I recently heard a speaker (David Steele) comment about changes in selling today. He commented that in the past, expensive dinners, golf trips, and high priced tickets were the norm. I know from experience that unless a new car showed up in a driveway or a rep’s beach condo was used by a customer for vacation, no one really gave much thought to corporate gift giving. But today, expensive dinners, golf trips, and front row ticket are much less common. Have the rules changed? And if so, is it due to the economics of business that no longer allow fat margins to cover gifts, or have the ethics of business changed so that the potential impropriety of gifts given in anticipation of or as a thank you for business is no longer acceptable?
When a gift is given, what is the intent? Does the timing matter—a gift given before or after an order? A gift given before a purchase is likely intended to sway a decision than one given after, unless there was a promise of such a gift made during the sales process. Does it matter who initiated the conversation? The seller could say, “I’ve got tickets to the finals every year, and I always take my newest account. I hope you can get this order placed so it can be you.” If so, that could be construed as an inducement. But a buyer could also say, “I want to go to the playoffs this year, and last year my supplier got me tickets. Do you think you can do the same?” This could imply a requirement to the seller as part of the purchase decision, an intent by the customer to extort special favors as a result of his or her discretionary purchasing power.
What about on-going customers? Do we give gifts to on-going customers to maintain their business, or to sincerely thank them for being loyal and supportive to us? Who is more valuable? The first time buyer or the repeat buyer? Sure you have to get the first order to get to the second order, but think how much easier it is when you have on-going customers instead of a long list of one hit wonders. If we only give gifts to repeat buyers, does that look more like a sincere thank you and less like a blatant inducement?
In the end, it comes down to intent. What is the intent of the buyer and what is the intent of the seller. If the intent is to influence a decision, it sounds questionable. If it is done post order and the buyer didn’t know it was coming, it sounds more sincere. I can’t answer the question for anyone but myself, but I’m noticing a change in trend that might mark a new direction in buyer/seller expectations.
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