How to win business with good gifts
JUNE 22, 2020
How gifting a $45 poop bag holder landed me a deal with a major Milan fashion brand
It just took one thoughtful gift to parlay an icy introductory meeting into my company's first deal with a major designer brand...and the entire cost was less than $100.
You only need a little bit of information to form a gifting action plan that feels personal and authentic.
Just a few weeks after my marketing company was acquired by The New York Times, I found myself in Milan, where a team of fashion consultants had set up meetings for me at nearly every major fashion house in the city: Prada, Armani, Missoni, Ermenegildo Zegna ... it was a packed two days of back-to-back introductions.
My very last meeting of the trip was with one of the biggest names on the itinerary, and I was feeling confident after what had been mostly positive receptions so far. I exchanged pleasant banter with the young assistants that greeted me, but as soon as the big boss walked in, I knew I was in trouble. She was clearly unhappy to be there, and the mood in the room shifted the second she took her seat.
"Well?" she said, looking at me. "What do you have to say?"
I knew I couldn't launch right into my pitch without doing something to warm her up first, so I told her what I'd just been talking about with her assistants: a new division of our marketing company that used Instagram-famous animals as spokespeople (yes, we really did that). Because the division hadn't gone live yet, I could tell her about it without her feeling like I was selling her something right off the bat.
As soon as I mentioned that the idea was based around dogs, she said - in the same cold tone of voice - "I love dogs."
I saw my chance, and immediately started talking to her about dogs: my dogs, her dog, and the dogs we were going to work with in the new company. I showed her their photos and even got her to let out what I'm pretty sure was the equivalent of a laugh.
We talked about dogs for so long that I wound up with only about 15 minutes to talk about the stuff I actually wanted her to buy, but that was OK - by the time the meeting ended, I knew exactly what I was going to do.
Not the actual poop bag holder - but close! From max-bone.com
You don't need to know someone well to make a gift feel personal. Even the smallest conversation clues can go a long way.
The best version of a small gift is always better than a subpar version of a big gift.
Later that week, back in L.A., I paid a visit to one of my favorite shops: The Max Bone, a high-end pet store. I picked up a really nice leather poop bag holder - I know, it doesn't sound particularly glamorous as I'm reading it back, but it's something that every dog owner uses. And this was a really nice poop bag holder. Just trust me.
I put it in a small gift box with tissue and wrapped the whole thing in an elegant ivory matte paper and black bow, then shipped it to Milan with a handwritten note that thanked the client for her time and said something along the lines of,
Our conversation was one of the highlights of my trip - it was so nice to have some dog talk with a fellow pet lover! Hoping this little bag will make one of the only un-fun things about having a dog a little less sh*tty. Thanks so much for taking the time to meet with me in Milan.
All the best,
(It's worth noting that I knew from our conversation I could get away with the "shitty" joke). In all, the gift, wrapping and cost of mailing it to Italy cost a little under $100.
She emailed me the next week with more enthusiasm than anything I could've pictured her writing. About two months after that first meeting she became our very first high-end fashion client, and continued to answer every email I sent her until I left the company three years later.
It might seem crazy, but in fact, that gift followed 3 of the rules I encourage brands to follow every time they gift a client:
1. Make it personal.
I'd spoken to this client for a total of about 45 minutes before I bought this gift, but it was enough to find something that felt personal and related back to our conversation. I made sure my note called this out as well.
2. Buy the nicest version of whatever you're gifting.
I knew that I wouldn't be able to outdo most of the gifts this particular client was used to getting - her job alone revolved around $1,000 sandals and $6,500 handbags. But, this poop bag holder was the nicest one you could buy - I mean, it was a nearly fifty dollar poop bag holder! I knew it was highly unlikely she already owned one that was nicer than the one I gifted to her.
3. Send something that's hard to find, and fabulous to discover.
One of the reasons I chose to buy from The Max Bone was because they're local to Los Angeles. I knew it was likely a brand she'd never heard of, and wasn't something she'd stumble upon in Milan on a clearance rack (God forbid). Sure enough, she loved having something special from an L.A. store that no one else she knew also had.
Written by Kyla Brennan
Kyla is the founder of Rare Assembly. Previously, she founded a multimillion dollar marketing firm that she ran for 8 years, including after its acquisition by The New York Times in 2016. During that time, she worked with hundreds of the world's best brands and saw firsthand just how far a good gift can go in the business world.