441. Giftology: How and Why to Give Meaningful Gifts

Feb 26, 2024 | 0 comments

Are the gifts you are giving to people just turning them off? John Ruhlin joins the show today to teach us about good, and bad, gift giving. In the business world, gifts can be a great way to build and maintain important relationships. But they can backfire if you have not invested the intentionality that the process deserves. John’s new book, “Giftology,” breaks it all down.

John Ruhlin got his start selling Cutco knives in order to pay for med school. There, he developed his own strategy and rose to be Cutco’s #1 knifes sales representative. Now, as the founder of the Ruhlin Group, John advises companies and entrepreneurs on gift giving. He has worked with the Chicago Cubs, Morgan Stanley, Keller Williams, Jacksonville Jaguars, Shell, Caesars Palace and many more organizations and individuals looking to build meaningful relationships through giving gifts.

Tune into this episode to learn concrete tips on how to pick good gifts, including ones that are scalable and will not break the bank. You will also learn about how to put together a proactive strategy, including the timing of gifts and how much to invest in them. Gift giving is a powerful relationship-building tool; learn how to use it skillfully.

Check out John Ruhlin’s book, “Giftology,” today. Through poignant personal stories and data-backed evidence, Ruhlin breaks down how you can master the magic of Giftology.

To learn more, and for the complete show notes, visit: the1thing.com/pods.

We talk about:

  • Making sure your gift is personalized and meaningful
  • Gifts as expressions of gratitude, not expected reciprocation 
  • Common gift giving mistakes to watch out for

Links & Tools from This Episode:


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Nikki Miller:

Hey everyone, and welcome back to The ONE Thing Podcast. I'm Nikki Miller.

Chris Dixon:

And I'm Chris Dixon.

Nikki Miller:

And today, we have a very special guest, John Ruhlin, who is going to be talking to us about his new book, Giftology, as well as the science, there is an actual science to gifting. This was such an interesting conversation, Chris, and I don't think that I've ever put as much thought or effort into gifting. And now I'm rethinking my entire strategy, both in business and personally.

Chris Dixon:

Great. I think it's great because I know I have had this experience and I'm sure all your listeners out there have had a similar, which is you know someone in your world who's done this really well. You've either been impacted by it or seen it, but it's great to see that there's a system you can consider and be a little bit more intentional about sending gifts and being thoughtful and how that impacts your relationships and your business. And I really appreciated what John shared about how he thinks about this and I can be more intentional with gifting.

Nikki Miller:

I also really appreciate him walking us through for those that are maybe newer in their business or younger in their gifting journey, so to speak, that it doesn't have to be -- there's not an equilibrium between expense and the quality of gift or quality of the feeling that you get. You can give really great gifts without overspending.

Chris Dixon:

Absolutely. I really appreciate what he shared about this kind of balance. that you can attempt to find for yourself with being thoughtful and individualizing, but also if you intend to build a business that how this can be scalable for you as well.

Nikki Miller:

For sure. Let's go listen to John.

Hello everyone. And welcome back to The ONE Thing podcast. We are so excited to have John Ruhlin, author of Giftology here. And John, I just going to tell people the story of how we met, sort of met. This is our first time actually getting to chat. But I was at home with a group of friends, and it was a Friday, and I had a bunch of friends in my kitchen. It just so happens that I had four of my friends over all of whom are business owners and run different types of businesses, attorney, doctor, real estate related, all different types of businesses, service related.

And I got a knock on my door. And it was a package. And I get this package and they're like, oh, you got clothes, or you got an Amazon. What's in the box? I'm like, I don't remember ordering anything, but I'll open it up. There's no secrets in this house. And I opened it up and it was this beautiful little black box. And I thought, what the heck is this? I didn't order this. And I opened it up and it was a video of you, a personal video of you saying, “Hey, we got connected by Jay Papasan, the coauthor of The ONE Thing. And this is my book. I'm super excited to connect with you.” And I swear it was dead silence in my kitchen. And at once everyone was like, who is that? What is that book? I'm ordering it right now.

So I just want to tell you that this science of gifting works. And I was so impressed with getting that first impression of you. And it made me all the more excited to actually get you on the podcast. So thank you for being here. And I'm so excited to talk about the science of gifting, how you approach this and the impact that you have on people. So thanks for being our guest today.

John Ruhlin:

No, that's great. I love those stories. They never get old. My love language, ironically, if you follow Gary Chapman stuff, isn't gifting. It's actually words of affirmation. So you just filled my cup this morning. So thank you for that. But yeah, the book, well, you know this, like being in the speaker author world, like there's 30,000 new books that show up on Amazon every week, new titles. It's like real estate. Like how many real estate, there’s tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, and most of it's noise. And so like, we're like, we have to do something different.

And so we came up with a 300 version of our book, which people freak out over, even though people spend $300 on a bottle of wine and never think twice about it. So it's fun to see the impact of not just impacting you, but like now there's four other people that maybe your Giftology disciples from one little touch so.

Nikki Miller:

Well, what's amazing is that we're going to talk about how you approach this today. And you got five book sales standing in my kitchen. That one video had this ripple effect. And I imagine that they're going to become customers of yours at some point, because people want to make impact like that.

And you're right, I don't think in the book space, there are so many books. I mean, that's the story of why Jeff Bezos started Amazon. He said, what's the thing that's got a lot of product I could sell, and it was books, but that's everything now. I mean, there's not a whole lot of spaces left untouched where you can say, I am the only person in this space. So I think that it goes back to how important it is to be able to make an impact, which is from my perspective, probably why you started Giftology. Can you tell us the story of how this came about?

John Ruhlin:

Yeah. Well, most people, whether you're real estate, insurance, any business, nobody's like waking up doing their miracle morning saying, man, I got to get my gifting strategy together. Like most people, it's like my operations, my sales, my finance. But every business rises and falls on one thing and that's relationships. And you have to build strategic, memorable, unique relationships.

And so in real estate, everybody wants more referrals, but they're like, I did a great job selling the home. Why am I not getting more people going out there advocating? And I'm like, well, it's because you have passive loyalty. They take for granted that you're going to sell their house, like, right? Like nobody's like, oh my gosh, my house sold. Like, of course --

Nikki Miller:

It’s what they hired you to do.

John Ruhlin:

That’s what you’re hired. It's like a builder being like, oh my gosh, my windows don't leak. Well, of course, it’s like a half a million-dollar house or a quarter million-dollar house or $2 million house. So the things in business, most people take for granted, it's transactional. Like I give you a hundred dollars, you give me a great steak, dinner. Nobody's like, oh my gosh, I spent a hundred dollars, and I got this amazing meal. It's like well, of course I spent a hundred bucks on it.

And so what most people tend to not understand is you have to create moments, stories where people feel seen and understood and cared for. And like the steak example is great. Like if I go to a steak dinner and spend $500, great, I'm not going to tell a hundred people. But if they know my wife likes a certain kind of chocolate and they surprise us with a special dessert at the end made from this chocolate, cost them what? Five bucks, maybe three bucks? But I'm going to tell that story to a hundred people because they surprised and delighted us with this moment, this act of kindness that was totally unexpected.

And so the surprise and delight element is all we're really talking about. Like most people when they're doing their gift, like nobody's taking their clients to like the Motel 6 or McDonald's, but people are doing their gifting. They're like, hey, I want to do something for 50 bucks from China with my logo on it. Well, that's not going to wow anybody. By the way, that's not even a gift, that's swag.

And so understanding that the bar is really low on physical gifting because people do it horribly wrong. And so we looked at it, I grew up on a farm. I'm very practical. I grew up milking goats, not the most sexy thing. I didn't grow up around a lot of nice gifts. I grew up in Ohio.

But I had a mentor who is this law firm owner and he was a rain making law firm owner. And part of the reason he had so many referrals is because he was always giving things away. He was super generous. Like he'd find a deal on noodles and literally like everybody at church the next Sunday would walk away with like a case of noodles. I'm like, Paul, that was 40 grand on noodles. Like, are you insane? Like I'm 20. I'm like, that was like two semesters worth of college to me, this poor farm kid.

But I saw how everybody just came his direction, like all the deals in town. Like he just was a magnet for opportunity because of his generosity. So it wasn't like a tactical thing. It wasn't like, if I do this, then I'll get like 2.7 times more referrals. It just truly was. But I interned with Cutco at 20 as a desperation measure to pay for med school. And anybody that thinks that selling houses or insurance or loans is hard, pitching your girlfriend's dad who owns this big law firm knives, the most weird, awkward conversation on the planet, right? I'm 20, 21.

So I bought -- I pitched him the knives. He buys a set for himself and his three unmarried daughters. And I know a lot of people in real estate know what Cutco is, but I came back to him. This is 23 years ago. And I'm like, you're always giving things away to your clients that are CEOs of these big lumberyards, home builders, whatever else. And they're all into the hunting, fishing outdoors. They're like manly men in the Midwest. And I thought maybe Paul will have mercy on me and order the $200, $300 pocketknives, and give them out to people.

So I pitched him, awkward as all get out before church on a Sunday. And he said, “John, I don't want to order the pocketknives”. I'm like, I get it. I'm like kind of embarrassed. And he said, I do want to order something though. I'm like, what? He's like, I want to order a hundred of the pairing knives, like 200, 300 bucks. I'm like, why do you want to give a bunch of kitchen tools to a bunch of dudes? I'm like, I'll sell as many as you want. I'm obviously desperate as this 21-year-old. And he said, “John, the reason I'm more referrals, deal flow access, I found that if you take care of the family and business and really surprised and delight them, that's like everything else in business takes care of itself”.

So that was the moment that I realized it wasn't about the stupid knives. Although to this day, our agency still does millions of dollars in the knives, but so many people have tried to rip off and duplicate what we're doing. And they do giftologyish. And they're like, oh, it's the knife thing. Well, they slam their logo on a bunch of knives and give them out to people. And they were like, I'm not getting more referrals. And I'm like, why'd you put your logo on it? Would you ever go to somebody's wedding, your best friend's wedding and on the beautiful Tiffany's vibe but Keller Williams on it? Like nobody would do that for their best friend's wedding. Why would we do that in business and call it branding and marketing? What we're really doing is we're trying to manipulate that person.

So over the last 23 years, what we've gotten really good at is understanding the psychology. And Robert Saldini's books have done a beautiful job of backing it up with research of like influence or persuasion. And most people, they cut corners, they get the details wrong. And what they don't realize is they're damaging relationships, but nobody's ever going to say, I thought less of you as a person when you sent me like a $10 bottle of wine and my dad's an alcoholic and I'm never going to refer you business, but I'm never going to tell you that.

But there's all of these different like micro decisions and micro moments that are happening as we're building relationships. And they either like get somebody to say, man, I love this guy, this gal, like I'll run through walls for them, or you know what, they're okay. If somebody asked me, maybe I'll tell them their name. But there's a big difference between active loyalty and passive loyalty. And so those are the sorts of things that we're getting into. And talking about, it's not about the stupid gift. It's about how you're making somebody feel, which is very woo woo.

And so we realized like almost everybody makes their decisions emotionally. And so that's a lot of the playbook that we're talking about today.

Chris Dixon:

I'm curious if I can, it may sound obvious to ask, but you mentioned there's a distinction between a gift and what could be swag and a few other kind of examples. Like maybe you could define for us in your opinion, like what is a gift? You kind of naturally go to a physical object or something, but could it be more than that? And I'm curious what you think.

John Ruhlin:

Yeah. Well, people ask what's better, a gift or an experience, right? Because a lot of people will take their clients out to a nice dinner.

They'll take them to like -- if you think about all industries, almost everybody entertains the same way. We go to dinners, rounds of golf, ballgame tickets. Maybe if you’re like oil and gas, it's hunting trips. But it's usually some sort of like -- and nobody's doing that at a level, like two. It's a suite, it's courtside seats, it's whatever.

And so really all of those things are just acts of love. Like if you look at Gary Chapman's book, The Five Love Languages, like nothing's new under the sun. We all like -- the way God's wired us, is that we want to feel loved and appreciated whether you're a billionaire or whether you're a janitor, whether you're in Texas or in Africa.

And so really all of these different things are just acts of love. It could be words of affirmation, which oftentimes in a business scenario is a handwritten note. I won't allow a single thing to go out of our agencies for a client or a client's client or an employee without a handwritten note and people were like, can't we just automate this on the Amazon? I'm like, if it feels automated or it feels like marketing, that's not a gift.

A gift is like your grandma, like knows you well enough and pick something out for you in your size and wraps it up in beautiful paper. And we all have that special person in our life that takes the time to know us, care about us, know what we like, not like. And then oftentimes, the handwritten note, like if you're going to give a Rolex to somebody, you could just throw the money at it, but that watch, if it's somebody that has wealth, they can go buy their own Rolex. Usually, it's the personalization of it. Maybe it's a Bible verse. Maybe it's like their mission statement. Maybe it's a quote from their grandfather who passed away but served in the military. But the note provides the meaning, the thoughtfulness, all of those connection points to where now it's a story.

Now, it's an artifact where if their house was on fire, they're not grabbing the most valuable things. They're grabbing, from a cost perspective, they're grabbing the things that are irreplaceable. And usually that's like pictures, your flag, but we have some things that clients are giving out to people, and Jay can speak to this because he heard about it, I used to make fun of like mugs as being the worst possible gift on the planet. And then this artist made this $2,000 mug for me called an artifact mug for me and my wife, surprised us both, drove nine hours to deliver it and made us both cry. Here's why it's two grand, carved into this piece is my faith core values, family legacy, who believed in me first. On my wife's, it was her on the farm with her dad who passed away of cancer. It was like a lifetime achievement award.

And so we've been blessed. We have like really expensive jewelry and whatever in our house. I can tell you if our house is on fire, this is one of the things that my wife would grab. Why? Because it feels irreplaceable. It's like, everything that's carved in, it's like literally one of those artifacts where you're like, insurance is going to replace the jewelry and the things that are just things. But you grab the things that are the most meaningful to have a story. And that's where people are like, John, I'm a great gift giver. I'm like, no, you're great at swag. You're great at giving stuff that's cool. But people don't grab the cool stuff, they grab the meaningful stuff.

And so that's where people try to duplicate. And it's not that like -- if you read the book Giftology, we give the whole playbook away but people have been conditioned to think about branding and marketing and all these other things that are fine. But you don't capture somebody's heart and soul because of cool branding or marketing. You capture it because of this in depth understanding of who they are and what makes them tick as a human.

And when you capture that level of a person, like that's where Tim Ferriss's concept of like 1000 true fans or any of these people, you get one person like that, that feel seen and understood, they will go close more deals for you than you could ever close or a thousand -- I don't care what somebody's satisfied customer. I want somebody that wants to run through walls for me. And so does everybody else that's in business. We want people that are like, oh my gosh, I love this person. I want them to win. That's very different than somebody who's on your client list.

Nikki Miller:

I love this concept because it's along the lines of something that I've been seeing very consistently lately in the world of real estate and not lately. This is something I see all the time. We do a lot of training. I specifically in my organization do a lot of training to real estate agents who are trying to express value in a marketplace that feels very saturated.

And so when we ask somebody, well, what is your value proposition? Like why should someone work with you? Invariably, 9.9 times out of 10, they're going to start off with something like, I am really honest, and I communicate really well, and I'm going to take really good care of you. And I'm like, okay, those are minimum standards, you have to do that. You have to do that in order to maintain your customer. That is literally what you signed up for.

And I want to go back to what you said earlier, which is, that's the service that people expect. And this is all about doing the unexpected. And I think what's probably lost here is that in order to do the unexpected, you have to think about how to do the unexpected. But above all, you have to, like, all of this comes back to the examples you've given. You have to get to know your customer. I mean, that person who made you that incredible mug that you cherish and tell stories about, like, they had to get to know you at some point. And I would love to hear how do you strategically do this in what might feel like a transactional relationship to a lot of people?

John Ruhlin:

Yeah. Well, here's the cool thing is that the bar is really low, right? Like in this area specifically, if you try to compete on who has nicer billboards or who has a nicer car or who has nicer brochures or who has a nicer office, everybody's already at like a level 10, right? Nobody is driving their beater around. Like if somebody is in a top 1 percent or top 10 percent of a category of any industry, real estate included, that's not where you're going to stand out. My car is nicer than your car. My business card is nicer than your business card.

So, but on the personal side, most of the time people, they don't understand what makes a human tick. And so my original mentor, Paul, when he was engaging with people, whether it was the receptionist or the CEO, he was paying attention to what I call the inner circle and what he just did naturally. Most people are like, who's the decision maker? Is it the mom, the dad, the man, that woman, like whatever else? And he was like, who's around that person? So like 80 percent of our budget when we're engaging with somebody is not targeted at the decision maker, the CEO or the executive. It's their spouse. It's their significant -- it's the team, the people around them, it's their kids and their pets.

And so we'll do some programs for some clients where we're doing the same thing for 10,000 people, but what we tapped into was the fact that they're all pet owners. And most people are trying to compete over here. And meanwhile, what do they care about? Well, they care about their loved ones and people around them. And a lot of times, people care about their pets more than they care about other humans, right.

And so like, I remember. We were working with a -- or somebody was working with the Fortune 150 insurance company. And through research, we found out this SVP had a dog named Winston. Well, like he's already got a 50,000 watch on his wrist and all this other stuff. We sent like a $75 water bowl that was personalized to Winston. And you would have thought we sent him a brand-new car. No logo on it. It was personalized to Winston. He still talks about it to this day years later. Not because it was the most expensive but because it was the most thoughtful.

And so a lot of the things that we're tapping into are just like when we say -- we do still a lot with the knives. And we did a set for Tony Robbins for a client and people were like, even the client was like, really, we're going to do knives with Tony Robbins? I'm like, dude, I said, Pete, do you trust me? And Pete's like, well, yeah, we trust you. We trust you with all of our relationships. I said, well, here's what we're going to do for Tony. I said, we're going to take Cutco’s biggest knife set. It's going to be a $10,000 package.

And on all 40 of the knives, every knife is going to have a different quote from either Tony or Sage over the last 40 years that they've spoken into existence. So it's going to be like an heirloom and you're going to speak into this video that's going to talk about like seven generations from now, Tony and Sage, your great grandkids, you're going to be celebrating the millions and tens of millions of people that have been impacted by your relationships. And as you break bread, be reminded of what matters.

So we sent this off, they didn't hear anything for four months and then Sage reached out to the client in tears. Now they could buy a thousand of those knife sets. It wasn't about the stupid knives. It was about the messaging. It was about the engraving. It was about the personalization, the heirloom, the legacy. Guess what? Every single person who leads a company cares about their legacy. They care about their family. They care about heirlooms. They care about their great grandkids.

So we can take similar delivery vehicles, but we have to tap into those little minute things that connect it to them. And then, like, they might already have a hundred of whatever it is, but that becomes the one that they're going to use because it's so unique and personal to them. And that's where you can have scalable thoughtfulness. But you have to have a recipe, you have to have a process of filtering through and saying, like, what's common amongst humanity?

People will be like, John, how did you know I like to cook? And I'm like, everybody eats and breaks bread with their loved ones in their home. Like, that's pretty universal. So people will be like, shortcut that, and I'm going to slam my logo on an oven mitt. I'm like, that's not the same as making the Robbins cry.

Like you think you're in the same sandbox. You're not. And so that's the nuance and the art and the science of it is understanding like, yes, there's these cool things that you can use as the delivery vehicle, but you better understand what makes that person tick. And most of the time, it's very similar things, but it's unique to them. And that's where it's like the active listening and asking the follow up question or building the relationship with their assistant.

So in case you don't have the info, you can get to the info to give. Those little details to now make it like, holy crap. Man, I didn't even know that you -- how did you know that? That's what you want them asking. Like, I didn't even mention that. It's like, no, you didn't mention that, but I knew your sister, I knew your brother. It's like that level of attention to detail and follow up and follow through is where the gold is.

Chris Dixon:

If somebody is listening, they're hearing the different examples of ways that they could have this level of impact, do you find it valuable for them to maybe go like dig at the root of their intention a little bit too and go backwards and just say like, hey, what's my intention here to create more sales or is my intention to create connection and form relationships and then come from that place first?

John Ruhlin:

Thousand percent. You can tell -- if somebody's a douche bag and they give you a gift, they’re still a douche bag.

Chris Dixon:

That's kind of what I was getting at. You got it. Yeah.

John Ruhlin:

Yeah. So if you're not, if you don't, if you come at it -- and I remember like we had a conversation with Vaynerchuk and I was on his show and we were talking back and forth. And it was like, what happens when you do the thing, like the crazy thing and it doesn't work, are you pissed? And if you're pissed, then the other person feels that, right? They can tell that you weren't giving a gift open handed. You weren't doing something to deepen the relationship. It's like giving your spouse something and expecting something that night. That wasn't a gift. That was a manipulation.

And so, yes, we're all in business to make money. But if you view this as like a fun game of, I get to go build relationships and love on people. And I know if I reinvest, our budget for most of our clients is 10 to 15 percent of net profits back into relationships. Well, if you realize that it's net profit, they're basically buying their own gifts. This is like, you get to keep 85 cents on the dollar.

So you can't be pissed if you do something for somebody and they're like, no response to anything. You're just making a deposit back of something that they've already made a deposit in you. And if you can do that, I'm just going to love on relationships. And I know the way the world's wired if I put a dollar in into relationships, it's going to come back to me 10-fold or 100-fold, but it might take 10 years. It might not even be them, it might be like somebody else, but it will come back if you stay in the game long enough, but the intention is for sure.

Like people can read between the lines and tell I'm trying to manipulate this person and I'm pissed when I don't get the referral. I'm pissed when I don't get the deal. And that's the opportunity to like be in a position of power and be like, I don't need your business. Would I love to work with you? For sure. But like we have our clients sending so many things that so frequently they can't possibly keep track, but enough of them turn into oak trees where they don't even worry about the ones that fell on soil and turned into nothing, they got ate by the crows. Who cares? I'm focused on those ones that turned into oak trees. That's more than enough to take care of.

And so, yes, the intentions for sure matter. And I didn't realize that early on. I was like the same person's doing the exact same giftology program. One person's getting like 10 X, one person's getting like two X.

Why is it? Well, it's who they're being, the person who's giving the gift. Like if you get something from Gary Keller, you get something from Jay Papasan, or you get something from some random person, they're going to feel different. Even if it's the same thing being given. Why? Because part of the essence of who they are is rubbing off on and making part of the impact of like, wow, I got something from CEO of an amazing company.

Just like me, if I get something from Gary Vaynerchuk versus like some random dude I've never met before, the person, like that's part of the gift. So no question, the intentions, all that kind of stuff, it sounds woo woo, but we all know that who it comes from matters, and who you are and how you're showing up matters.

Nikki Miller:

I think this is such an important conversation because it goes back to not what you said that the intention matters so much. And I think it's also that the attention matters so much too. Like what you said before about the attention to detail. And a lot of times we're giving gifts to people, especially if we work in something like real estate or like law, some of the examples that you gave where we're probably dealing with higher net worth individuals. They have stuff. Like they don't need more stuff. They want the experience, and they want to know that you've seen them.

And I would guess, and I'd love to hear if you have stories on this, I would guess that you can do this the wrong way if you don't have the right attention. And I'll say for me, I remember I was getting recruited to a bigger company and we had had many, many conversations and I was like seriously considering it. And then the executive sent me a Rolex, which most people would be like, oh my God, they like sent you this like crazy watch.

And I was kind of annoyed, to be honest, because that's not something that I would have wanted. It's not something I would use or wear. And I was like, what a ridiculous expenditure of money. And I get why it happened, but I literally ended up selling it, donating the money in the company's name and sending them the certificate back. And it was the deciding factor of why I decided not to go. And I thought to myself, interesting that they didn't take the time to know the person enough. What was with the best of intentions actually had the reverse outcome. And I'd be curious to see if you hear that a lot.

John Ruhlin:

Yeah. Well, you're giving them the benefit of the doubt that they had good intentions. People, I think a lot of times people like try to, instead of being more thoughtful and more creative, they try to just buy their loyalty, which is really like some level of like, oh, I'm going to buy my -- you see this in Fortune 500 companies. Like if you're doing something really thoughtful for a few grand, okay, you send somebody like a hundred thousand dollar, like bass boat. That's not a gift, that's a bribe. Right. And part of it is the intention behind it. And part of it is like what it's communicating.

And I think there is an element of like when somebody -- now, if somebody had known that you like loved a Rolex or that you'd always wanted one or like create some sort of element or story around it and tied it into your faith or like some sort of legacy play, then you would have received it probably different versus just like, I'm going to like --

Nikki Miller:

Yeah, here's a Rolex.

John Ruhlin:

Yeah, here’s a Rolex. Like I said, like without the handwritten note, without the meaning, the story, the context, it's just a thing, an expensive thing. And it could go either way. It could be like, wow, this is really cool. It could be like they don't really know me. And in this case, and I think a lot of cases, now you did the classy thing of like, sell it, give the money to charity, whatever else. But a lot of times people just keep internally, they're like, this person just doesn't care about me, doesn't know me, doesn't respect me, doesn't appreciate me. All of those feelings tend to be internal.

And so, yeah, I mean I've seen people all the time send out a gift. Like we had, it was a headhunter firm, and they gave out, I think it was an $8 bottle of wine or something and the client was so pissed. They're like, they think they lost the business for money. They really like when we got this $8 bottle of wine, right, first, we don't drink. Second, we looked it up. It was eight bucks and we paid them $100,000 placement fee for this person. And they never -- it felt mean, like literally writing a note saying like, you lost all future business based upon your unthoughtful thing that you did for me.

But we've seen it where people are like trying to do mass gifting. And we had one, it was for prospects, and it was knives again. And the response was, if you start engraving my new wife's name on the tools, I'll probably take the meeting. So they're engraving X, the data was so old and so bad. It was personalized with ex-spouses names on it.

Chris Dixon:

Oh, no.

John Ruhlin:

And it was like, oh my gosh. Now here's the --

Nikki Miller:

So cringey.

John Ruhlin:

Yeah, so cringey. They were targeting like Fortune 500 COOs CEOs for investment in their real estate fund. And the guy who was head of sales was living in the neighborhood of some of these executives that he was mortified. And so everything is safe. I reminded him, like, nobody's going to prison. Nobody died. Like you're not a surgeon. You're not like a lawyer or your client didn't go to prison. I said, what are we going to do here? And he was like, we're not doing anything. I said, that's the wrong response. I said, they reached out to you. I said there's an opportunity here to like double down and show who you are.

And so the owner is like, okay, we're going to follow through on John's recommendation. So he didn't have it come from the SVP of sales. He had it come from the owner, and we tripled the size of the gift, engraved the new spouse's name on it and said, “Hey, we're sorry. We had a data wrong.” And so they made it a good thing that a mistake was made and they invested even more money to say like, no, this is who we are.

And one of them was a COO of a Fortune 100 company. And they ended up investing half a million dollars in the deal about a year later because they're like, most people would have ran from that. You guys like tripled down. So there's like all of these things, there's a way, even when you do it wrong, the beautiful thing is when stuff hits the fan, people get to see who you really are.

And so I try to remind people, like nobody's killing puppies here. We're dealing with humans with gifts and sometimes you're going to do something even with the best of intent and maybe you didn't realize their parent died, their kid’s in the hospital, they're going through a divorce. And so many people in sales oftentimes are like so thin skin that they do something, and they get a few bad responses or no responses and they're like, this doesn't work. Or I'm like, no, you're dealing with humans.

Like be thoughtful, be intentional, have a plan, have a relationship plan. Like I asked people how many times they have a relationship plan. They're like, it's like crickets. You have a plan on where you're going to go to vacation. You have a plan on what you're going to work out and what you're going to eat. Like map out a relationship plan and then a percentage of money.

And we were talking about this before the show, like at least avoid the 10 worst gifts that are out there, which is like food, alcohol, gift cards. If your child wants to go download the 10 worst gifts, they go to giftologyplan.com, but like start to treat this like a game plan of any other sport or any other activity and be proactively intentional with this and make adjustments.

When something doesn't work, don't freak out. Nobody's going to jail, pivot, shift, but commit to it and do it not with leftover. Oh, and we made money, we should probably say thank you. Like make this a true part of your overall, like, I want to grow my sales this much. Like how much are you going to commit to reinvesting back into your relationships? Not with like mugs filled with M&Ms. That's not blowing anybody away. They may say thank you out of obligation or gift guilt. But nobody's like, oh my gosh, you sent me a mug for five bucks with your logo on it from China with some M&Ms. That's not the tickets. Sorry.

Nikki Miller:

I'm laughing because we've all gotten so many of these gifts.

Chris Dixon:

Oh, yes. For sure.

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Chris Dixon:

Do you see there's a balance between a system where you can have consistency, kind of manage gifting at scale and personalization where you don't feel like you're a part of a system? Do you see a balance there where it feels like a genuine gift?

John Ruhlin:

Yeah. So yeah, I mean, there's proactive and reactive. And the goal for us is that foundational gifting like if somebody passes away, somebody gets sick, those are times you can't plan for, right? Somebody has a baby. You should have a plan for those reactionary type situations, or you find out something, hey, somebody's kid got into Harvard. Like, send them $500 in Harvard gear, be the first one to congratulate them. But those are reactionary things that as you listen or your team listens and learns, you should take advantage of that and do something.

But there might be out of, say you have 100 key relationships or 500 clients or whatever, you might not hear about something like that with them for years. And the goal for like to lay in more referrals and deal flow is to be like trusted and top of mind. You're not going to be top of mind and engage with them if you're only reaching out to them once every five years, or you're sending them a newsletter or some digital thing that everybody does, or a calendar that, come on, let's be honest, ends up in the trash.

So there needs to be some sort of proactive plan. And so when I, in the book, Cameron Herald, I wanted to get his attention. I did the Brooks Brothers. I outfitted his room with $7,000 in Brooks Brothers clothes. That was because I knew that he loved Brooks Brothers. Well, for the next decade, I continued to pour into that relationship once a quarter to the tune of like 25 grand over the course of a decade, which people are like, dude, how would you do 25 grand in one person?

And I'm like, that's half the cost of an assistant. And I got Cameron as a sales rep for half the cost of an assistant for one year. He booked me more than seven figures of deals. Like the ROR, return on relationship, was out of this world. I'll spend 25 grand to make a million. I don't know about you, but like that 50 X, it works for me.

And so most people like only wait for the reactionary stuff or they do stuff that's so lame and like lazy that it's like jelly of the month club. It's like national lampoons all over again. It's like there's a hybrid. You don't have to do $7,000 clothing experiences or whatever, every single time. And you don't have to do like the jelly of the month club.

There's a hybrid there of like, how do we be proactive and scale our thoughtfulness to our top 25 or top 50 or top 100 so that it doesn't feel like marketing because you're putting thought and intention. It's coming with a handwritten note. It's not at a transactional time. It's not when you -- like the amount of people that want to give referral gifts, I'm like, it makes me throw up.

I'm like, if you ask a realtor mortgage, any company, even if you're selling toilet paper, are you in the relationship business or transaction business. Even if you sell toilet paper, they’re all about value and relationships. And yet when do most people show gratitude? Hey, I sent you a referral, here's your gift. What does that turn the relationship into? A transaction a tit for tat.

And I'm like they do the math in their head, whether it's right or not, they're thinking like six percent or three percent. They're like, they just made 15 grand and they just sent me like a $200 bottle of wine. It feels very gross and not very like equal. Whereas if you're proactive and you take your clients, your referral partners, and you don't wait for something to happen, you just reach out to them and say, “Thank you just for being in my corner. Thanks for being my friend. Thank you for being a partner”.

And they're thinking I haven't closed a home with them in three years. I haven't sent them a referral. They're sending this to me on a random Tuesday in the middle of April, just because they were thinking about me, what does that do? It lands so much different because you did it intentionally because you wanted to, not because you had to. And so, yes, you need to do the very fun, crazy one offs. Those are cool. Those are great stories. Those are great moments, but those are very hard to scale.

So you have to have this other foundational proactive part that reminds people that, wow, they're not just saying thank you when they got something from me. They're actually in this. Everybody says they're in the relationship building for the long game, but most people's long game is days, not decades. But when you show up year two, year three, year four for a relationship, they're like, holy crap, these guys are for real. They are in this game. This is a lifelong relationship. It's one thing to say it. It's another thing to like put your money and your money, your time and energy where your mouth is, communicate something very, very different.

Nikki Miller:

I'd love to get your perspective. I can get into the heads of our listeners and I would bet that we probably have some early entrepreneurs on here, people who are early on in building their business who are like, well, that's great, John, but I don't have $25,000 to spend on somebody. So what advice would you give to someone who doesn't have that type of budget on how they can still be really impactful and give gifts and use these principles to make an impact on their perspective clientele or their current?

John Ruhlin:

Yeah. Well, I mean, I have followers and people that reach out to us that are college kids. I mean, when I started this, I was 20, 21 years old and I budgeted $500 a month, which was as a college kid, might as well have been like 500 grand. Yeah. I mean, it was like a lot of money, but I was like, you know what, instead of buying beer in college and whatever else, I would just reprioritize and being like, I wanted to go land some whales and I was going to pay for med school, come hell or high water. And I was willing to take a percentage of every commission I was making and reinvestment amounts.

So no, you don't have to start with, and I didn't start with 25 grand. And even that 25 grand was spread out over a decade. And so what I would just challenge people to do is rather than doing the shotgun approach of like, I have a hundred relationships, I have a hundred bucks, I guess I'm going to send out whatever I can get for a buck, which is what most people do, right? They take some sort of list. They divide it by whatever random number they came up with. And that even big companies do this. It's like we made money. We got 10,000 people. We got a budget for 20 grand. Where did the 20 grand come from? I don't know. Like, just seemed like a good number. That's most people's strategy is like, it's not based upon reinvestment amounts or metrics or numbers.

And so if you could just even make it like, hey, I'm going to take a tithe, I'm going to take 10 percent of what I made last year and maybe it was 30 grand. Well, that's three grand. Well, take three grand and invest it into six of the right relationships. And instead of doing something jelly of the month called once a month, do something once or twice a year that's really engaged, really thoughtful, really well researched because you only have six.

Like I mean, you can get really creative with 500 bucks if you put the time, energy, and effort in. And to me, like if I'm just a startup guy, that's trying to compete against these bigger whales, I can't outspend them. And most of our clients, by the way, are not the Fortune 50 companies.

My clients tend to be the midsize companies that are doing 5, 10 million to a billion that are competing against the publicly traded companies because they can't outspend them. They have to be more thoughtful, more unique, more memorable, and more creative. And they can't just throw the money at the Rolex and try to bribe somebody to come on board. They have a budget of a Seiko and I'm like don't be sending Seikos. That's dumb. That Seiko is going to look pretty sucky compared to the Rolex.

But if you look like 10, 15 years ago, the reason I think Yeti took off was most people had a 50, even if you're a billionaire, you had a $50 igloo in your garage. If somebody gives a $500 Yeti cooler, that's 10 times like, so best in class and whatever the category is, that's how somebody -- like one of the company -- one of the guys we were on this big podcast, an NBA player, interviewed us. And he was an investor in -- what's the cookie? Last crumb.

Nikki Miller:


John Ruhlin:

Last crumb. So I'm not usually a food guy because like, A, I don't like sugar. B, you can offend people or they're gluten free and whatever else, but he knew I had four daughters and none of them were gluten intolerant. So he sent me the Last Crumb after it was all personalized, whatever else. Like $15 per cookie. The box felt like I was getting an iPad. And so in the cookie category, like $150, $200 box of a dozen cookies is insane.

And so like find those areas where you can be, and I'm not even saying like it needs to be food because that's one of the things that -- but there's always rules to be broken. But find the area where like that you can go all in, and you can take the igloo and make it a Yeti. Don't go up one or two percent higher, find an area where you can go up a thousand percent higher, but it's within your budget to blow that person away in that category.

That's why the dog bowl works. Most people just have a normal dog bowl. You spend a hundred dollars on a dog bowl that's personalized to their dog, they probably don't have that. And they're like, that's more valuable than their Rolex because you took care of their inner circle, and you personalized it and you gave them something they didn't even know existed and you had it handmade.

And so there's, yes, there's energy and effort there. And oh, by the way, somebody feels that when they get it and they're like, you went out -- like you went and climbed a mountain to get this thing. That communicates that they matter. And when you're young and small and nimble, that's when you have the opportunity to take out the whales that they're like, oh, I got too many clients, got too many referral partners. Well, they're going to lose some of those key relationships to the young, nimble person that's thoughtful and creative, not because they're spending more money, but because they're making the other person feel taken care of and the other person's starting to feel like a number.

So I love the young, hungry guy because I grew up that way, right? I was slinging blades. But because I was willing to do the unique things, we became the number one rep in Cutco's history out of over two million reps. So what I'm talking about isn't like an academic like, oh, this maybe works in the real world. This is how we've been able to compete against multibillion dollar companies is because I've never taken outside investment. It's always been bootstrapped. And so I love the thoughtfulness of not having an unlimited budget gets you to be really, really thoughtful and creative.

Chris Dixon:

You said it earlier is. So effort is recognized even subconsciously from people. And so effort and the expense aren't always correlated. So index on effort, and you're probably going to be in a better place.

John Ruhlin:

Yeah, if it's strategic. Now, sometimes people will run around like chickens with their heads cut off, right? It needs to be directed thoughtfully and creatively. And most people give a gift and what is it? It's their logo. They give stakes because they like steak. They make the gift all about themselves. A gift by its very nature is what, it's about the recipient.

So as long as the effort is put into being like, hey, how can I land for this person or make them look like the hero to their kids or their pets or their spouse? And so there is an element of like yeah, you got to run through brick walls but you need to do it, find the weakness in the wall. And so there is an element of strategy and effort and thoughtfulness and creativity.

But here's what I'll say is if a goat milk and farm kid whose love language is not gifts can do this, nobody has an excuse. People reach out, like, John, I've been married for 50 years. I need help. I'm like, dude, you should have been listening for the last -- like, I guarantee your spouse has been dropping hints. You just haven't been -- like if you spent -- and this is like if you spent 10 percent on this versus your fantasy football league or whatever it is, if somebody is passionate about something, they will get really creative, really energetic and do really, really well with it.

And this is one of those areas, like it's a muscle. It's like gratitude is a muscle. If you work it consistently, you'll become world class. And some of our best ideas, like the artifact mug, I didn't invent that. The artist found me. I just was smart enough to look and be like, holy crap, I used to make fun of mugs. But if I'm going to do a mug, it's going to be this way. And now, I won't go on a stage and speak globally, unless I'm giving away one of these crazy mugs and surprising somebody in the audience. Why? Because I know that this is going to land so well.

And so, like, yeah, a lot of this is effort plus strategy and follow through and consistency and having a three-year horizon, because so many times people will do this for six months, and then they get distracted, and they go do something else. And I'm like, relationships take a while to evolve and develop and grow, and there's a compound effect.

And so, don't do this for six months and move on to something else, unless you're willing to commit to it for three years. This isn't a shiny object to kind of try because otherwise, you'll look like really generous and then you'll look like, oh, they were just doing that as a tactic. That's not who they are. And that sometimes can do more damage than good is just doing as the flavor of the month and then moving on to something else. Like, oh, they were faking. That's not -- you don't want to be that person.

Nikki Miller:

John, I feel like this has got to be enormous pressure for you as a husband or when like Christmas comes around. Being the gift giving expert, it's got to come with a little bit of pressure. I'd love for you to expand on, in the book, you talk about when you're giving gifts to spouses or kids that it's so impactful.

And yet you have to, there's some rules around that, right? You have to be a little bit cautious with it. And I'd love for you to expand on that because I know as a parent and a spouse, like those are the gifts that delight me the most when someone's really thoughtful for something with my daughter, but I could see how it could get weird. So can you talk about it a little bit?

John Ruhlin:

Yeah. Well, this was learned in the trenches, right? Like you try things, you're like, oh, that didn't work. So I'm not judging anybody, but if you have a relationship with somebody, then their family's fair game. If you actually are in a relationship with them. If you don't, then you do something for somebody. If you don't have -- if it's a prospect and you do something for somebody's kids, that could land really wrong. I get good like stalkerish.

And so usually if there's a relationship, no holds barred. But typically, if somebody's a public figure and you don't have a relationship and their spouses and the news or whatever else, like spouse is okay, assistant is okay. But kids, totally off limits until you have established relationship. Now, sometimes people will push the envelope and it will work. They'll do it anyway. But to me, the risk reward, I'm always looking for what's the, you know, the highest upside for the lowest amount of risk.

And so we learned over time that if you're in a relationship, great. If you're not, then there's certain things you need to filter out. But to me, like, yeah, trying to take care of just the person who you're trying to engage, the decision maker, the executive, to me, making them the hero to the people around their people, if you have a relationship, like that's game over because most people that are in business and traveling, whatever else, we all want to be the heroes to our kids and to our families.

And most people are like, oh, this person likes bourbon. I'm like, I don't care that they like bourbon. What's their spouse like? Like, I don't even know if they're married. I'm like, well, you better ask them. Now, you got some research to do.

Nikki Miller:

Yeah, it’s homework.

John Ruhlin:

Like those are some basic building blocks of just understanding psychology and humanity. And if you don't know some of those basic data points, like you're not doing your homework and you're going to get beat by somebody else.

Nikki Miller:

John, at the end of this podcast, we always want to know what is the one thing for our listeners who are listening to this conversation, who read the book or going to read the book after this, what's the one thing you would want them to take away from this conversation?

John Ruhlin:

Yeah. Well, sometimes -- I mean, this is a category that most people, it's like the redhead stepchild. They didn't give any two rips. Nobody, like I said, at the beginning of the podcast was thinking about gifting strategy, right? But everybody that has a brain in their head, especially like it's been a business for a while knows relationships matter. And it's very -- in Vogue right now, they have like a gratitude journal, right? It's like, oh, I feel grateful. It's like cool. That's great. Like gratitude's important for us.

But to me gratitude is an action, not just a feeling. Unexpressed gratitude is just disgusting to me. Most people are like I feel great for this person. I'm like, when's the last time you sent them a video or a handwritten note or a gift or told them how grateful you are? And like, it's been a while. And that's, for a lot of us.

And so my one thing would be if relationships matter and you believe that gratitude matters, then take the next 30 days before you buy the book or do anything, write down three people that you're grateful for over the next 30 days. That will be about a list of a hundred. Could be people that believed in you early on or a teacher or mentor, whoever it is, and then go do something with the gratitude.

You don't have to spend a bunch of money. It could be a handwritten note, could be a video, could be a gift, could be whatever, but do some sort of action to those hundred people. I challenge you to do that for 30 days. And then based upon how you feel, which my guess is most people would be like, oh, that felt pretty good. Actually like there's some tears involved or whatever else.

I challenged people to do that for three years and come back to me and tell me it did not pay 10 X or a hundred X dividends. I've never had anybody in 23 years that came back and be like, yeah, I started taking action on gratitude for my most valuable, important relationships, and it was totally worthless. It did not pay any sort of dividends. Like, it's just not how God's wired the world.

So the one thing is stow and do and take action and gratitude on those relationships and see where the chips start to fall after that.

Nikki Miller:

If people want to connect with you, John, where can they find you?

John Ruhlin:

Well on the screen, that's my personal, that's not a dummy email address.

John@giftologygroup is a great place to start. Or they can go on to Instagram at @JohnRohlin, my name. We post some fun stories and adventures there, but those are two great places to start.

Nikki Miller:

Well, we're going to drop the link to your book in the comments on for those who are listening or for those who are watching on YouTube, it will be in the comments below. And I just can't recommend it enough. You took me to school through the book, so thank you for that, and really gave me a new perspective on giving gifts and how to approach this. So thank you for the conversation today. Thank you for this incredible resource. And I could have gone on talking to you for another three hours. So hopefully you'll come back.

John Ruhlin:

Yeah. Well, guys, this is a lot of fun. Thank you for what you're doing in the world. And thanks for sharing the message.

Chris Dixon:

Thanks, John.

Nikki Miller:

Thank you, John.


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