San Francisco:  “Is it too early to start thinking of holiday gifts?” asked Walter, then complained “Most of this holiday gifting seems too mechanical.  It seems that fruit baskets, bins of popcorn, or the proverbial fruitcake is what most advisors send with hardly any thought going into it. It’s hard to consider this a best practice.” 

Walter has a point.  Gifting, whether during holidays or just because should be personal.  This requires both you and your staff to have a good working knowledge of each of your affluent clients and their families.  It’s essential that you’re personal and thoughtful in how you spend your client gifting dollars.  For starters, you don’t need to wait until November or December to get into the gifting mode. Pre-Thanksgiving is a perfect time to start planning your goodwill. 

We’ve had the good fortune of coaching some real pros when it comes to sending small personalized gifts to affluent clients.  It’s from their thoughtful gifts that we coined the phrase “surprise and delight.”  Clients are surprised that you bought them a gift and delighted that it was so thoughtful.  We’ve seen this seemingly small part of the overall service model work wonders for both client retention and client acquisition. 

The following are a handful of ideas that might spark pre-holiday planning gift ideas for your top affluent clients:

One advisor zeroed in on organic oven-roasted turkeys.  He organized to have twelve of his top 25 clients receive an oven roasted turkey from a local organic grocery store for Thanksgiving.  Each included a personalized card that read something like “Matt & Sandy – I know you’re about to have a wonderful Thanksgiving with your entire family (Angela & Marty, Heather & Will, and Robert – taking a break from law school) – hope everyone enjoys this organic turkey.  Happy Thanksgiving, The Kornfeld Team.”

The other 13 top clients didn’t receive turkeys because for various reasons they weren’t celebrating Thanksgiving with their family.  Not only was this advisor aware of this personal family detail, he knew how each client was planning to spend their Thanksgiving.  Each client then received a personalized gift (Grand Canyon coffee table book, a travel guide for exploring Rome, etc.).    All of this was planned and ordered in October. 

Each of the recipients of an organic turkey and personalized note took the time to call and say something along the lines of “Thank you -- what a nice surprise.”  Not to mention, it was too much turkey to eat alone, so one client invited the advisor and his family to join their Thanksgiving dinner party they were hosting with two other families.  Wow – what a great way to be introduced.

Another advisor hand delivered personally prepared Thanksgiving meals to five wealthy clients; three were living alone, one was in an assisted living facility, and one was living in a nursing home.  For all but one of these clients, the advisor was able to connect with family members living nearby and organize an intimate family event –with a Thanksgiving theme (none were held on Thanksgiving).  In each case the client was blown away.  Not only was good will established, this advisor received $3.5 million of additional assets and booked four appointments with various family members.   

We’ve also had an advisor who hosted a holiday cooking class for a handful of his top clients and their friends.  He organized a top chef from the area to come to his house for a quick lesson on preparing the perfect holiday meal.  The clients loved it and so did the guests.  This simple (and inexpensive) gesture put two new prospects in his pipeline who later became clients.

These are just a few of many examples.  The idea is to involve everyone on your team, get creative, and think of gifts your clients would really enjoy.  Also remember, “Surprise and Delight” is not just for clients; you will want to employ the same approach to your referral alliance partners as well. 

Here are a few websites that can support your creativity efforts with your planning for holiday gifts:

  • Williams-Sonoma.com (organic turkeys)
  • Godiva.com (chocolate gift baskets)
  • 1800Flowers.com (Thanksgiving centerpiece)
  • Wine.com (Wines, gift baskets, wine glassware, etc.)
  • Custombobbleheads.com (photo of client into personalized bobble head doll)

Affluent client relationships, as any business expert will tell you, are the lifeblood of a successful business. The old adage that it costs less to keep an affluent client than to find new clients is only part of the reason. As importantly, our affluent research tells us that affluent clients should be a wellspring of new business opportunities within their spheres-of-influence.

This doesn’t happen all by itself.  You’ve got to stimulate positive word-of-mouth influence within affluent spheres-of-influence.  Pre-planning for the holidays in the personal and thoughtful mindset of “Surprise and Delight” is an ideal way to combine relationship management with relationship marketing.

Few things have the impact of a timely and personalized “surprise and delight” gift.  Be creative, involve your entire team, and get personal with your best clients.  There is no monopoly on good ideas. 

Matt Oechsli is the author of The Art of Selling to the Affluent.  His firm, The Oechsli Institute, does ongoing speaking and training for nearly every major firm in the US. 

Contact: @mattoechsli , www.oechsli.com