Gift-Giving Etiquette for Business

A reader wrote: Hi Sir Ruben, I own a small business. I would just like to know if it’s really important that I buy gifts for my clients this Christmas. My business did well this year, and I’ve been contemplating whether to spend on gifts or not. If yes, how much should I spend for each client? I badly needed your suggestion. It’s almost Christmas. (Lena, Davao City)

Christmas is fast approaching, and most of us, if not all, are busy shopping for family, friends, and clients. Your clients are valuable to help your business grow, and it is important that you show how you appreciate doing business with them this season.
Every marketing and sales person knows that Christmas gifts are powerful tools in business and must not be overlooked. It can help strengthen the relationship with clients. However, there are unwritten rules, and if you disregard them, this would work to your disadvantage instead.
Here are tips:
Know the company’s rules on gift-giving. There are some businesses that allow employees to accept gifts of small value, but there are others where it is prohibited altogether. In this case, obey and respect the rules so you won’t put your business in an awkward situation. Honor the policy, and this will surely cement your relationship with your clients.
The amount you should buy must differ for each client. You should spend according to how the client helped you during the previous year. Spend more on clients who gave you a lot of projects, and if there is likelihood that he/she will give you referrals or associates.
Research on what the recipient likes. Know his/her hobbies, allergies, and other preferences. Check his/her office to find things he/she likes that are worth displaying.
The perceived value of your gift is important. It is a blunder to give pineapples to your client who hails from Tagaytay, as we all know that in their place, pineapples are abundant and cheap. Same goes for giving strawberries to a client from Baguio.
Avoid giving gifts that are too pricey (e.g. expensive jewelry, travel tickets). This is not appropriate, and the client might misinterpret this as bribery. Show you have good intentions, and avoid giving the wrong message that you are corrupting them.
Give non-denominational gifts unless you know the religion of the recipient. There’s nothing more embarrassing than to give items that are prohibited in one’s customs and beliefs. This is also true when giving gifts to foreign clients. Remember that for Chinese number “8” is good luck, while “4” is bad as they associate it with death. For the Japanese, giving sharp (knife-like) gift items is faux pas, as this means severing the relationship or ties with them. Giving leather items to Indian clients is also unwise, as cows are sacred in their country. Also, if I suggest using “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” in your greeting cards to be safe when you are not sure of their religion.
Give group gifts. If there are a lot of people in the department (boss and employees), you may consider giving a single gift item for all of them. This is the safest form of gift giving, as this would just suggest a company giving a gift to a company, nothing personal. I suggest giving foodstuff or edible treats during their Christmas party.
Give corporate giveaways with your logos. However, when doing this, make sure that the gifts are useful. Also the printing should be of the highest quality, as this will be displayed or used by your clients, and you would want them to remember you whenever they see your markings on the items.
Pay special attention to the presentation of the gifts. The packaging will add value to your gift, and your client will believe that you exerted extra care and effort in having the gift delivered nicely to them.
Deliver the gift in person. This will ensure a maximum impact to your gift, and will also show your client that they are important and worth your time.
Business gifts need not be expensive. A pen, mug, or small travel bag is sufficient. The task would need you to be extra careful in budgeting and planning. Bear in mind that the gift is a way of showing your gratitude for their business during the year. Never expect, however, that your acts will be reciprocated.
Giving gifts during this holiday season is always challenging for businesses. It takes a lot of time to discern the budget that must be used, and how to recognize who are the appropriate recipients of the gifts, what to give, and how much to spend. If you’ll ask me if I give gifts to clients, yes, I usually do — but with caution. Gifts promote goodwill and will help foster better relationship.
One last piece of advice: please do remove the price tag. Happy shopping!

*Originally published by the Manila Bulletin. Written by Ruben Anlacan, Jr. (President, BusinessCoach, Inc.) All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or copied without express written permission of the copyright holders.

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