By: Chris Chariton
My father was a purchasing agent and growing up, each December brought daily packages of fruit from Florida, liquor, nuts, candies, logoed golf accessories, and more from various companies.

Today there is less corporate gift giving. Many companies have strict policies on accepting gifts and limit it to a certain dollar amount.

Let’s face it: sending gifts to your customers is not an altruistic act. The purpose is to thank your loyal customers, strengthen your brand, keep your name top of mind, and further develop your relationship with that company, ultimately resulting in customer retention and additional revenue.

While gift giving is not a business requirement, there are real benefits to corporate gifting — think carefully about what you do when December rolls around.

Dos and Don’ts of Holiday Gift Giving

Consider the message you are sending. If you send a gift or card, it will reflect on your company; it should fit the image you want to portray. For example, we received electronic games from an ad agency one year — a perfect gift that fit with their fun, playful image. We’ve also received a box of items with various company logos on them from a promotional company — referred to internally as “box of junk”… not what you want said about your brand.

Gifts that can be shared are appreciated. Gifts of food or other items that can be shared among an entire department are welcome; plus, it gives exposure to your company across multiple people.

Don’t ignore the high-level decision maker. If you are sending gifts that can’t be shared, don’t make the faux pas of forgetting the big cheese that can ultimately cut your spending/approval. Even if they aren’t someone you interact with on a regular basis, you still may want to consider adding them to the list.

Timing is everything. You want to get the gift in before the December break between Christmas and New Year’s Day, when most offices become ghost towns. Once people come back in January, they are ready to move on and purge the office of the holiday remnants. Mid-December can be a good time to send holiday greetings — not so early that you are forgotten by the end of the month, but before the rush of gifts arrive (when you’ll be competing for attention and being judged in comparison to other gifts).

There has also been a trend toward acknowledging customers at Thanksgiving time. Advantages are it fits with the holiday of giving thanks, avoids any religious missteps (just make sure you limit it to U.S. companies) and may help with any end-of-year buying.

Be sensitive to cultural and religious differences. Keeping your message to peace on Earth and have a happy holiday season to thank you for your business is appropriate and ensures that you won’t offend someone.

Segment your gift list. Sending gifts to every customer is not practical or possible for every company. If you decide that you want to send customers a holiday gift, you may consider segmenting the list by amount of revenue generated for your company, number of years as a client, or other criteria. You may also want to add a few prospects that you are trying to build into large customers.

Gift or Card?
If you are going to send a card, personally signing the card is the way to go. Hand-addressing the card is also a nice touch. You aren’t going to lose business because you don’t send a gift, but when you go the card route, the more personalized the better. Nothing speaks more of direct mail than a card with a peel-off address label on the front and a printed name on the inside.

Charity Donations
It certainly is a better use of your corporate dollars to give to a charity than to send me a tower of chocolate. It may not always play well for branding — the card isn’t passed around the department and there is always that nagging thought of “I wonder how much they really donated.” (Wasn’t this a subject of a Seinfeld episode?) A better way to go is to do both with an acknowledgement of the donation and a small gift.

Putting Gift Giving Into Perspective
Good customer relationships aren’t a substitute for bad performance. I make decisions on what will deliver the results I’m looking for. At the end of the day, I prefer to do business with people who I’ve established relationships with, who I can trust, and who bring added value to me. I’m not going to end a relationship because I did or didn’t receive a holiday gift.

The best advice at the holiday time is to acknowledge your loyal customers in some way — even a phone call is a nice personal touch. And if you are sending out gifts, think about it carefully and put a plan in place as it reflects on your overall company image.

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