Giving to your clients long after the holidays are overRyan Floriobuilding customer relationships One summer during college, a good friend of mine invited me to spend a few weeks visiting him in Salt Lake City, where I would have a chance to work for the family business his grandfather started. The chance to go to a place where I could take part in some of the best skiing in the country sold me instantly. And, considering that I was a poor college student with no extra money and none on the horizon, the added bonus of a job opportunity made me feel like I had just won the lottery. So I packed my bags and left the next day. Once I got there and learned my work assignment, I found that I was seriously disillusioned with what I had anticipated to be my work-to-ski ratio. It turned out that my friend's father decided to place me in the role of his full-time assistant, who was on maternity leave at the time. He felt that in doing this, I might gain real-life exposure to the responsibilities of running a large manufacturing firm. Needless to say, I was less than happy about working more and skiing less, but in retrospect, I know that my time with him provided me some of my biggest lessons in business and helped to develop my key ideas about the development of customer relationships. One afternoon, he asked me to join him in a meeting with his largest client. On our way to his office, we stopped at an artist gallery to pick up a hand-carved wood sculpture of a '67 Ford Mustang convertible. Apparently, it was his client's birthday, and he knew that this unique gift would make a big impression. His client's love of cars led him to develop parts that supplied some of the country's biggest auto manufacturers, and we, in turn, were a supplier of some of his machinery. It was because of this that the business relationship was formed. Through the years, the two had exchanged stories about their most memorable cars, and my friend's father knew the Mustang was his client's first and most important car. On the special occasion of his birthday, he wanted to honor their relationship with a gift that was personal and showed that he had paid attention through the years. He shared with me his wisdom that an expression of gratitude to those who support our success is always returned to us a thousand-fold. Over the course of 25 years, this client eventually became his largest customer and one of his closest friends. It goes without saying that a little bit of gifting goes a long way in creating customer loyalty. By remembering your clients with such tokens of appreciation, you are creating a subconscious bond that may be developed more strongly over time with your initiative. However, when choosing an appropriate gift, there are some key points to remember: Choose something tasteful yet personal for your client It will show that you were paying attention when he mentioned playing football in college or the fact that he spends his spare time gardening. A gift to reflect a personal detail he shared with you will be especially meaningful and take the first step in creating a relationship. Make sure the gift will not expire Recently, it has become popular to send fruit baskets or restaurant gift certificates. Although these items are enjoyable, they are quickly forgotten once used or consumed. By choosing something timeless, your customer will continue to remember you and your services for the life of the gift. Avoid promotional gifts that feature company names We have all received countless gifts of this nature, and in a few days they end up in our closets, drawers or, worst of all, garbage. Remember dates that most other sales professionals forget If you can remember your customers birthday or anniversary, you can instantly exceed standard business protocol and distinguish yourself as a superior salesperson. It is often the least expected exchanges that make the biggest impressions in our lives, and while I thought that my summer trip was all about mastering my jumps on the slopes, I was gifted with lessons that were far more valuable. Equally, if we can show appreciation for our clients in unexpected ways, the effects will lead to measurable results in the quality of our lives, creating customer loyalty and friends for life. With the holidays behind us, remember to create a true spirit of gifting all year long. Ryan Florio is president and CEO of Cleveland-based SpecialClient.com, a Web-based company that offers automated client relationship programs as a vehicle for client retention. He may be reached at (216) 598-0934 or e-mail [email protected].