The Power of ROR

(with examples)

On my first day of Cutco sales training, my manager taught me building rapport with customers.

‘People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.’

Seemed simple enough. Smile. Listen. Make the person across from you feel valued.

But it took more than a decade (and borderline bankruptcy) to learn what this really meant.

Smart business leaders care about their relationships.

Humans work harder for people they like & trust. They exert efforts unavailable to their everyday circle. Not just ‘good behavior’ – they put in extra. Their very best.

If I like & trust you, I respect you. And respect fuels dedication.

If I like & trust you, I appreciate you. Appreciation breeds motivation.

If I like & trust you, I care. If I care, I learn. And if I learn, I conquer.

Like AND trust. You must have both. This is why leaders with heart achieve more.

Got business problems? Invest in people.

My (now) business partner, Rod, saved me from bankruptcy. The early years were rough. I gave him half my company because I didn’t know if I was going to have a company.

  • It was a lot to give up. And looking back with perfect hindsight?
  • We wouldn’t have made it without Rod.We wouldn’t be where we are today without Rod.
  • It was the smartest investment I ever made.Even now: I could study his world for my remaining lifetime and not be as good as he was ten years ago.

The right WHO delivers the right HOW and WHAT.

ROI vs ROR (Return On Relationship)

ROR is what you receive after investing time, treasure, and talent into others. Consistently. With no strings attached.

Return On Relationship can be immediate. But it’s best to think of it as a long play – unlike ROI (Return On Investment).

ROI is a transactional term. A 2x term. A marketing system, used by pragmatists: put in one dollar, get back two. It’s a safe play (sometimes!). And is subject to diminishing returns.

ROR is a possibilities term. A 10x term. A priority system, used by leaders, who view relationships as assets that appreciate with every investment. With compounding (and extraordinary) benefits.

It’s the difference between shopping at a supermarket and nurturing a garden.

  • It’s easy to drive to the store and buy groceries.
  • But it takes faith to buy seeds, dig holes, and water dirt.
  • Maybe a little luck, too, for the environment to be right.

Like a garden, ROR spending can be uncertain, unknown, and the timing unpredictable. *IF* the investment bears fruit at all.

But a good garden can feed your family for decades.

The currency of ROR is loyalty, not dollars.

But loyalty leads to dollars.

Because loyalty inspires people to do things that:

  • Salary and contracts can’t.
  • Fear, threats, and pressure can’t.
  • Incentives, bonuses, and promises can’t.
  • Persuasion, ultimatums, authority, and expertise can’t.

‘People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.’

What this really means…

People who like your behaviors & trust your motivations will align their interests with yours.

Your competitors can copy a lot of things. But not your relationships. Which means ROR is the ultimate competitive advantage in any marketplace.

The great enemy of our time is UNEXPRESSED GRATITUDE.

Or UNDER-expressed gratitude.

We think we’re good. But the other person isn’t feeling it.

  • Gratitude deficits creates unfinished business in relationships.
  • And worse, the unappreciated can’t even bring it up.
  • Because they don’t want to look like a child, in need of coddling. 

As Pastor Andy Stanley so eloquently put it:

 “Few things sting more than ingratitude. Ingratitude communicates I don’t even see you. I don’t recognize what you’ve done. I don’t recognize your effort. I don’t recognize your sacrifice. Ingratitude communicates: ‘You owed me that so why would I thank you for that??’

Ingratitude hurts. Which is odd, because the other person really didn’t do anything to us. They just didn’t do ANYTHING. You thought they would hit the tennis ball back. But they just stood there and let it bounce against the fence behind them.

And that’s the odd thing about ingratitude: the recipient is always aware. But the culprit is rarely aware.”

Have you ever felt underappreciated? Unrecognized? Unseen?

What really matters is who we care for. And who has cared for us.

FACT: the brain has limited hard drive space.

We don’t remember experiences in totality. Or accurately. Or fairly.

Even if those experiences are remarkable!

  • We go on vacation to an exotic, exciting place.
  • We hang out with our kids on the weekend.
  • We lead our teams thru a hard growth period.

But it all blends together in the brain.

One weekend feels like any other weekend. Monday in the Bahamas feels like Thursday in the Bahamas. Team members forget the steadfastness or resolve or the crucial example of your remarkable leadership. 

There’s a flatness to it all. So what DOES the brain retain?


The peak-end rule proves: our brain recalls the highlights and how things end.

  • These are the ‘survivor memories.’
  • Ie, “You did this before. It was great.” Or “It didn’t end well.”

So the brain keeps peak moments & end moments. And flatlines the rest.

Behavior engineer, Nir Eyal, discusses the research behind this.

In one study, baseball fans were asked to recall a game they watched. They tended to remember the best game they had ever seen. (caveat: Red Sox fans – gross! 🙂

In another study, researchers discovered the order which people opened presents affected their memories of the holiday. Save-the-best for last = better sentiments. (Finally! The debate settled!)

What about health studies? End your exercise at lower intensity. And you’ll likely feel more positive about the experience and looking forward to future sessions.

The same goes for how we enjoy our meals. Researchers found people remembered small portions of their favorite dishes as fondly as eating larger portions. 

Aha! So THAT’S why the Ruhlin children remember the 90-second ride at Disney. And NOT the 90-minute wait in line.

APPLICATION: create more peak moments.

Peak moments happen by accident. But they can also be engineered. (Go read THE POWER OF MOMENTS).

Strategic gifting is the fastest, least time-intensive, ‘be-in-fifty-places-at-once’ way of doing this.

Relationships (and your brain) are plastic. Not elastic.

Once stretched by a peak moment? They won’t dissolve.

  • Think of great friends you speak with very rarely…
  • But when you DO – you pick right up where you left off.
  • Don’t you want more professional relationships like that?

That doesn’t take TIME. It takes PEAK MOMENTSHighlights and greatest hits.

Said differently…

Relationships activated by strategic gifting remain energized.

(No matter how much time passes between conversations.)

This is how GIFT∙OLOGY can impact the performance of:

  • Employees: operators, growth drivers, & behind-the-scenes.
  • Clients & customers: first-timers, repeat, & referral givers.
  • Referral partners: shoulder industries & do-this-get-that.
  • Suppliers, vendors, mentors, master-minders, & colleagues.


Of course there’s no guarantees. After all, you’re not asking for anything.

That’s why this is so powerful.

This is NOT ‘give to get.’ It’s not quid-pro-quo. It’s the exact opposite of bribery.

You’re either a giver, who appreciates everything, but expects nothing.

Or you’re not. In which case: don’t waste your money. Just ask for what you want.

(Conundrum: BIG ASKs require BIG RELATIONSHIP.  Soooo… hmm. Good luck, I guess!)

ROR: not guaranteed. But observable.

20+ years and tens-of-thousands of relationships (my own, our clients, our network) has yielded some interesting things for GIFTOLOGISTS.

Below are some common relationships you have as a business leader. And some examples of observable ROR.

This is by no means comprehensive – far from it. But it will get you thinking.

(Expand the little red arrow to read each).

1. Employees & operators – people who run the day-to-day business.

Relationship equals attitude & effort. Both yield ROR.

The stronger the employee relationship, the more you can:

  • Trust them with bigger assignments. They won’t let you down.
  • Encourage transparency with challenges. And actually get it.
  • Expect positivity during times of adversity. They’re your role-models.
  • Ask more of them.

For example, you can ask them to: solve problems before escalating them, display support for company decisions in public environments, invest time on upskilling & reskilling, mentor new employees, and hold higher expectations with delighting every customer in every interaction.

As the former chairman of Marriott famously stated:

“Take care of associates and they’ll take care of your customers.”

Don’t take it from me. Take it from this employees FIRST entrepreneur.

Career development & skill training on auto-pilot?

You have your up-and-comers. They’re bright. Smart. But are they autonomous learners? Do they study on their own?

ROR can encourage that, too.

A blog, book, podcast, course, or career suggestion lands differently when the recommender is a respected friend – not just a boss.

As Geoffrey Moore famously said: 

“We need to develop ourselves. No one else can do it for us.”

Unfortunately many leaders assume all employees are eager-to-learn-and-grow. They’re not.

For many, learning new things is:

  • At best – a cumbersome TO DO item.
  • At worst – an encroachment on personal time.

Learning is an ASK. ASKs require relationship. And salary, by itself, is poor relationship control.

BIG IDEA:  train employees so they can go anywhere. But treat them so good they’d never want to leave. 

Another ROR opportunity: referrals for employees.

We are all in a war for talent. Some argue, wrongfully, that nobody wants to work:

The answer is ROR.

How receptive would your team be to the following asks?

  • “We are hiring for position XYZ. Who do you know that….?”
  • “Can you put the word out to your network that we’re hiring?
  • “Would you post & repost our opening on your social media?”

The best future team members come from current team members.

If you’re an agency client, you know your GIFT∙OLOGIST’s origin story. Our team hasn’t placed a single, help wanted ad in 20+ years. We rely on employee advocacy. We rely on ROR.

Employees should be your best marketing channel.

If they’re not? Fix common mistakes. And invest relationally.

2. Leaders & innovators – team members that grow the business.

Your irreplaceable generals & growth drivers need love too.

  • For them, relationship equals engagement.
  • Them-at-their-best can create 100x ROR.

 When your rainmakers are feeling great:

  • Leaders get in flow. Execution looks and feels effortless.
  • Ideas appear, as if by magic, with less ego or attachment.
  • Silos disappear. Players talk without prompting. 1+1+1=5.
  • Enthusiasm for project teams, ERGs, innovation scrums, etc.
  • The old guard mentors the new guard. And best of all?
  • YOU not needed: “there was a problem, but I figured it out.”

It’s like marriage. When the team captains feel the love? The volume of every challenge gets turned way down. Transparency emerges. Humility happens. Curiosity feeds education, breeds execution.

YES, all because of relationship.

In my experience with hundreds of businesses, across dozens and dozens of industries, I find one thing to be true:

An underperforming process is a symptom. People are always the problem.

Driving change: even your best get stuck in a rut.

For example, artificial intelligence lands. And you don’t get the immediate level of exploration and adoption you’d like. This is an ROR moment.

It doesn’t have to be new tech. One leader was determined to drive data-driven insights into his team’s decision-making. But his generals ‘were not numbers people’ and having trouble with the new software.

What would YOU do in this situation? Carrot? Stick? Al Pacino speech?

A little love does wonders for an attitude adjustment. Send a gift, a clever note, and all-of-a-sudden an ‘old dog’ discovers new tricks.

Or send a heart bomb. 🙂

Model the behavior you want repeated.

Relationship is a verb. Think about the last three game-changing introductions that were made to your organization. Who brought those in? You?

Founder-based selling is a blessing for the heart. But a curse on the schedule.

 What if your leaders & innovators were as skilled as you at cultivating partnerships? Or better?

As Sam Hinkie said on the Find Your People podcast:

“The way I think about coaching is very much how I think about parenting, and I think it translates in lots of other places. Your ability to drive change is about the quality of your relationship, not your hierarchy.”


3. Everyday helpers – operating in the background.

The custodial staff, delivery drivers, security personnel, window cleaners, lawncare, landscaping, mailroom, maintenance workers, or anybody else that isn’t forced to attend Zoom meetings.

Great relationships with the support staff earn ‘their extra’

  • Extra reliability, effort, and communication.
  • Actually handling the ‘handle with care’ packages with care.
  • Maintaining discretion, without compromising friendliness.
  • NOT ‘sweeping things under the rug’ – figuratively & literally.
  • Attention-to-detail and feeling pride in their company.
  • Frequent & friendly greetings, contributing to the culture & joy.

That last one is powerful for workplace visitors.

I had a friend once who, while dating, would never callback the prospective partner if they were rude to a waitstaff. How you do anything is how you do everything, as the old adage goes.

Can the smiling lawncare worker be the cherry-on-top when a potential buyer is vetting you during an acquisition? Could he be the deal breaker?

If the support staff is miserable, what does that say about the company? Treating everyday helpers like executive players keeps your organization passing ‘the door test’ [warning: bad language].

Don’t forget, good ideas come from anywhere.

To make a football analogy, everyday helpers are your offensive lineman. When they’re doing a good job, they’re easy to forget. But they see everything. Which is why their ROR is so valuable.

Richard Montanez was a janitor at Frito-Lay. He had the idea of adding hot sauce to the chips. And created Flamin’ Hot Cheetos – now a billion dollar brand.

Montanez, who never got a formal education, was quoted as saying “It’s not about how smart you are. It’s about how are you smart?” He’s now a marketing executive. And has a movie on Hulu.

Hear me loud-and-clear. This million X ROR story doesn’t happen without relationship.

Neither does the story of Bryan Cranston getting a SEINFELD bit from a guy on a ladder.


BIG IDEA:  you never know where a great idea is going to come from.

YOUR JOB:  create an environment so that idea shows up. WHO, not HOW.

4. Suppliers & vendors – making goods & services possible.

The people who help make your thing. You’re not their only customer. But being their favorite comes with some nice perks.

Would any of the following be useful to you?

  • Special prices or products that don’t exist elsewhere.
  • Custom solutions they don’t offer to anybody else.
  • Early access to new or innovative products – ‘feedback welcome!’
  • Guaranteeing inventory or availability during busy seasons.
  • Flexible payment terms. Because cash is king.
  • ‘Under-the-hood’ data or insights about the industry/trends.
  • Lightning-fast response and resolution when issues pop-up.
  • Transparent and honest communication – NOT public relations speak.
  • Special requests (warehousing, sustainability, etc) to fit your values.
  • Extra training and support, beyond what they charge for.

Great service is expected. Preferential treatment? Limited.

CASE STUDY: “I took them for granted.”

We have an ex-client whose special pricing went out the window when their supplier sold the business. When prices tripled, he admitted outright: “I took those guys for granted.” 

A different client’s supplier also sold their business – but made the acquiring company include a clause in the contract to continue their special services.

“You refuse my friend, we refuse the sale.” Gulp. That is ROR!

If your suppliers & vendors sold tomorrow, which is your more likely outcome?

“We don’t do this for everybody.”

Or “we’ve never done this before.” If you’re hearing such things?

Dial-up your appreciation. A practical luxury, for the home, so your supplier’s spouse reminds them every day how awesome you are. That’s advertising money can’t buy.

Unexpressed gratitude is entitlement. “Thanks yous” aren’t enough. 

You’re not special. And nobody owes you anything. So don’t treat your supply chain, space fillers, or temps like Costco, Google, or Amazon treats theirs.

(Warning: some foul language. And depressing stories.)

5. Agency, freelancers, & fractional executives.

These individuals have obligations to multiple organizations. Each of whom thinks they are #1. Their work is top priority. And the world revolves around THEM.

ROR lets you cut the line. Favoritism is a positioning strategy. And it’s better to be small-sweet-and-loved than big-angry-and-loud.

Have you ever raised your voice at a customer service agent? Have you ever been rude? How far does that get you? Or me? Or any of us?

Money is poor relationship control. 

There’s no law mandating ‘whoever pays the most gets the best.’ Money buys transaction. Relationship buys favor. Gift-givers get responses like this:

“[CLIENT NAME WITHHELD]. Dude. WTF. Your generosity of good will and over the top gifting rocked me.  I am notoriously not great at receiving gifts, and this one has shattered all defense mechanisms. The box stayed unopened during months of international travel and holiday family engagements, and I just opened it in the new year.  What a start to the year.”

Of course not everybody’s this animated. But how about this note?

It’s from the CMO of a Fortune 100 company. The last sentence says it all.

“Separately… I am long overdue thanking you for the amazing knife set!  I really love it and enjoy it and think of you all the time!!

Who not how. People over process.

What else can this group do for you? How about special insights, strategies, scope-change, scope-CREEP, discretion, deadlines, flexibility, communication, and after-hours availability.

They serve lots of people. But play your appreciation cards right? And you’ll never know it.

6. Mentors, master-minders, & collaborative colleagues.

The people that make you better – the axe sharpeners. That got you where you are today. And will help get you where you’re going.

My friend, John O’leary, shares a touching story:

>>> I got an email from a fire chief in a small community south of Tacoma. He took my challenge to reach out to his first fire chief. This older chief had taught him how to lead, serve and love the people he served with. This chief changed his life.

They spoke from the conference that night, met for coffee that Thursday, spent two hours catching up, and then went their own ways. Before hopping into his truck, the young fire chief told his mentor, “Thank you, I love you, and you changed my life. Just wanted you to know it.”

Four days later, on Sunday morning, this young man learned that the long-serving fire chief had suffered a heart attack and died unexpectedly late Saturday night.

The email shared the pain of the loss, but more than that, the joy of sharing life and work with such a great man. And the incredible gift of letting the chief know before his death how much he mattered. <<<

I wish I could meet the last two decades of difference-makers for coffee. I wish I could spend two-hours with each. But failing that? It’s why I send ‘mentor gifts’ each-and-every year.

So let’s not forget the encouragers, feedback givers, connectors, and door-openers. The ones who’ve raised us up during professional and personal challenges.

You can’t put a price on impact. Say it loud. Say it clear. But say it now.

7. Clients & customers – potential for repeat business.

They liked your product or service. You want to keep them coming back. And also inspire referral-giving (much more on that in part 4!).

A winning playbook for renewals, upsells, or cross-sells:

  • Track (& plan) when each of these convos will occur.
  • Send a gift a month prior. Include a handwritten note.
  • NO ask. And NO mention of the upcoming convo

Gifting creates relational recency. But don’t trust me. Trust science

And while we’re talking science? Recipients prefer practical over status. They don’t care about price. And money can’t buy me love. (source) (source) (source) (And one more source – lol.)

Strategic gifting is the ultimate churn crusher. Who knew.

You’re gonna screw up. Get the benefit of the doubt.

Think of a brand or company that recently made a mistake. Did they handle it well?

If so, you might appreciate that brand more than if they never screwed up at all. (source)

ROR is relationship insurance. It builds moats around your relationships. And lowers the drawbridge to bring customers into your VIP circle.

Public reviews, testimonials, thorough feedback, loyalty program participation, and full-service consumption –ya know, actually GOING to the gym, not just buying the membership– are some tangible returns on powerful relationships.

Your clients & customers like you. But do they lie-down-in-traffic LOVE you?

How far can you take it??

8. Clients & customers – potential referral partners & ambassadors.

Word-of-mouth is the most powerful form of advertising. Advertising weighs ounces. Trust weighs tons.

Unincentivized referral partners obliterate any-and-every marketing channel.

What YOU say about you? Means nothing compared to what THEY say about you when you’re not around.

A powerful playbook for enrolling partners:

  1. Qualify their ability to refer you business. (ask the right question)
  2. Get clear on what mutual benefit looks like. (a single conversation)
  3. Thank them and mean it (with a gift, a note, & no strings attached)

Reminder: marketing spend is 2x transactional.

Strategic gifting is 10x relational. And while it’s always wise to play the long game, sometimes things happen fast.

“We went from not knowing each other 3 days ago to securing a partnership & referral agreement. Woohoo! We are going to support each other through our marketing efforts & become a referral source for each other.”

How do you fast forward relationships? One thoughtful gift can outwork a hundred Instagram posts.

Better investment = better attention.

We’re all trying to punch above our weight. We want powerful allies. Credible partners. And persuasive connectors that can introduce us to the masses.

Everybody else wants that too.

So how do you win-the-heart-of, say, a Mel Robbins – author, inventor, and one of the highest paid keynote speakers in America?

Like this.


Do today what others won’t. And go tomorrow where others can’t.


9. Referral partners – have sent you business, will send you more.

Feels good to get a referral, doesn’t it? What if I told you: ‘the person who sent you 1 referral could just as easily give you 5 if you energized the relationship?’

John Bowen, founder of CEG Worldwide, runs one of the top financial advisor coaching companies in the world. Every year, at his annual event, he asks attendees for referrals. And every year, he counts how many he gets.

What happened when he added gifting to the mix?

“Our referrals went up 105%. We’ve run this event for the past 5 years and haven’t changed a single thing, except this year we sent your silly gifts to every single person, and followed your program to include the spouse as well. I guess I’ll keep sending your stupid gifts as often as you tell me, because to be honest I would have been elated with a 10% increase in referrals, let alone 10 times that.”

How dare he call our gifts silly??  🙂

Not just the quantity, but the quality.

Something most business owners don’t do (that took me waaaay too long to do myself) is something known as “referral clarification.”

If someone sends you a ‘bad referral,’ do you gently correct and clarify?

(I know there’s no such thing as a ‘bad’ referral. But specifically, one that isn’t a good fit for your business.)

“I would never do that” say some leaders. But if you don’t? One ‘bad’ referral could be the last you ever received.

 “The next time I spoke with my friend [whom I referred to my agent], I was flabbergasted. Not only was [the agent] largely unhelpful, he acted annoyed at the introduction. Like, ok. Thanks for making me look dumb to my friend. Not only will I not be referring anymore business, I won’t be renewing our contract.”

Your most important relationships. Period.

A ‘bad’ referral should be the start of a beautiful partnership. If you’re honest about it.

The greatest ROR any leader can have is the ability to to speak uncensored, unafraid, candidly, vulnerably. Honesty is self-renewal. Honesty is freedom.

Honesty is… well, honest.

And it’s easy to do when surrounded by referral partners that, ya know – you actually like.

10. Referral partners – formal rewards program (do this, get that)

Loyalty & incentive programs, sales & affiliate contests, milestone markers – all examples of “do this, get that.” Pre-determined carrots, offered for outcomes. 

My biggest problem with these programs is their transactional premise. ‘My recognition must be earned.’ Still –like pop-ups on a website– one cannot deny their effectiveness.

A common mishap with DTGT programs: thinking better incentives yield better efforts. Not always.

Several clients have proven that better relationship yields better efforts. In other words?

The 80% who try the hardest do so because they’re tied into Y-O-U.

  • Relationship creates program ambassadors – enrollees who recommend others.
  • Relationship results in participation – any joint events or extra asks.
  • Relationship encourages the mundane – tracking, reporting, & check-ins to make sure your program is ROI-ing.

You can lead a horse to a loyalty program. But you can’t make him drink.

ROR creates ROI. Not the other way around.

Audit your DTGT program and you will notice that, like anything else, a small group drives the majority of results.

Therefore, you must:

  1. Identify the individuals who can make the most impact.
  2. Recognize & appreciate them separately from the program.
  3. As always: no strings attached, no marketing, no expectations.

The law of the lid is in full effect here. Speed of the leader, speed of the group. Ergo, one person can turbocharge a formal program.

The ROR of such an investment?

  • Publicly reporting progress to inspire (and drive) others.
  • Discovering new ways to execute and sharing those methods with others.
  • Understanding the rewards structure & playing ‘within the rules.’
  • Getting others to sign-up – becoming an ambassador of ambassadors.
  • “Schilling” for the brand, showcasing rewards, & being ‘a 1000 true fan.’
  • Providing feedback & ideas on how to refine the program for mutual benefit.

Keyword: mutual benefit. Every program engineer has “successful” ambassador stories – where, despite positive outcomes, the “loyal” ambassador took advantage at every possible turn.


About Business Gifting

How does Gifting Build Loyalty?
Why Do I Need a Fulfillment Service?