Share By Giovanna Fabiano
Buying gifts for clients can be a slippery slope: You want to choose something that keeps you on their radar around the holidays, but you don’t want to risk coming across as inappropriate, or worse — thoughtless.
Example: DON’T spend all year building a relationship with a client only to send a pack of pens and a notepad emblazoned with the name of your company.
“Never send those —they’re not gifts,” says Thomas P. Farley, also known as etiquette expert Mister Manners. “Promotional gimmicky items are too self-serving.”
Here is a list of gift suggestions that will help you show your appreciation for your clients in a tasteful way. Keep in mind that some companies have strict policies about receiving gifts over a certain monetary amount ($50 is a common one). If you’re unsure, it’s perfectly acceptable to contact your client’s administrative assistant and ask, Farley says.
You can’t go wrong with a customized food basket, and there are plenty of tasty, regional options that will keep you in the client’s good favor.
“Most people have a sweet tooth and a basket is shareable with the whole office,” Farley says.
Avoid the generic fruit basket and look into novelty items that will set you apart. Farley suggests a holiday cookie and milk delivery or something unexpected in winter — an ice cream delivery. Graeter’s. a family-owned artisan ice cream shop in Missouri, packs its products in dry ice and ships around the country, guaranteeing your pints will arrive frozen.
A gift of regional favorites also goes a long way to stand out in clients’ minds. If you’re in New York, you can go all out with the Zabar’s is New York basket, complete with bagels, pastrami and black and white cookies.
Just make sure you’re sending a food gift to the entire department (the client is supported by a team) and not just to one person, Farley says.
2. Monogrammed note cards.
While pens and paper printed with your company’s logos are a no-no, personalized note cards and pens that are engraved and monogrammed with your client’s initials is always a thoughtful gift.
“Every time that person writes out a note on that new beautiful letterhead — and hopefully the first one they write will be to thank you — , they’ll think of you,” says Farley.
First rule of thumb: Make sure you know the person drinks. If so, wine is always a good choice. Even if they don’t like that particular bottle, “they can always re-gift without hesitation,” Farley says.
“I wouldn’t give hard spirits unless you know, specifically, that a person is a scotch drinker or a vodka drinker — they usually like a specific brand, so do your homework.”
4. Monthly gift subscription.
Less cheesy than the cheese of the month club, Birchbox gift subscriptions send a curated selection of surprise items —usually high-end personal grooming products for men and women — in a box each month.
“The boxes are filled with fun little surprises, so it’s a little bit more whimsical,” Farley says.
If you want to go the extra mile and use the gift as another opportunity to network, take the client to a sporting event or concert.
“You can send a card saying, ‘My company has courtside Knicks tickets…pick a date in January and we’ll go one night,’” Farley says. “It’s always a fun gift and it allows for extra networking.”
Want to be an even better gift-giver in 2014? Keep a running list throughout the year of your clients’ likes and dislikes.
“Maybe you’re out to lunch in February and a person orders a scotch, or in the summer, a client says, ‘It looks like the University of Alabama is going to have a great football team this year,’” Farley says.
“Write it down. If you take note of these little details, they will pay you back in spades at the end of the year and — if they’re especially good clients — it could earn you thousands more dollars throughout the year.”
This is Part 2 of our series on holiday etiquette: Thoughtful gifts that don’t cross the line.
Read Part 1, Holiday Card Rules for Businesses, here.