A Seller’s Guide to Gift Giving (Issue 885)

In which we are reminded that, frequently, the best gift ideas are the ones not requested.

“I don’t know what to get my __ for ___.” As in, “I don’t know what to get my wife for Christmas.” Or, “I don’t know what to get my son for his birthday.” Or, “I don’t know what to give my daughters for Hanukkah.” Or Kwanza. Or whatever. The point is, “I don’t know what to get….”

Four options:

Push product. This is the easiest strategy; no subject matter knowledge is required. For example: Let’s assume we want to give a gift to a friend who is a golfer and that we don’t play golf, ourselves. With the friend’s golf passion in mind, however, we might give golf-related gifts that we find interesting or entertaining. For example, golf ball soap, or an “I’d Rather Be Golfing” t-shirt, or a golf club head cover in the shape of a snake’s head. Nice gifts and I’m sure our friend would be gracious upon receiving them… and they’re still a ‘product push’; no ‘need’ or ‘desire’ or interest has been established. We’re fulfilling the gift giving obligation, however we experience that, but not adding any value.

Take an order. Alternatively, we can “take an order” by asking, “What would you like _____?” as in “What would you like for your birthday?” That’s unimaginative, low value ‘order-taking.’ Actually, it’s low value and risky order-taking because the question sets an expectation that the asker can deliver without limits on the giftee’s answer and sets up the asker to be a cheapskate when s/he has to respond, “That’s too much money. What else would you like…?” Bummer when that happens.

There’s also opportunistic order-taking – we listen for moments in which the giftee says, “I’d really love to have X” or “I’ve been thinking about trying Y,” for example, “flying a drone”. While that’s not exactly order taking (because we didn’t ask “What would you like…?”)… it’s pretty close.

Give “consultatively.” We can give consultatively by asking neutral, open-ended questions that elicit needs or wants. Suppose we know that our friend likes to cook. Starting with a question like, “What do you enjoy cooking most?” or “What have you been cooking, lately?”, we can then ask questions like, “What challenges do you experience?” or “What appeals to you to try next?”

Suppose the friend says, “Soups. I’d really like to make more soups and I just don’t have the time.” OK, now we have a goal and a constraint we can solve without being told, specifically, what to give. We can add some value because WE have established either a latent or an explicit need and we can develop gift ideas rather than taking orders. That’s better…

Anticipate. The final strategy, thinking ahead – “anticipating”, is the most difficult yet most rewarding strategy. Figuring things out or seeing what might come next without being prompted, asked, or told. Addressing a need or want not yet imagined or articulated. How? By investing time, thoughtfully, to watch the spouse/child/friend in action and deduce from their successes, failures, comments, or behaviors what might suit them or what they might need or value. [This is different from “product push” because the gift is based on data or observations interpreted by our experience or research and the giftee hasn’t asked for a specific gift.]

For example, we see them struggling with a task (e.g. making soup) because they have the wrong tools or technique……. We either know a better way, from our own experience, or we dig around to find experts’ responses to that challenge and choose gifts based on that perspective. These are the gifts that prompt responses like, “This is perfect, I was just starting to think about that” or “This is such a great idea!”.

Nick Miller is President of Clarity Advantage based in Concord, MA. He assists banks and credit unions to generate more and more profitable relationships, faster, with business clients, their owners, and their employees. Additional articles on Clarity’s web site.

P.S. Maybe there’s a good interviewing question here: “ How do you choose gifts for your ___’s birthdays?”

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