The right gift can open doors and be the catalyst for great business relationships. Sales guru Tom Searcy spoke with a corporate-gifting expert to get his tips on giving unforgettable gifts.

I recently shared the speaker’s platform with John Ruhlin, who is considered to be the foremost expert on developing relationships with key executives. He speaks nationally on the topic, is the bestselling author of “Cutting Edge Sales,” and is the number one distributor for the Cutco Knife Company.

His speech was on being unforgettable in business, much of which was focused on the right way to give corporate gifts. I asked him to summarize for me his top gift-giving rules and here’s what he said:


Stephen Ross, owner of the Miami Dolphins, just gave $200M to the University of Michigan. That is a lot of money and it wasn’t only because he loves education. He wants his name on the buildings so his legacy is carried on. Everyone’s name is important. Make sure every touch point with clients, employees, and prospects, is personal. Cut out mass emails. No generic box of chocolates or polo shirts with your logo. Make it about them. Put their name on the gift. I know its extra time, effort, and money, but the entire effort is a waste of resources if you don’t address this one detail. So either take the time to make it personal or don’t waste your efforts.


If you want to take being personal to another level, involve the spouse. Executives are being flown in private jets, taken to Pebble Beach for $1000 rounds of golf, and given $500 bottles of wine. You have to spend a lot of money to be memorable for more than five minutes with an executive. They have seen all the dog and pony shows. And yet, time and time again, we avoid the person that has the most influence day in and day out on that executive–their spouse. The executive trusts that person and his or her judgment.


In business, most people are sheep. We all do the same tradeshows, take people out to the same restaurants, send out gifts at the holidays and advertise in the same publications. Why? Because everyone else is doing it. It’s safe. No one gets fired for hiring IBM or taking out a 30×60 booth at the industry event. But it’s cluttered and noisy here. Want to be memorable? Go against the grain. Spend the money you would spend on a tradeshow to get in front of clients you already have and do something unique and outrageous. Host an event at your local MLB ballpark so you can invite all your clients (and their kids) to take batting practice, get autographed jerseys, and have a professional photographer there to print and frame the lasting memories being created.


We all have travel and entertainment budgets. Cut 10 percent of what you spend on those lunches and dinners each year that are forgotten within days (add it up, it will make you sick) and invest that money in something that leverages long-term frequency. What does that look like? We send out a custom-engraved set of Cutco knives to every client and prospect the first week in November (before the insanity of the holidays when everyone sends gifts). The ripple effect is amazing. We add more pieces every year and what’s amazing is that they will use those tools every day for the next 20 years. You become a part of every family gathering and memory. The cost per impression is insanely low because of the frequency. Always follow the frequency.


As Seth Godin taught all of us years ago, a purple cow stands out because it’s different and unique. Be a purple cow. As a guy, I am horrible about giving creative gifts. I see what someone else is doing and start giving that. If you want to stand out, you have to do the uncommon. Giving the same tired piece of Tiffany, iPad, or set of Bose headphones is not going to stand out. Find unique things that are a little odd or different. We remember when someone goes way above and beyond. Water is hot at 211 degrees and boils at 212 degrees. Give the extra 5 percent to be truly memorable or focus your energy elsewhere.

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