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Gifting Customers: Dos & Don'ts

If you're sending a holiday gift to a customer, make sure it will build a better relationship.
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With the holiday season on us, you might be thinking about gifting your customers to help build a closer business relationship. While that's often a good idea, according to Jerry Acuff, author of  the book The Relationship Edge, gifting can backfire if you don't know the rules:

1. DON'T give expensive gifts.

Unless you're selling very big ticket items, an expensive gift seems more like a bribe than a gift. That's especially true in B2B relationships, where the customer is likely to resent a gift that's intended to make the customer feel obligated to continue to buy from you.

2. DO follow laws and regulations.

There are some professions where accepting a gift from a client is either unethical or illegal. Journalists, for example, are forbidden to accept gifts from companies they cover.  Gifts presented to government officials can also be dicey. Find out what's legal first.

3. DON'T gift mere prospects.

Giving a gift too early in a business relationship is like when a guy shows up on a blind date with a dozen roses. It just makes him seem desperate. Gifts are only appropriate if you've got an ongoing business relationship that involves mutual regard and respect.

4. DO gift something meaningful.

A gift that ties into a customer's outside interest and which is unusual is more likely to be memorable than something that's generic or might appeal to anybody. The more it matches the customer, the more it will be appreciated.

5. DON'T gift promotional items.

If a "gift" has your corporate logo on it, you are asking the customer to provide you with free advertising, so it is not really a gift. If a "gift" is something that you'd hand out at a trade show, don't be surprised if the customer is insulted.

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IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: Dec 13, 2012

GEOFFREY JAMES | Columnist

Geoffrey James is an author, speaker, and award-winning blogger. Originally a system architect, brand manager, and industry analyst inside two Fortune 100 companies, he's interviewed over a thousand successful executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and gurus to discover how business really works. His most recent book is "Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts that You Need to Know."

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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