By Michelle Nichols The perfect holiday gift, given in the ideal way, can strengthen your connection with clients, help win more sales, and generate more referrals. But what's the perfect gift? The answer differs for each situation, but the criteria are the same: With this gift, what am I trying to say about myself, my company, and how I value the relationship with my customer? This question puts boring coffee mugs and tins of stale popcorn in a whole new light.
The most common corporate holiday gift is something with your company name or logo on it. This includes the usual trinkets -- coffee cups, pens, hats, and shirts. The challenge is that gifts with logos naturally blur the line between advertising tools and genuine gifts. The secret is to keep your logo small so the recipients actually put the gift to use. If your logo is too obvious or downright garish, they'll just stick it in a drawer -- or throw it out.
BE CREATIVE BUT PRACTICAL. If you're in the travel business, a beautiful scenic calendar might be a good idea. Travel mugs, umbrellas, picture frames, and unique computer accessories can also be a big hit. Having a practical application is key.
Another common gift idea is food, like chocolates, wine, and even cheesecake. Be aware of your client's religious or dietary restrictions before you give food and liquor. If you or your company is associated with a particular region, perhaps a special food from your local culture would be appreciated. My town is home to a candy company, and when I give bags of their Texas Chocolate-Pecan-Toffee as gifts, my clients' eyes really light up.
Flowers can also be great. Roses aren't advised, but a mixed bouquet or even a poinsettia can work -- unless, of course, your client is allergic. A lush garland or wreath is also a nice present for a customer's office or home. And though they're temporary, if the flowers are delivered in a beautiful vase with your logo discretely engraved on it, the client will have something to remember you by for years to come.
DONATE DOLLARS. One gift idea that's growing in popularity is donating to a charity in honor of all your customers. Perhaps you can choose a medical-research fund if one of your key employees has battled a disease recently, or a community collection if your town plans to build a new museum or sports arena. Be careful to choose a charity that will please, and certainly not offend, your clientele.
Consider sharing a bit of yourself. If you're a shutterbug, have 12 great photos you snapped made into a calendar. Alternatively, you could intersperse them with inspirational quotes and have them made into a book or printed alongside your favorite recipes to create a cookbook. I recorded one of my live sales presentations and had it made into a CD as a thank-you gift for my clients this year. It was very well-received.
Sometimes, a beautiful, quality holiday card with a handwritten note of appreciation and good wishes can be a great gift. One of my vendors sends me a handmade card with an inspirational quote every year, and I hang it up until it's replaced 12 months later.
PAY ATTENTION TO PACKAGING. As with all business correspondence, double-check the spelling of your client's name, title, and address. Little details can ruin an otherwise great holiday gift or card.
And don't forget that people still judge a book by its cover, so pay attention to how you package and present your gift. Perhaps you want to have custom-printed gift bags or use your company's colors for the tissue paper or gift wrap.
You also need to decide if you want to mail the gifts or personally deliver them. Great holiday parties act as gifts in and of themselves, and provide a terrific time to hand-deliver a nice gift. Several years ago, a tuxedo-clad delivery person came to my door bearing a bottle of good wine with a party invitation tied to it. Now that's ideal!
OBEY THE RULES. Keep in mind a couple of caveats. Before making your final gift decision, find out if your customers have corporate policies on receiving gifts. No matter how long or how well you know your client, when it comes to gifts, you must respect the rules. Don't put your cherished clients in the awkward position of having to refuse your gift.
And if you're in contention for a major contract or order, depending on the client's culture, lavish gifts can be interpreted as bribes. There are no hard-and-fast rules on this area, so beware.
Bestowing holiday-related business gifts requires careful planning, but it can pay off down the road. When 2005 rolls around, you'll reap the rewards of all that time, effort, and money -- and you'll be in a stronger position to close more sales. Savvy selling! Nichols is a sales speaker, trainer, and consultant based in Houston. She welcomes your questions and comments, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her Web site at www.savvyselling.com