Magazine article Marketing

Growth of the Gift Guru

Magazine article Marketing

Growth of the Gift Guru

Article excerpt

It is no longer enough just to provide business gifts -- suppliers are now expected to advise and nurture their clients as they demand more and more for their money.

Christmas may be a time of giving, but Scrooge is lurking in the wings. Not only are companies demanding better value for money and extra services from their business gifts suppliers, but the Inland Revenue is taking a renewed interest in seasonal present giving.

To ensure themselves a merry Christmas this year, suppliers of business gifts are having to meet client companies' demands for shorter lead times, a higher level of consultancy-style service and greater creativity. There is growing pressure on suppliers to come up with ideas for traditional Christmas gifts (such as diaries, pens, calendars, hampers and wine) which offer something "different" ... while meeting clients' increasingly tight parameters on price and quality.

As Carolyn Simpson, business sales manager at Fortnum & Mason, puts it: "Customers are now demanding more service for their money."

Rod Duncan, general manager of promotional pen manufacturer Prodir, claims that during the recession, suppliers were forced to provide a higher level of service in order to win orders. As a result, "customers' expectations have increased dramatically -- they now expect more from their suppliers".

Gordon Presly, sales director at Bemrose Promotional Products, agrees. "It is no longer a case of simply going to a customer to pick up an order," he says. "We are now competing with other services and products for a slice of the marketing budget, so we have to be more professional and knowledgeable. There is a growing need for us to act as consultants. That means our level of sales representation and sales training has to be of a very high standard."

Marketing departments in many companies have become slimmer and more professional. But this means they are increasingly looking to suppliers to provide advice and support, and to put together schemes on their behalf. "This is a major shift. It calls for our sales team to take on more of an 'account executive' role, and it requires highly-trained people at the end of the telephone," says Andrew Bourne, managing director of Bourne Publicity.

Observers claim that the demand for a higher level of service is apparent in most sectors of the business gifts market. Brian Rodgers, national sales manager for corporate diaries at publishers Harper-Collins, says: "Increasingly, our role is to advise customers to ensure that their diaries meet their needs and work for them, not just to take orders."

Diane Phips, sales office manager at Elk & Company, adds that a growing number of clients now ask the diary manufacturer to handle the design and artwork for their corporate diaries. "Where staffing levels have been cut in marketing departments, they find it much easier to leave everything to us," she says. "We don't charge extra for it. It is all part of our service."

In the hamper sector, John Higgins, managing director of The Hamper People, observes that customers literally want to "have their cake and eat it". He says there has been a move to a higher level of "all-in" service which includes researching the customer's target audience and putting forward ideas and samples to meet specific themes.

One of his leading competitors, Peter Austin, managing partner of Clearwater Hampers, says: "In order to identify the most suitable product for a customer, we go to great lengths to find out who the gift is aimed at and the type of packaging required. For example, we have produced hampers for British Steel in the form of red dustbins. As well as being an unusual gift for the company's customers, it demonstrates the versatility of steel."

The trend is confirmed by Jeff Rand, a director of Cally's Town & Country Collection. He claims that customers are moving away from traditional hampers presented in a wicker basket. …

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