MORE OFTEN than not, when you walk out of the doctor’s surgery the only gift you’ll receive is a hefty bill. Lawyers are unlikely to send you a bunch of flowers two years after you settled your speeding fines in court. Even hairdressers, who deal with people every day, very rarely call you to say happy birthday. And yet it has become the norm, if not expected, for agents to dote on their past, current and future clients with gifts.
Some agents have seen huge success from this technique, with each bouquet of roses taking them a step closer to that listing, while others feel their money and time could be better spent. However, Shane Evans, principal of Finesse on the Gold Coast, says don’t expect too much in return for your gifts. And after all, giving is better than receiving.
“It is to show goodwill in the long term, and to say congratulations and touch base,” he says. “We are very blessed in what we get paid as agents and so a small gesture can actually mean a lot. It does also help for repeat and referral business.”
REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL
Victoria-based Barry Plant Group is a strong believer in its gift giving program, according to their manager of franchise services and training, Tony Larkin. Mr Larkin believes gift giving is something that can be used across sales and property management.
“Ideally, gifts should be given to both vendors and buyers,” he says.“The buyer, obviously, because they are settling in your area and are a future vendor, as well as a current advocate of your brand.
“Many agents don’t gift vendors, taking the view that they are likely to be moving out of the area, when statistically they are just as likely to re-settle in the same area. And, of course, vendors will have friends, neighbours and relatives in that same area, so it is good policy to ensure that your vendor is left with a lasting, favourable impression of your brand so that they are singing your praises.
“Our research shows that even if the transaction has gone well, the failure to provide a suitable gift at settlement can override all the good work that has gone before.”
Frank Mazzotta, director of PRDnationwide Bexley North-Ramsgate Beach, says landlords are the main focus of his gift-giving scheme.
“The gift doesn’t have to be something huge – we get great feedback from our landlords after they receive one of our inspirational calendars,” he says.
The settlement day is the best time to give a client a gift, according to Damien Hackett, CEO of Place Estate Agents. “The time that makes sense is on settlement – it is the punctuation mark on the deal,” he says. “Both the buyer and seller will receive something, normally a piece for their new homes.”
Mr Mazzotta agrees, giving each the buyer and seller a bottle of tawny port with the PRDnationwide brand on the label. “It is a long-lasting gift that is generally put away in the cupboard,” he says. “A year could go by and they might pull out the bottle and think of us.”
According to results from a 2009 survey conducted by US-based REALTOR Magazine, the most common gifts agents give are gift cards, followed by gift baskets and then alcohol. But not any old gift card will leave a lasting impression according to Mr Larkin.
“Getting it right is a challenge, and when you’re dealing in a marketplace of diverse cultures and tastes, it’s never going to be ‘one gift suits all’.
Agents need to give careful thought to the right gifts,” he explains.
“Many agents go for the big hamper, banking on the ‘oh wow!’ affect to make a lasting impression. But once the contents are eaten, so is the memory.”
He warns against gifting wines as different cultures and communities do not drink alcohol, or it simply may not be to the client’s taste. Instead, some offices in the Barry Plant Group opt to give a photography voucher.
“The family can get a free sitting for a series of photographic portraits. When they select which shots they like, they are printed and presented in a Barry Plant branded cover – this works as far as keeping the brand in the home. However, it relies on the person taking up the offer and of course, ordering photos,” he admits.
On the other hand, Mr Hackett believes it is best not to brand your gift, and instead pick a valuable house-warming item that will be displayed around the home for years.
“I think if you brand the gift, you run the risk of people throwing it out because those colours don’t match their home decor,” he says. “We give wine glasses and crockery sets at the end of the transaction and hopefully the nice home-warming gift will serve as a reminder of our service – even if it is only on special occasions.”
As technology increases in importance, the best gift to give, according to Mr Evans, is an iPad. “In the scheme of things, they are not overly expensive and have such a ‘wow factor’,” he says.
“I don’t have a shopfront so I have low overheads, which means I can afford this offering to my clients.”
In order to give his gift that lasting effect, Mr Evans engraves a thank-you message on the back of the tablet.
Over 3,000 Australian corporate organisations routinely use RedBalloon gift certificates to give to clients and employees, according to general manager corporate, Matt Geraghty. For him, he says the reason why is easy; experiences last, while ‘stuff’ doesn’t.
“Thinking outside the square with corporate gifting makes you memorable,” he explains. “A company pen with your logo on is not memorable. A ride in a V8 race car is.
“Business is about creating and building relationships, and giving a gift with meaning shows you know and value that employee, client or supplier in a personal way. It also means they will remember you and your business.
“The business benefits of such an approach are obvious; as we say at RedBalloon, ‘happy people make happy profits.’ If you keep your people happy – be they employees, clients or third parties – they will give you their discretionary effort and work hard to create positive outcomes for you and your business.
“Experiences are more memorable than ‘stuff’, and meaningful experiences actually increase in value over time, through shared memories and tales. ‘Stuff’, on the other hand, diminishes in value.”
The value of the gift an agent will give is often dictated by the value of the transaction, according to Mr Larkin. Therefore, Barry Plant offices have a range of gifts in various price brackets.
“It’s hard to quantify the business value of a gifting program,” he says. “In a business where good relationships and referral business is critical, anything that builds the relationship has to be good for business.
“A gift will never replace great customer service, great communication and a great result – but it can be the icing on the cake and help to create a brand and a talking point.”
Mr Evans spends between $2,500 and $3,000 a month on gifts, but says he experiences great financial return from this technique.
“It is a very small investment for a very good financial return,” he says.
“I may not see the direct effect of the gift immediately, but 12 months to two years down the track I get a call.
“That said, a gift is never an alternative for offering good customer service.”
1. MONTHLY MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION
Your name above the mailing address will remind buyers of your services every time the subscription comes in.
2. PERSONALLY DELIVER PIZZA ON MOVING DAY
No one wants to cook the day they move into a brand new home, why not surprise them with pizza from your local shop?
3. HOW ABOUT A HOLIDAY?
One US-based real estate company treats their clients to an eight-day, seven-night accommodation at their choice of luxury time share resort anywhere in the world.
4. WATCH THE GIFT GROW
For the green-minded client, why not plant a tree in their name? There are a lot of non-profit organisations that do this across Australia and worldwide.
5. A HANDY HAMPER
Put together a new homeowner gift basket. Include small tools, cleaning supplies, paint brushes, light bulbs, a local map, useful phone numbers, etc