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The 7 holiday client gift-giving rules you need to know this season

photo courtesy of flickr Maeflower72 cc

It's that time of year - the annual discussion of client gifts. Do we or don't we? How much? How many? What level of gift to what people? Who makes the list? And on and on...

If you are going to give client gifts this year, here are a few rules to consider when selecting and shipping, as well as a few ideas that you can keep in mind:

The Rules

1. Be personal but professional. A gift is a personal thing. When you ship a crate of Pepperidge Farms to someone it says...well what the hell does it say? Unless that person is a declared processed cheese and meat aficionado, it says you didn't care enough to be personal with your gift. You need to demonstrate some thought and care with your Christmas gifts. Gifts given in obligation reek of the indifference and guilt with which they were given.

2. Choose thoughtfulness over expense. A shared event during the year, a milestone in the business relationship or something that reflects a personal insight shared are more important in the gift giving process than how big the check was that paid for the gift.

3. Deliver by December 20. Get it there before Christmas, the traditional holiday gift-giving season date. Regardless of faith, if you are giving a holiday gift, then the traditional date of observation for delivery and gift opening is the 25th of December. By getting the gift delivered by the 20th, you can observe the tradition.

4. Food and alcohol say nothing about you or the client. (Unless it's great chocolate, but still...) I receive food often as a gift, and as an observant "foodie" I love it. The problem is that I just don't often remember the giver of the food. It goes into the break room and the office vultures descend upon it with vigor until only frayed paper doilies are left. I have received wine that signified a meeting I had with the client in Napa Valley. A box of jellies from Knott's Berry farm came with a note talking about quality, family businesses and traditions. These meant something that I valued and remembered.

5.Gift cards are for college students...not executives. (Except for Starbucks; that gift seems to always bring a smile...) What does money say except, "I couldn't think of anything, so I decided to give you money." One exception, however is the spa gift certificate. I don't understand all of the dynamics of this tradition, but it is personal and usually is received with a sense of wonder.

6. The note means as much as the gift. The note tells you everything about the gift, the relationship and the thoughtfulness of the giver. Take the time to write the personal note and the gift will have the desired impact.

7. Keep the logos on your shirts, not your client gifts. It's a gift, not a branding opportunity. I had to learn this the hard way. I always used to give logo-ridden gifts until a client, (gratefully before I sent his gift), showed me the closet they kept all of the logo "crap", (his word), that he received. Great instruction for me.

These gifts focus on personal comfort, a sense of personal connection and true good wishes. That's not a bad set of guidelines for all gift giving.

By the way, if you haven't taken the quick survey on how honest your competitors are, now's the time -- we're taking it down on 12/9/11.

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