The ABCs of Giving Client Gifts

With the holidays approaching, I've received many questions about holiday gift giving for clients. I'm devoting this column to answering those questions.

If you can't afford to give gifts to all your clients, how do you decide which clients should receive a gift? How much should you spend? What type of gift is appropriate and what is not? What if you have several contacts at one client's office? What kind of gift should you give if you not only want to show your appreciation for your client's business but also want to continue to promote your business? Is it OK to give a gift that does both?

Dividing Your Largesse 

If your funds are limited and you need to choose which clients should receive a gift, start by making a list. Put the client who accounts for the most revenue first. Then work your way down to the client who has contributed the least revenue for the year. Next, create groupings of clients by drawing a line after your top five, then the next five, and so on. By doing this, you can decide on price points for each grouping of clients.

How much you spend depends on what you want to spend and what your budget will allow. You can divide your budget equally among all the clients to whom you wish to give gifts, or you may choose to spend a little more on each of the top five clients, then divide what's left among the rest. You may want to find out, subtly of course, whether your client is allowed to receive gifts from vendors and if there is a maximum price point for gifts they receive.

Can Your Clients Accept Gifts?

Some companies do not allow their employees to receive gifts of any kind from vendors; others will allow it with a price point of less than $50, for example. Still other companies allow employees to receive gifts from vendors without a price limitation. Knowing where your client stands will prevent you from buying an expensive gift for someone who can't accept it.

Depending on how well you know your clients, gifts pertaining to their personal interests are OK, but I don't recommend giving alcohol or tobacco as a general rule. It's always better to err on the safe side when giving gifts. Also, giving nuts or other items that people may be allergic to is always a little risky. If you have several contacts at one client's office, giving a gift that the office can share is a good idea, such as a gift basket with various food items.

Giving an experience to those in your client's office may be a fun and different idea. For example, you could offer to take the entire office out for a movie, concert or another type of entertainment.

Give Quality Gifts

Giving gifts during the holidays that also promote your business is OK if the items are high in quality.

For example, I wouldn't recommend giving a cheap pen that has your logo on it as a gift, but a high-quality pen is OK. A vinyl portfolio may not be received as well as a leather portfolio, and so on.

If you truly want to promote your business so that individuals other than your clients might inquire about what you offer, choose an item that your client will use every day and that will be seen by others. For example, the leather portfolio I mentioned above is something your client may use when attending meetings or networking events. If the portfolio is nice enough, others may ask about it or about you if your company logo is on the front of it.

If you have clients you consider "ambassadors" or "champions" -- in other words, they promote your business to others -- you may want to consider putting the word "ambassador" behind or below your company logo to indicate your client is an ambassador of your products and services. By doing this, you invite others who may see your logo with "ambassador" written next to it to ask about your client and your company.

Happy gift giving, and enjoy the holidays!

See related story:Thoughtful Thank-You Gifts Go A Long Way