.
Of course, this is an extreme example. But what we are going to show you in the following sections, you can create an impactful gifting strategy no matter what your budget is.
Why Giftology Works
Giftology works for a number of reasons.
The first and obvious reason is that gifting help you fight through the proverbial clutter. Important people get bombarded by advertising on social networking sites, their inboxes are filled with emails from other less creative suitors, and their assistants fight off cold calls like it’s a full-time job. You literally have to stand out if you want a chance.
A second reason it works is that by going out of your way before you even meet an important client gives the impression that you’ll be willing to go out of your way to impress them after you meet. Those are the type of people we make exceptions for.
Third, if you do it correctly, gifting fills a primal need we all have to feel important. When you send a gift that is personalized and meaningful, the other person is hard-wired to appreciate it. They are also hard-wired to reciprocate that act of generosity by giving you something in return – which, in your case, is a few minutes of their time.
Fourth, many of your gift recipients will end up becoming advocates for you. Ruhlin tells the story of how he sent a unique gift to an executive of the Cleveland Indians. After becoming a client of The Ruhlin Group, the executive sent out a personal introduction and advocacy email to twenty MLB teams that he had the deepest relationships with. Within five weeks, the Arizona Diamondbacks signed on as a client.
As Ruhlin points out, it can cost him $1,500 to take clients out to dinner, and they never mention it again. But when he sends someone a thoughtful, uniquely personalized gift that costs him $200, ten years later they still thank him for it.
Simply put, Giftology is as close to a magic formula you’ll find for snagging a spot on an important person’s calendar.
What Not to Give
Before we move on to discussing what to give and how to give it, let’s take a few seconds to talk about what NOT to do.
First, do NOT give gifts with your company logo on it. As Ruhlin points out, when you make the gift about you, it’s not a gift anymore. You’d never go to someone’s wedding and give them a crystal vase from Tiffany & Co. engraved with your name on it. So why would you give a corporate gift with your company name on it? If you are going to get something engraved on your gift, get the gift recipients’ name engraved, not yours.
Second, send gifts when everybody else is sending gifts. For instance, don’t send chocolates (no matter how expensive they are or how much you like them) at Christmas and Thanksgiving, when people are already five pounds overweight, thanks to the other fifty boxes they’ve already received.
What To Give
Now that we’ve covered what not to give, let’s move on to what we should give.
Ruhlin advocates giving practical luxuries – the types of things that are useful to the gift recipient, nicer than what they would usually buy for themselves, and that they would be proud to be seen using.
There are a number of questions you can ask yourself to make sure what you are sending fits the bill.
Is your gift best in class?
When deciding what to give, you should be thinking about how to get the best gift you can possibly give with your given budget. A hand-written note is better than a cheap pen or mug with your logo on it.
Is it truly unique?
Ideally you’ll give gifting something that is unique, and ideally something that can’t be found in stores – especially big box stores.
Is It practical?
People appreciate gifts that don’t add additional clutter to their lives. You should focus on things that they can use and enjoy frequently.
Will it be visible?
Your gift should be a conversation starter, which will allow you to stay on the top of someone’s mind. Ideally you’ll choose something that gets used daily versus only a dozen times a year.
Is it lasting?
Your gift should be something that lasts a long time.
Is it universal?
If you are utilizing Giftology as a strategy, you’ll be giving a gift to multiple people. So, you should find thoughtful, unique gifts that can be used universally, aren’t gender specific, and are generally safe bets.
Gifts that fit the bill
If you can answer yes to all of the above questions, you’ve found a gift that you can build a gifting strategy around.
Here are some of the items that The Ruhlin Group relies on to get the job done:
- Leather laptop bags;
- Toiletry bags
- Golfer’s accessories pouches;
- Over-the-ear headphones;
- Metal canteens that can keep liquids hot or cold for twenty-four hours; and
- Custom-fitted clothing.
Not surprisingly, the item that got Ruhlin started in his career – custom engraved knives – fit the bill and work very well.
A Systematic Plan for Gifting
Now that we’ve covered what to give and not to give, it’s time to put it all together and create a systematic plan for gifting.
Ultimately, your goal is to generate a program that builds your business, so you’ll need to think strategically about a number of things.
The first step in your gifting plan is to decide whether or not you can handle it internally.
Next, establish a budget. Ruhlin suggests that you use between 2 percent and 10 percent of your current net profits to devote towards the program, and that your gifts should fall within the $100 to $1,000 range. If your budget is tight at the moment, consider writing a classy note on nice paper instead of sending a $25 trinket or gift card.
Finally, identify your key stakeholders, and begin sourcing some universal practical luxuries (as we discussed in the previous section) to gift them with.
Then end result is something called “planned randomness.” You’ll know exactly what you’ll be gifting a client or prospect over a twelve-month period. The recipient will have no idea what’s coming next or when, which is how you’ll be able to “surprise and delight” them.
Here are are few other questions to be thinking about as you build your plan.
When do gifts have the biggest impact?
The basic rule is that you’ll get the best response from people when you gift them at unexpected times. That means staying away from Christmas.
The Ruhlin Group sends gifts on Valentine’s Day, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Labor Day. By doing this, they cut into any sense of entitlement because the gift never becomes an expectation. It’s always a surprise, and it always makes an impact.
If you want to get even more creative, there are a million and one national holidays to choose from. For instance, you could send a pizza along with a high-end pizza stone and slicer on National Pizza Day.
How often to give gifts?
Ruhlin’s advice is to give as frequently as you can afford, with the caveat that it’s better to give on fewer occasions but with more extraordinary gifts. His rule of thumb is to send one gift every other month at most.
Sometimes it makes sense to give a prospect a series of gifts over time that all have a similar theme (like one knife at a time instead of an entire set at once), which brings us to our last considering in the plan.
Does It allow for continuity?
We do that with leather goods. We might send a bag, then a portfolio, and then a journal, so there’s some continuity to what we’re giving—it’s not just a smattering of random gifts.
Strategic gifting is one of the most powerful sales and marketing strategies you can use to grow your business. If you like this summary, go out and buy the book. If you are serious about creating a strategy and can’t handle it internally, hire the Ruhlin Group.
You can thank me later – with a practical luxury, of course.