What is the best gift you ever received?
Why was it so important?
Did it make you feel loved or understood? Did it show you someone was paying attention and cared about your individual longings and needs?
Compare that to the worst gift you ever received.
Did you feel like Ralphie in A Christmas Story who received pink bunny-rabbit pajamas, complete with ears and a fluffy tail more appropriate to a five-year-old girl than a nine-year-old boy whose only desire was an air rifle? Did it leave you feeling that the giver didn’t really see you at all? In your day-to-day business, when someone gives you a product pitch without bothering to know if his product would be of any help to you at all, you are like Ralphie in his pink pajamas.
Now step into your customer’s shoes. Do you ever deliver a one-size-fits-all message when you have an opportunity to meet with them? Are you concerned with their goals or problems and sincerely hoping to help? Or are you checking a box?
Gift-giving this time of year throws many of us into a tizzy seeking just the right thing at a price we can afford. The long lines on Black Friday are a visible sign of the effort we put into it. We may send our customers cards, fruit baskets, snack trays—often with our company logo prominently displayed—but year after year we forget that the best gift is us: our time, our attention, our caring.
When we give our customers our time, seeking first to understand and only then seeking to be understood, we are saying to them that they are important and we value them and their success.
When we ask knowledge-based questions and share our hard-earned experience, we are saying that we want them to have the best solution, not just whatever we sell.
When we give our customers our attention after a meeting and do a follow-up letter, we are saying to them that we don’t forget about them when we leave the room.
Quid pro quo is a fundamental concept in selling: Get something before you give something. What we want to get is not just an order, but a customer, one who respects us and continues to do business with us over the long term. But what we must give in exchange is our best. Not “stuff.” Not pitches or discounts or “hot” deals. Rather, we want to give our customers our time, attention, commitment, and respect. There is no greater gift to a customer at this time of year, or at any other time of the year.
While we’re on the subject of gifts, do you write thank you notes for the presents you receive? It’s a custom that seems to be fading away in favor a quick phone call or email, but the holiday season is also a perfect time to say thank you, to count our blessings and acknowledge others who enrich our lives as well as those who enrich our bank account.
Take time this year to say thank you to your customers for their business in 2012. Take time to thank them for their trust in you and to reaffirm your commitment to deliver quality service to them in 2013.
My great uncle used to say that a hug was the perfect gift because you can’t give one without getting one back and one size fits all. Sounds like quid pro quo to me. Maybe you can’t actually hug your customers without running afoul of the politically-correct police, but you can say thank you and then continue to give them the best gift of all: you.
May your holidays be filled with joy and your New Year blessed.
Ed: Kate B.