During Inman Connect New York, Client Giant founder Jay O’Brien explained his system for breaking out of a referral rut with an inventive client gifting strategy.

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Repeat clients are the lifeblood of the real estate industry; however, they’re getting harder and harder to come by as consumers opt for the latest five-star agent bombarding their social media feeds rather than search for the agent who helped them buy or sell a home 10 years ago.

Jay O’Brien | Credit: LinkedIn

Client Giant founder Jay O’Brien came to that harsh realization in 2014 after doing an audit on the bevy of five-star reviews on his Zillow profile. As he read, O’Brien noticed the reviews weren’t much different than what he saw for his competitors: punctual, organized, knowledgable, great communication.

“There are 15,000 active real estate agents in my market alone. Is it conceivable that a healthy amount of those could check these boxes?” he told the Inman Connect New York crowd on Tuesday. “This is when I knew I was in trouble. Because this is just doing your job, and it’s nothing to be commended for.”

O’Brien said he created the system that’s now the basis for Client Giant. He began sending thoughtful gifts to his clients throughout the transaction process — a portable phone charger and sticky notes for buyers after they’ve signed an agreement, chamomile tea and a stress ball for sellers during a pending contract, or a set of moving boxes and packing tape to make a move easier.

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget the way you made them feel,” he said, quoting famed poet and author Maya Angelou. “The law of human reciprocity says when someone makes us feel special, we want to give that feeling back to them.”

“We can’t help but have a knee-jerk reaction to do something nice for someone in return when they do something nice for us,” he added. “If someone opens the door for us at Starbucks, and now they’re behind us in line, maybe we buy their coffee. Maybe it’s a simple ‘thank you,’ but in the world of real estate, this often takes the shape of referrals.”

The one moment O’Brien doesn’t send a gift is during the closing, as it tends to signal to consumers that their journey with an agent is over. Instead, O’Brien will send a handwritten note for the closing and a set of gifts 30 to 60 days after a client buys or sells a home.

“[A closing gift] very quickly quantifies what that human relationship is worth,” he said. “It says, ‘Here’s exactly how much your trust meant to me.’ Your clients aren’t stupid. They know what you got paid. They watch Selling Sunset.”

Instead of an immediate closing gift, O’Brien pays for a professional home cleaning a month after closing, sends a box of snacks for a client’s first movie night in a new home, or treats sellers to dinner at a five-star restaurant to properly celebrate a sale.

Although footing the bill for luxury dinners, professional cleanings and multiple gift boxes during the transaction is a huge financial undertaking, O’Brien said the return on investment is worth it.

“I was spending more in the marketing bucket and yielding little to no results,” he said. “I would imagine most of us in the room could say the same thing. This is how I built my business.”

Email Marian McPherson

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