You've probably received them before: gifts from a company, sent as thank-yous for your business. But far too often these gifts wind up stashed in a forgotten drawer--or, worse, are tossed immediately into the nearest trashcan. But you can give gifts that are appreciated and that strengthen the customer's relationship with your company. Here are five tips to make sure your gifts stand out and hit the right tone:

1. Don't go overboard
Gifts are meant to show gratitude for the personal relationship you have with the customer--not for the value of the business they do with you. If you send a gift that’s too expensive or valuable, it can imply that you're trying to buy the customer's business. When it comes to showing gratitude for that personal relationship, less expensive is best.
2. Give something useful
The best customer gifts are also useful to customers in their daily business activities. Look for something that makes life easier for them or solves a problem. I once had a client whose employees used pencils in their line of work, and I noticed that the pencil jars varied from one store to the next and that the quality of the pencils was generally poor. So, as a gift, my company purchased high-quality pencils with our name printed on them and gave jars full of them to each shop. This simple gift was a huge success: it was useful, and it showed that I cared about my customers.
3. Sell the gift
When you give a gift, be sure to explain in person to the customer why you selected it and why you thought they would appreciate it. You want them to know that you took special effort in the gift selection. People want to do business with companies they trust and that care about them, and the special effort shows that you do care.
4. Make it special
The best gifts are unlike the others your customers receive, or are received at a time the customer doesn’t expect. Many companies send out customer gifts every year around Christmas time, but I once worked at one place that decided to do its major gift-giving around Valentine’s Day. On February 14, we would deliver a large box of candy for the client's employees along with a smaller heart-shaped box of candy for the business owner. Sending gifts on Valentine's Day instead of Christmas helped our presents stand out from the normal holiday glut of candy and corporate swag. (As our practice became established over the years, we found that many of the business owners were getting an extra benefit out of the candy: they were relying on it as a Valentine’s gift for their spouses!)
5. Don’t violate any laws
Be aware of any legal constraints on corporate gift-giving in your industry or your client's industry. There may be federal, state, or local laws that prohibit certain kinds of gifts. The US military, for example, cannot accept gifts at all, and Medicare fraud and abuse laws regulate gift-giving to doctors and hospital staff who deal with Medicare reimbursements.